The Car (1977) d. Elliot Silverstein (USA)
Sandwiched between Duel and Christine in the annals of “Hell on Wheels” comes this hoot about a driverless chop-top black sedan menacing the inhabitants of a small Utah township. An ill wind blows whenever it approaches, tipping us off that this, my friends, is one B-A-D motorscooter. From its yellow-tinted behind-the-wheel POV shots, we watch the vicious vehicle mow down bicyclists and pedestrians, hide in garages, and even blast through houses while local motorcycle-riding sheriff Wade Parent (James Brolin) furrows and furrows his brow.
Director/producer Silverstein, who made his bones in television, was tapped by Universal execs to take a break from offbeat big-screen westerns (Cat Ballou, A Man Called Horse) to cash in on the popularity of Jaws, transplanting the aquatic menace to the desert and swapping out flippers for fenders. The results are decidedly uneven, but even so, Silverstein manages to cultivate a shimmer of suspense every time we see the devilish dust trail rising in the distance.
The game cast, which includes John Marley (The Godfather, Deathdream), Kathleen Lloyd (It Lives Again), John Rubinstein (The Boys from Brazil), R.G. Armstrong (Race with the Devil), Kim Richards (Escape to Witch Mountain), and Kyle Richards (Halloween's little Lindsey Wallace), plays it straight, with the added bonus of Ronny Cox (Deliverance, Robocop) as the mopiest police officer ever. But the real star is composer Leonard Rosenman, who not only slyly aped John Williams' Oscar-winning Jaws theme, but conceived the Car's distinctive klaxon horn as well.
Undeniably silly but supremely entertaining, Silverstein frenetically strings together the scenes of mayhem, even utilizing the time-honored "skip-frame" technique to speed up on the onscreen action, which only succeeds in amplifying the goofiness. The three, count 'em, three screenwriters (Dennis Shyrack, Michael Butler, Lane Slate) attempt to throw in social significance with half-hearted allusions to alcoholism, domestic violence, single-parent families, and even Native American issues, but they're all just delaying techniques until the maniacal machine can rev onto the screen again.
Shout! Factory drops The Car onto Blu-ray, and while this fan is unquestionably happy to see this slice of rambunctious ridiculousness (which even opens with a quote from Church of Satan founder Anton Lavey) making its hi-def bow, it's unfortunate that more bells and whistles could not be attached to the package.
|Oh, geez, you made Ronny cry, guys.|
There are three new interviews, all produced by supplementary material master Aine Leicht, which whet one's appetite without really satisfying. The sit-down with Silverstein ("Mystery of The Car") basically amounts to nine minutes of the director sheepishly saying, "I did the best I could do with what I had to work with," explaining how the project came his way and the challenges of delivering a suspenseful monster movie in broad daylight in the wide open desert landscape.
"The Navajo Connection" provides an interesting sidebar, discussing the handling of the Native American subtext and characters with actress Geraldine Keams. (For example, Margaret Willey, who plays the old woman that tells Brolin & Co. that there is no one driving everyone's favorite Antichrist Auto, was actually of Lakota-Sioux descent and had to be taught her Navajo lines phonetically.) But considering that Keams' police officer character is very much a bit part (she's billed 21st in the credits), there's no avoiding the fact that she comes off as an odd interview choice.
Even more puzzling is the selection of Melody Thomas Scott, aka "the bicyclist chick who gets killed in the first 10 minutes," whose 12-minute featurette ("Just Like Riding a Bike") gives her more screen time than her ill-fated character in the film! That said, the The Young and the Restless veteran does have a few juicy stories to share, painting Silverstein as a gruff tyrant constantly urging her to "ride faster, dammit." (She nearly send herself flying over the cliffs of Zion National Park in an effort to satisfy him.) Still, one can't help but wish that Leicht could have landed Brolin or Cox or Kim Richards to add a little more meat to the stew.
A theatrical trailer, TV spots, radio spots, and a still gallery round out the extras.
The Car is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE. Check the tires and fill ‘er up.