Joshua Reviews Roger Corman Cult Classics: Deathsport and Battle Truck [DVD Review]

When deciding on a movie to watch, you are hard pressed to go wrong when picking a film adorned with the title of ‘Roger Corman Cult Classics’ right at the top of the case.

The genuine geniuses over at Shout! Factory have been slowly but surely knocking it out of the ballpark with each subsequent release of this massively expansive set, detailing cult classics like Death Race 2000, and rarely seen gems like Galaxy Of Terror.

The series has produced DVDs that not only have fantastic transfers, but also rather expansive special features, ranging from hour long documentaries, to interviews with Corman himself.

However, Shout! Factory may have finally hit a little bump in the road.

The newest release in the ongoing series, a special double feature featuring the sci-fi films Deathsport and Battle Truck (a.k.a. the best title in film history), aren’t truly bad releases. That said, in comparison to other entries in the series, they just don’t hold up.

Death Sport is the real gem here. The film stars David McLean and the always amazing David Carradine, and takes place ‘1000 years in the future,’ after a great war has torn the world to pieces, dividing in into different city-states. It follows a Desert Ranger named Kaz Oshay, who after being captured by Lord Zirpola (McLean), is forced to battle in the sport known as Deathsport.

The great thing about Deathsport, amongst many charming features, is the campiness that is allowed to really set in here. While it’s apparent in each of the previous releases I’ve seen, not many of them feature performances that give so much credence to dialogue and plot that is completely absurd and cartoonishly over the top, that it makes the viewing experience a true joy.

Let’s just say, the effects here are not the strong point. The visual effects are laughably bad at some points, and while that aids in the charm many of the times, it also jars the viewer out of the experience, if they aren’t truly aware of the film that they are getting themselves into. Both films, but this one in particular, plays in a weird purgatory where the film doesn’t look nearly as timely as a film like Death Race, nor as ahead of its time as films that came later in the ‘˜80s or early ‘˜90s. Everything down to the editing here is just not up to snuff here, which is a real shame.

The acting here is what saves it for me. Performances from the likes of Claudia Jennings, William Smithers and McLean are fantastic, but really, the stars here are Carradine and Richard Lynch, as the evil Ankar Moor. These two speak this camp filled dialogue with so much earnestness that it makes the film all the more serious in tone, thusly making the experience all the more fun. This fantastically over the top performance collection, in tandem with these poor effects, editing, and one of the most intrusively obnoxious scores I’ve ever heard, makes this film equal parts awful, and equal parts brilliant.

The other film here is Battle Truck, and while the title is completely bad ass in every way imaginable, I did not jive well with this film, at all.

Battle Truck found a release in 1982, after the success of films like The Road Warrior, which this draws much of its inspiration from, so much so, that they are nearly identical projects. The film was made in New Zealand, and after picking it up and re-titling it Warlords Of The 21st Century, Corman released the film to the states.

It is set in a world ravaged by a series of wars known as The Oil Wars, and follows a mysterious man who must save the members of a peaceful commune from being annihilated by a massive truck, known as Battle Truck. He teams up with the commune, and decides to take the attack to the people behind the onslaught, particularly the evil Col. Straker.

The film isn’t necessarily a bad one. Not at all. The film is a genuinely action packed, low budget take on the Mad Max style film, which in and of itself breeds a really entertaining film. The truck in and of itself was fantastically designed, and was featured in a film with far better music and sound design than Deathsport. Also, the performances here, as is the case in many Corman films, for what they are worth, are really quite good. Sure, the film lacks the grand and epic scale of films like The Road Warrior, but for what it truly is, it’s a really entertaining film.

However, this lacks any of the charm that makes these films so worth watching. The film doesn’t do much well, particularly visually as director Harley Cokeliss doesn’t quite know how to handle this material, which overall makes the film far less enjoyable. It may be the fact that Corman didn’t have as much of a hand on this film as in previous projects, as he simply bought distribution rights to the film, but whatever the cause, the film is far to mediocre for its own good, making the film far less entertaining than a film that is more extreme on either extent of the quality spectrum.

That said, the true problem here are the special features. Both films feature interesting commentaries, but other than that, they are rather barebones releases. The Deathsport portion of the disc does have an interview with actor Jesse Vint, theatrical trailers, a still gallery, and a collection of TV spots, but with the Battle Truck features simply being a collection of trailers along with a commentary, this is an underwhelming release features wise. The great thing about the Corman collection is that they are handled with so much love and respect, that the features really do a great job adding to the experience of watching the film. However, this release doesn’t quite do that.

Overall, this isn’t a bad release. Not at all. The films here are highly entertaining, and for fans of Roger Corman films, will be right up your alley. However, with such a short list of special features, and films that don’t quite live up to the Death Race or Galaxy Of Terror names, I can’t quite completely recommend a purchase here. For fans of this type of film, this is going to be a must own, as all of these releases are, but for the general public, these may not be the films to introduce you to the Corman name.

Buy the DVD from Amazon

Death Sport: In the year 3000, there’ll be no more Olympic Games, World Series, or Superbowl. There’ll be only Death Sport. (1978)

Director: Allan Arkush/Nicholas Niciphor

Stars: David Carradine (Kung Fu, Mean Streets, Kill Bill), Richard Lynch (Scarecrow), Claudia Jennings (Unholy Rollers, ‘˜Gator Bait)

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary
  • Still Gallery
  • Trailers
  • TV Spots

Battle Truck: Post-World War III tale of collapsed governments and bankrupt countries heralding a new lawless age. Also known as Warlords of the 21st Century. (1982)

Director: Harley Cokliss

Stars: Michael Beck (The Warriors, Xanadu), Annie McEnroe (Wall Street)

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary
  • Still Gallery

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