The Car (1977) | This supernatural race with the devil thriller is a wild ride indeed!
When a big black car roaming the desert highways of the American south-west terrorises the residents of Santa Ynez and knocks down and kills the local sheriff, it’s down to police captain Wade Parent (James Brolin) to stop the diabolic driverless car. But can Wade come up with a plan before it picks off more innocent lives, including those of his young family and schoolteacher girlfriend?
1982’s Christine is often seen as the cinema’s definitive demon-car movie, but I have real soft spot for 1977’s The Car – which I revisited last night after reading the review in Son of Unsung Horrors.
The cinema poster for this much-rided 1977 horror thriller asked patrons: ‘Is it a phantom, a demon, or the Devil Himself?’ Actually, it was just a big black car mowing down anyone in its path and kicking up lots of dust before turning into a fireball with a cartoon demon face appearing in the smoke.
With Jaws, Duel and The Exorcist all box-office hits in the 1970s, it must have looked like a great idea to fuse them altogether, with the Utah desert and a Lincoln Continental Mark III standing in for the ocean and a shark, plus some added spooky stuff and some rubber burning. Director Elliot Silverstein, who is better known for the 1965 comedy western Cat Ballou, keeps everyone straight-faced, despite the hokum concept, until the spectacular fireball finale.
Along the way, there’s some domestic drama to get lost in. Brolin (aka Mr Barbra Streisand) has to step up when his superior is mowed down. His girlfriend (Kathleen Lloyd – whatever happened to her?) is the local schoolteacher who succeeds in seeing off the car after it closes in on a party of schoolkids (including sisters Kim and Kyle Richards, who I remember from Nanny and the Professor and Disney’s Witch Mountain films, but who later found reality TV fame as the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills). Meanwhile, the always dependable Ronny ‘RoboCop‘ Cox is the alcoholic local deputy who falls off the wagon when the car rolls in.
John Landis calls the film ‘dumb but fun’, while Guillermo del Toro actually owns a replica of the car that was designed by the legendary George Barris, who also did the Batmobile for the 1966s TV series. With its stunning Panavision desert-scapes, a Planet of the Apes-inspired Leonard Rosenman score, featuring a reworked, orchestral version of the Dies irae Gregorian chant, and it even has a credit to Anton LeVey – how can you not love this Jaws on land offering? Well I certainly do, I even own the highly collectable paperback tie-in.
My copy of the The Car is the excellent 2013 Arrow Video Blu-ray release featuring a HD restoration, which comes with the following special features…
• Audio commentary with director Elliot Silverstein
• Making a Mechanical Monster featurette with special effects artist William Alridge
• Hitchhike to Hell featurette with actor/victim John Rubinstein
• Trailer commentary by John Landis
• Original Trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Joe Wilson
• Collector’s booklet and an Easter Egg