Deathsport was a quickie Roger Corman production to capitalize on the surprise success of Death Race 2000, which had not only done well at the box office but eventually gained a certain amount of critical acclaim. However, basically everything that could go wrong in a Corman production went wrong here. In the end, Allan Arkush tried to salvage Deathsport, but even he rates the film one star on his Letterboxd account!
Basically, Deathsport is Death Race 2000 mixed with a sword and sorcery film, and it’s an unmitigated disaster—although not entirely unentertaining. At the time, David Carradine was having a nice little run of films that showed his range as an actor, from Death Race 2000 to Bound for Glory and Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg! Carradine himself has said that Deathsport killed that trajectory completely, and his career never fully recovered.
Carradine plays Range Guide Kaz Oshay, who is captured by Lord Zirpola (David McLean) and forced to fight to death in “Deathsport,” which is a competition that uses dirt bikes with lasers that are called “destructocycles” instead of cars as in Death Race 2000. Playmate of the Month for November 1969 and Playmate of the Year for 1970 Claudia Jennings plays Carradine’s love interest. She is supposed to fight Carradine in the match, but they “bond” in jail and vow to escape together. The whole thing is really bottom of the barrel New World Pictures stuff.
The film’s original director was recent USC graduate Nicholas Niciphor, who took it on after every regular Corman director turned this thing down. Niciphor’s most notable credit is Tusk, the impossible to find Alejandro Jodorowsky film about an English girl and an Indian elephant who are born on the same day share a common destiny. But here, the main issue was that Niciphor was massively inexperienced, Carradine and Jennings were both totally fucked up on drugs, and Carradine kicked the living shit out of the director. The best story, however, is that Niciphor told Carradine that he had not been with a woman in six months and could not be in a room with a naked Jennings, and asked Carradine to direct it.
Eventually Allan Arkush came in after principle photography was done. Arkush’s job was to do reshoots, because Niciphor refused to work with Carradine any more. He tried to salvage a film out of the mess, and managed to just about make something with a beginning, middle and end. Arkush, being quite the Deadhead, even got Jerry Garcia to put some guitar riffs down for the score. The whole thing is a mess, but hey, it’s 82 minutes, and it has David Carradine fighting with literally a see-through plastic sword!
The disc’s special features include a commentary with Allan Arkush and editor Larry Bock, the theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots, and a stills gallery. The commentary is infinitely more interesting and entertaining than the film!