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Monday, March 10, 2014

The Car

While not especially sci-fi, The Car (TC) is a natural to follow Demon Seed. TC has the requisite 70s technophobia and certainly picks up on the “demon” angle. The story, written by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, is thin on substance. The evil murderous Car simply IS, and must be dealt with. James Brolin stars, looking very 70s in his long hair and mustache. Kathleen Lloyd plays his girlfriend.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Opens with a quote: “Oh great brothers of the night, who rideth out upon the hot winds of hell, who dwelleth in the devil’s lair; move and appear!” — Anton La Vey (found of the “Church of Satan”) A mysterious black car drives out of the desert. It runs off the road (and thereby kills) two teen bicyclists. A “free spirit” youth sits by the road to hitchhike, annoying Amos (the wife beater). The Car roars past Johnny, almost hitting him, and eliciting a stream of curses from him. The Car backs up and runs over Johnny four times while Amos watches. Wade (Brolin) is called to work to investigate. The sheriff doesn’t like the spate of deaths, or Amos beating Bertha. On the street that night, The Car misses Amos, but hits and kills Sheriff Everett. Wade, now in charge, orders road blocks set up. Meanwhile, the high school marching band practices at the local dirt track. The Car bursts in, chasing everyone. Lauren (Wade’s girlfriend) has everyone run into an old cemetery nearby. The Car won’t enter the cemetery. Lauren hurls taunts at the driver. The Car spins donuts in the dirt to show its outrage. When the deputies arrive, The Car speeds away. Deputy Ray gives chase up a twisty canyon road. The Car ambushes him, pushing him off the cliff. The Car then barrel rolls over the top of two other deputy cars, killing the four inside. It comes up to Wade and stops. He tries to shoot the tires an windshield, to no effect. He comes to the driver side to find no handle on the door. The Car opens it’s door suddenly, knocking out Wade. He awakens in the hospital. Lauren says she will get some of her things and stay overnight with Wade’s young girls. Deputy Chaz drops Lauren off at her house. While she is on the phone to Wade, The Car roars up, flies through her living room, killing Lauren. Revenge for the taunting she gave it, theorizes Deputy Luke, and it wouldn’t enter the cemetery because it was hallowed ground. Wade plots a scheme to stop The Car using Amos’ dynamite. While getting ready, however, The Car was lurking in his garage. It has him trapped inside. It revs its engine to create deadly monoxide. Wade manages to leap out a broken window, however, and the chase is on. Wade’s men are not ready with the dynamite yet, but hastily get the trap ready. After arduous chasing and escapes, Wade and Luke stand at the edge of a cliff. The Car races at Wade, who jumps out of the way. The Car sails off the cliff. When it falls in, the dynamite is exploded. The ensuing fire ball shows signs of a clawed hand, and a fanged face before dissipating. Wade refuses to acknowledge what they all saw. He says it’s over. The credits roll over tight closeups of The Car driving through an urban setting. The End?

Why is this movie fun?
Yes, it is yet another Thing Attacks People story, but TC is a reasonably well crafted movie, even though the premise is absurd. Director Elliot Silverstein does an effective job of keeping his ‘monster’ mysterious. Interesting camera work, and crisp editing (in the fast parts) keep the visual interest up. The Car’s signature air horn call: Wonnk-Wanka-Wonnnnnnnk was effect use of sound for a villain that could not speak.

Cultural Connection
More Technophobia — This time technology’s malevolence is projected onto a ubiquitous technological item: a car. This is more of a ‘trickle-down’ form of the traditional anxiety about technology. Instead of a massive computer, which few of the public ever encounter, this time the maniac machine is something everyone interacts with. Note the typical powerlessness of the humans to stop the technology.

Vehicular Badness — As a sub-genre, vehicles-gone-bad is fairly small. 1971 had Steven Spielberg’s Duel which cast a big greasy tanker truck in the role of villain, whose “end” TC’s seems copied from. 1974 had the strangely bad Killdozer. Following TC would be John Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Christine (’83) — again a car possessed by Satan, though a deceptively prettier car. King’s short story “Trucks” would get made into two movies: Maximum Overdrive (’86) and Trucks (’97), neither of which were especially effective. TC was better than them.

Doubtless Demons — With the opening quote from La Vey, and the imagery in the fireball, there is little doubt that The Car was demon possessed, and not, as in Colossus, or Proteus, technology that had gone bad. Yet, as a technological item, a killer car has its symbolic role.

Father of Car — Designer and customizer George Barris created The Car for the film. Barris is more famous for his 60s Batmobile based on the Lincoln Futura. His design started with a ’71 Lincoln Continental Mark III, and one can see some of that look in the hood/grill, but the bodywork was actually all new tube and sheet construction over the base Mark III. The big slab-sided body with high rounded fenders bears a strong resemblance to the 1955 Chrysler Falcon concept car, but with none of the grace and curve. Barris created a brutish look, fitting for the role of psychopathic technology.

Bottom line? TC is not high art, by any means. It’s Duel with less drama and more caffeine. It’s Killdozer done better. It’s Christine before Christine, but without the Fatal Attractions subtext. TC is not particularly scary, and not hardly sci-fi at all, except that the Car itself is a machine. Still, TC has some scenes done well, so worth with the wait. TC may not merit a long search to find it, but if it’s on, it’s worth a watch.


Randall Landers said...

Awww, I _liked_ Killdozer, but the Car was the best of the bunch. The King versions just are worthless to me.

Nightowl said...

I know, I know. I've got a soft spot for Killdozer too, which is hard to explain. It has something of that endearing, unintended goofiness like Plan 9, or Creeping Terror.

Anonymous said...

Love the film, despite all its flaws. A definite guilty pleasure! Wade/Brolin notwithstanding, probably the most ridiculous police forces in the west too!!!

Darci said...

I wonder if some of our mutual affection for 1974's Killdozer is that it is an adaptation of Theodore Sturgeon's 1944 novella? One of the ways its killer is different from The Car or the trucks in Maximum Overdrive is that Daisy Etta seemed so beloved before her possession.