THE CAR (1977)
I love this 1977 B-movie action/horror, it is a textbook example of how a good director…Cat Ballou’s Elliot Silverstein…can take even a ridiculous premise and turn it into a solidly entertaining flick. And The Car is exactly that. The plot is simple, a demonic looking black sedan comes thundering out of the desert one morning and heads into the small rural desert town of Santa Ynez and begins to mow down innocents, like a hitchhiker and two young bicycle riders. While the Thomas County Sheriff’s office, including Captain…soon to be sheriff thanks to The Car…Wade Parent (James Brolin and an awesome 70s mustache), think there is a psycho on the loose, we already know something supernatural is afoot from the red tinted POV shots from within the vehicle and the mysterious wind that blows through right before it’s thunderous engines and blaring horn can be heard. Despite roadblocks, the vehicle appears and disappears at will and Wade and his deputies start to realize something is satanically wrong here, when the vehicle tries to run down a group of school children and is stopped when they flee into the hallowed ground of a cemetery and Wade himself confirms eyewitness accounts that the vehicle has no driver. But something evil is inside as indicated by the gleeful sounding horn after a kill and the fact that single dad Wade’s pretty schoolteacher girlfriend (Kathleen Lloyd) finds out the hard way that calling the ‘driver’ a “chicken shit” is a bad idea. Now with the body count mounting and all signs pointing to the fact that Old Scratch himself might be out for a joyride, Wade and his rapidly diminishing police force must find a way to stop Satan’s Sedan before Santa Ynez becomes a ghost town.
As with our previous Tomb of Nostalgia…The Devil’s Rain…The Car is another film that employed Satanist Anton LaVey as a technical advisor and even opens with a quote from him. Not sure what he advised as there really is very little religious talk in the film and even when they start to believe something evil is going on, a priest is never even mentioned much less consulted. Who cares, as Silverstein takes this laughable idea and makes a really fun and suspenseful action/horror flick that actually has some goose bump inducing moments, such as when The Car has some kids trapped in the cemetery and when Wade has an encounter with it in his own garage. Silverstein accomplishes this by taking his subject totally seriously and not only instilling his villain with a good deal of menace, but delivers some really intense chase and action sequences, including a very thrilling climax where all Hell literally breaks loose. Obviously the 70s nostalgia adds a lot of fun to it, too, but this is actually a well-directed film, and we enjoy it far more then we expect from a movie about a demon driven car. Another thing that adds to the effectiveness is that The Car appears in sleepy Santa Ynez for no reason, nor do we ever get one. It’s very spooky and random and that works far better than a hokey explanation and it gives The Car added personality to what Silverstein already imbues it with.
The cast, also starring Ronny Cox, R.G. Armstrong and Kyle and Kim Richards as Wade’s precocious daughters, take their roles very seriously with Brolin making a very human and sometimes fallible hero. He and Lloyd really do come across as a cute couple, too. The film was criticized for its acting back in the day, but personally, I think they are just fine for being in a flick about a demon possessed car. And speaking of which…the real star is George Barris’ customized 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III and it’s an iconic movie vehicle and is very intimidating and effective. If Beezelbub had a car, I have no problem believing this is what it would look like. Leonard Rosenman’s score is appropriately spooky and incorporates bits of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique…the piece that open’s The Shining and Gerald Hirschfeld’s cinematography makes nice use of the desert locations. Despite being filmed mostly in the day, it has plenty of creepy atmosphere.
All in all, The Car is a really fun B-movie blast with a well-deserved cult following and a favorite guilty pleasure of mine that I actually saw at The Park Lane theater in Palisades Park in 1977 when I was a kid…and it delightfully holds up all these years later! A fun action/ horror of the type they don’t make anymore!
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) satanic sedans.
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