JBB Featured Film Reviewer

“Death Race 3: Inferno”: Smash-em-up hero Frankenstein returns for the third time

Ben Nagy checks out "Death Race 3: Inferno" — there's explosions, twisted metal, blood, breasts and the drivers act like beasts when behind the wheel.

If you’re reading this, that means we’ve all survived another Distracted Driving Awareness Month that has been designated by the federal government to occur in April of every year.

The big survival tips each month when you’re on the road, but especially during Distracted Driving Awareness Month (besides not driving) are, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

  1. Pulling over if you have to text.
  2. Having a “designated texter” who’s not driving to respond to all texts, tweets and notifications and to handle the music selections for all people in the car. Best course there, obviously, is to do a thorough process and hire your own Mailperson like JBB does.
  3. Avoiding any distractions by putting your device in some sort of hermetically sealed container so that it remains absolutely inaccessible while driving. These could be as simple as a glove compartment or as complex as one of Jigsaw’s traps or a puzzle box, a la Hellraiser.
  4. Telling anyone who appears to be distracted while driving to knock it off without distracting them further. A second aspect to this would be refraining from distracting drivers in other vehicles. This would include refraining from making gestures, constructing signs, shining laser pointers or exposing various parts of anatomy normally concealed by clothing.

I may have added some stuff to these. Don’t tell NHTSA.

However, as is the case with many Mutants, watching Death Race 2000 multiple times makes the toll that distracted driving can have fully apparent. Decades before smart phones and devices, and even with a dedicated navigator, we’ve witnessed what happened when Roberta Collins as poor Matilda the Hun wasn’t watching where she was going and drove off a cliff Wile E. Coyote style. It can happen to any of us. Thusly, we should pay attention when behind the wheel at all times.

And speaking of paying attention, here’s another strange mind-twisting flick chronology…

Back in 2008, Hollywood remade (or it was a prequel, depending on if you ask Paul Thomas Anderson) the previously mentioned Death Race 2000 from 1975 as Death Race. Friend of The Last Drive-In Roger Corman, whose New World Pictures produced the original, had a deal in place where the new version was going to star Tom Cruise. That all fell through, and they got Jason Statham to be the hero guy doing the crash-and-burn and winning the death races. Honestly it’s a case where the universe got it right.

Frankenstein (Luke Goss) and crew chief Goldberg (Danny Trejo) talk Death Race shop in "Death Race 3: Inferno." (Photo courtesy
Frankenstein (Luke Goss) and crew chief Goldberg (Danny Trejo) talk Death Race shop in “Death Race 3: Inferno.” (Photo courtesy

P.T. Anderson’s flick did well enough to bring about Death Race 2 in 2010, but not well enough to get a theatrical release or to have Statham return for a second go around. So direct to DVD it went as a sequel that was really a prequel to a flick that might have also been a prequel. Statham didn’t come back, so they got Luke Goss (Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, Blade 2), who has a similar-shaped bald cranium if you squint hard but doesn’t kung-fu people enough, to play main driver Frankenstein. With the money they saved, the producers could also get Danny Trejo to be the crew chief. They did.

Video stores still existed at the time, and that one sold enough units, so they brought the whole cast back for Death Race 3: Inferno, which is what we’re checking out here.

The angle for these flicks is pretty straightforward — a no-holds-barred race where vehicles with weapons compete to get to the finish line first. Killing the competition is encouraged, as is causing collateral damage to pedestrians, onlookers and whomever else. The big goal is ratings and entertainment. In the later trilogy, prisoners are forced to compete in the to-the-death competition for a chance at freedom — a concept borrowed directly from Arnold the Barbarian’s Running Man or The Condemned with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin if you want to be more recent and consistent with the bald anti-hero achetype.

In Death Race Three-o, Goss’s character, Carl Lucas, had faked his own death at the conclusion of Death Race Two-o. All his crew, consisting of Goldberg (Trejo), Katrina the love interest/navigator (Tanit Phoenix, Lost Boys: The Thirst) and car spotter Lists (Frederick Kohler, Domino, The Evil Within) think he’s dead. They’re all shipped off to South Africa for a death race in the Kalahari, then get in a big prisoner brawl for some reason or another. In the fight Frankenstein’s mask gets torn off in front of them, and they’re not too happy when they figure out that he’s not quite dead and all their anguished mourning was misplaced.

For a movie about custom cars running around the desert shooting rockets and machine guns at each other, there’s a lot of plot. In addition to the whole Frankenstein faking his death deal, there’s a hostile corporate takeover by a British guy (Dougray Scott) from the original CEO (Ving Rhames), classism, backstage shenanigans and some stuff about local South African crime lords. The multi-day races are also split up into stages, but unlike any decent racing video game, we never get a picture of where they’re supposed to race to. Instead there’s just a big board that they cut to every time a racer gets killed.

Psycho (Jeremy Crutchley) waxes philosophically while stashed in his chicken coop-style cell in "Death Race 3: Inferno." (Photo courtesy
Psycho (Jeremy Crutchley) waxes philosophically while stashed in his chicken coop-style cell in “Death Race 3: Inferno.” (Photo courtesy

Another shortcoming to this one is that a lot of the racers do not get a character-developing highlight scene that makes them identifiable outside the car they drive until it’s time for them to succumb to vehicular mayhem. Some do — Jeremy Crutchley’s Psycho, who makes it to the final day of racing, has some depth to him. But others are just non-descript road-ragers, and so it ends up being a lot of yelling interspersed with smash cuts and things blowin up real good.

Ben's Bloody Best

Best Vehicle: Frankenstein’s ride has the front end of a mid 2000s Mustang.

Best Candidate for Foot Fungus: The Death Race top brass stick Frankenstein in this cell with about four inches of water on the floor, which is a weird way to treat your star attraction, who kind of needs his feet healthy enough to drive.

Katrina (Tanit Phoenix) fries some of her rivals during the navigators' death match in "Death Race 3: Inferno." (Photo courtesy
Katrina (Tanit Phoenix) fries some of her rivals during the navigators’ death match in “Death Race 3: Inferno.” (Photo courtesy

Best Thunderdome Impersonation: The 16 navigator candidates get whittled down in a pre-Death Race deathmatch. Katrina roasts a few competitors after she gets a flamethrower. One gets her face sliced off by a halberd. One’s decapitated, stabbed, etc.

Best Moves: Goldberg gets sliced in his shoulder (it ends up being just a flesh wound), but that doesn’t stop him from seducing the nurse in charge of the infirmary. Danny Trejo’s bewtocks are briefly visible.

Best Line Foreshadowing a Future Enterprise From Danny Trejo: “You know Baja — it’s the kind of tacos I like.” He started his restaurant business Trejo’s Tacos in 2016.

Best Way to Keep Competitors in Line: The big bad CEO and his showrunner inject everyone with tracking devices and then launch missiles at em if they try to chicken out.

Olga Braun (Michelle van Schaik) is the first woman driver in the Death Race (Photo courtesy
Olga Braun (Michelle van Schaik) is the first woman driver in the Death Race (Photo courtesy

Best Effort Till the End: Olga (Michelle van Schaik) has a good showing up until Stage 2 and goes out like a boss. Unfortunately Death Race 3 seems to be the only film credit she has.

Plenty of action and they shot this one on location in South Africa, so the desert vistas are genuine. The three Bs are present, but as JB puts it, too much plot to get in the way of the story, especially because they have to have one of those five-minute flashback explanation sequences at the end before the credits to explain what the movie was all about.

Two stars. Check it out streaming on Starz, Amazon, Google/YouTube, Apple or on physical media.

Next up: A certain somebody who needs to be inducted in the Drive-In Hall of Fame (don’t worry, I’m lobbying Joe Bob) has a milestone birthday coming up next month, so we’re going to do a special themed month of reviews featuring their work. Be ready!

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