Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Final Girl Film Club - The Car (1977)

Cody is endeavoring to write about all of the Final Girl Film Club entries he missed over the years. The movies will be covered in the original Film Club order in most cases, while some of the articles will be posted to coincide with certain dates.

Cody wishes he could see The Car at a drive-in.

In my opinion, the coolest cars ever made were manufactured in the late '60s through the '70s, so it's quite appropriate that era also saw the release of a slew of awesome vehicle-based motion pictures, from the comedic Smokey and the Bandit to the getaway chase of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and the post-apocalyptic thrills of Mad Max. Horror wasn't left out of the car movie flood, either. Steven Spielberg's 1971 film Duel had Dennis Weaver getting chased through the desert by a tanker truck whose driver is never identified. The most popular killer car movie may be Christine, which didn't come around until 1983, but in between Duel and Christine there came The Car.

There's no denying that Satan had a grip on the box office back in those days as well. With Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen, and innumerable cash-ins, the devil was big business at the time. So when crafting the screenplay for The Car, writers Dennis Shryack, Michael Butler, and Lane Slate (a group that had multiple TV shows and Clint Eastwood and Chuck Norris flicks between them) mixed the "road movie" with the "Satanic horror" movie. Directed by television veteran Elliot Silverstein, The Car even begins with a text quote from Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, who gets a Technical Advisor credit, as if killer cars are in the Satanic Bible.

The titular vehicle, a Lincoln Continental Mark III customized by Barris Kustoms (a company best known for making the 1966 Batmobile) into something unique and iconic with a gloss-black paintjob and amber-tinted windows, comes roaring into the small desert community of Santa Ynez, Utah in the early minutes of the film, mowing down a bicycling couple on the way.

Driver-less, seemingly running on nothing but the powers of Hell, and never explained (because how could the townspeople ever figure out an explanation for this thing?), the car speeds through the streets of Santa Ynez and up and down the roads of the surrounding area, running over people at random, but also proving to be slightly picky - when it finds a wife-beating alcoholic in its path, the car swerves around him.

If you're someone who brings pain and violence into the world, the car will spare you.

Another way to avoid the car is to hide from it in a cemetery, as its tires cannot roll onto consecrated ground.

And those are about the only ways to avoid it. People aren't even safe from the car within their homes, as is proven in one of the film's most memorable scenes.

As it whittles down the town's population, the car is met with opposition from the local police force, with the situation becoming particularly personal for an officer named Wade Parent, whose last name is fitting, given that he's a single parent to two young daughters.

Chasing the car through the desert in an effort to bring its non-existent driver to justice, the Santa Ynez police do not fare well at all, and the car pulls impressive tricks to get them off its tail and wipe them out in some spectacular crashes.

The Car has been described as "Jaws on land", and it is reminiscent of Spielberg's Duel follow-up. The car gets more screen time than the Great White did, but like the presence of the shark was telegraphed by its fin breaking the surface of the ocean, there are also giveaways that the car is approaching. Distant headlights. Plumes of dust. A glint of metal. And of course, its blaring horn.

There may not be any logic to it, but to me the idea of a killer car on a rampage is an awesome one, and Silverstein took the concept and turned it into a very entertaining film.

The roles of the people who go up against the demonic vehicle were well cast, and all of the actors do well with what they're given to work with. James Brolin is our hero; Ronny Cox and prolific character actor R.G. Armstrong have supporting roles; Kathleen Lloyd makes a strong impression as Lauren, the school teacher who Parent is goofy in love with; and Parent's daughters are played by Kim and Kyle Richards.

The Richards sisters were known for acting in movies like John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween, Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive, and Escape to Witch Mountain in their youths, but now they're mainly known for being Paris Hilton's aunts.

The Car a B-movie through and through, and its release in May of 1977 put it on screens just in time for it to be enjoyed by viewers during drive-in season. This is a movie made for the drive-in crowd. The story is simple and the action and thrills are plentiful. You don't need to think about it too much, just sit back, relax, and watch the carnage unfold.

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  1. I love The Car. It's such silly fun. Great review.

    1. Thanks! A sequel is long overdue. Bring on The Car: Second Gear.

      - Cody