Reviewer: David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist
When it comes to killer cars or vehicles, Steven Spielberg’s television flick, Duel (1971) remains the bar in which other movies of this ilk need to match. Featuring the simple premise of an everyday businessman, played by Dennis Weaver (father in Gentle Ben) being mercilessly tormented and hounded by a rusty truck, it oozed menace and tension by keeping all the action from the perspective of the terrified victim. Attempts were made in 1983 to bring Stephen King’s haunted car, Christine to the big screen. Although there were nice touches in John Carpenter’s feature, bad editing and major changes in the storyline destroyed much of what made King’s novel such a horror classic.
The Car leans more towards a supernatural premise than Duel. The opening scene features two young cyclists being mowed down by a large, black coupe. The vehicle horns them before ramming them down. Later that afternoon, the town bully and wife-beater, Amos (R.G. Armstrong) witnesses a goofy musician being flattened by the car. The local sheriff, Everett (John Marley) and deputy/ single father, Wade (James Brolin) are called in to investigate the murders. Having not dealt with anything more severe than a parking ticket in the town’s history, the deaths are all the more shocking for them. When Amos claims that he could not see number-plates on the vehicle and that he could not verify the make and model, the policemen appear to have drawn a blank. After leaving the station that evening, Everett becomes the fourth victim to the car. Wade organises blockades around the county and brings in help from neighbouring law enforcers but nothing appears to be able to stop this elemental menace. When a parade is gatecrashed by our titular villain, a school teacher (Kathleen Lloyd) and her pupils flee to a cemetery to hide from the attack. They notice that the car will not follow them onto hallowed ground reinforcing the idea that what they are dealing with is not a psychopath but something far more evil.
Elliot Siverstein’s film reminded me of the feeling I got when I would take the family to see a pantomime. Parts of it are corny and painfully bad but in a fun way. If you begin watching this with the expectation that you are watching anything other than an entertaining B-movie then you are going to be sorely disappointed. The solid cast are given little material to work with to the point that some of their statements and responses seem improvised. However there are attempts to build character development. Brolin and Lloyd are both likeable as the lead characters and a young Ronny Cox is solid as a fragile deputy with a drinking problem. The director even has you rooting for an early victim who stands up to Amos when he encounters the brute bashing his wife around.
The car itself remains mysterious and menacing throughout the film. The technique of filming the attacks from behind the red windscreen of the vehicle work really well. Shots of the car emerging from the darkness or sand haze are excellent and add to the menace of it being some form of unstoppable force. Depending on the viewer, the final third act may be deemed unintentionally hilarious. At one point we watch as the villain of the piece does a Blues Brother’s style roll and flip and takes out four policemen. There is also an amazing, if ludicrous, sequence when a major character is murdered when the coupe flies through a living room window.
The most effective aspect of the feature is the splendid photography and the sinister score. The latter seems identical if not slower to the one that featured in the opening credits of The Shining (1980) and instantly reassures you that you are about to watch something of substance. Although it does not match the greatness of Duel, The Car remains a fast moving and entertaining yarn with exciting and well shot set-pieces. It’s certainly well worth the ride.
Extras: Moderated commentary with the director/ special effects supervisor interview/ Actor John Rubinstein interview/ Trailer/ Introduction and trailer commentary by John landis