The modern world can be such an impersonal place. Take, for example, automobiles. People tend to forget that there are other people in them so that, instead of living, breathing organisms with thoughts and emotions, they are considered just faceless metal objects standing between a driver and their intended destination. But what happens when the object in the way is a bloodthirsty killing machine that doesn’t want to yield? In 1977, a movie was released that let the world know what evil drives: The Car.
The Car starts with a couple bicycling on a remote mountain road. The two youngsters take turns fooling around and racing each other until an ominous black car mysteriously approaches, chases them and eventually runs them down. Before their bodies are even found, the car claims another victim; a French horn playing hitchhiker. This time, there was a witness, and a police officer named Wade Parent (James Brolin from the original The Amityville Horror) takes his statement; the man was run over 4 times by a black car. Once the cycling couple’s remains are found, a new piece of information of discovered – the car that is running innocent people down has no driver. When the local school holds a musical rehearsal for a parade, the car once again shows up to terrorize the people. The children and their teacher, Wade’s girlfriend Lauren (It Lives Again’s Kathleen Lloyd) take refuge in an old cemetery, and the car refuses to pass through the gates to the hallowed and blessed grounds. Wade and Lauren realize that the phantom car is no ordinary automobile, and the forces that drive it are not merely human. Armed with this new information, the city folk are tasked with finding a way to stop the car before it kills again.
Directed by television director Elliot Silverstein (who directed episodes of both the original “The Twilight Zone” and HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt”), The Car owes a big debt of gratitude to Steven Spielberg. Not only is Silverstein’s movie a ramped-up version of Spielberg’s 1971 faceless truck film Duel, but it’s a more mechanical telling of his 1975 blockbuster Jaws. The script for The Car was written by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack (the team that was behind such Clint Eastwood movies as Pale Rider and The Gauntlet) along with veteran T.V. writer Lane Slate. The story takes Duel a step further; although the murderous driver in The Duel is never seen, there is little question that there is still a human behind the wheel. In The Car, the unseen force is made out to be a devilish or demonic force, completely stripped of humanity or emotion. The POV shots from inside are even red-tinted. The car in The Car is so evil that The Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey is listed as a creative consultant in the credits. Now, that’s evil.
For what it is, The Car is a fairly suspenseful film. The opening scene where the car chases down the male bicyclist is chilling. The boy pedals as fast as his legs will go, and the car keeps coming, closer and closer, until it’s right up on the boy’s rear wheel, and then…it bumps him off the side of a bridge. In another scene, Wade is trapped in a garage with the car, playing a deadly game of cat and mouse, tempting the car to run into him and jumping out of the way at the last second, only to have the car stop on a dime and back up, resetting to try again. Like Duel and Jaws, The Car is full of great show-them-the-bomb tense moments like these.
Unlike Duel and Jaws, The Car has some pretty horrible acting. Aside from Brolin, who is good but not his usual great, the cast is weak and inexperienced, with performances ranging from marginal (Lloyd’s Lauren) to downright embarrassing (the rest of the police). Part of the problem is the dialogue; the lines are so corny, even Sir Alec Guinness (who made the line “May the Force be with you” sound cool) would have trouble selling them. An example – Wade: “You know it’s impossible to brush your teeth without wiggling your ass?” Lauren: “Everybody knows that…” Luckily for The Car, the biggest star of the film doesn’t have any lines…it just revs its engine and runs people over.
Of all of the things in life that people take for granted, the automobile is probably one of the biggest. However, The Car will make people think twice about the four-wheeled contraptions that roll next to, around and past them. With tinted windows, it can be hard to tell if the driver is a person…or something else.
**Watch The Car now via Instant Streaming on Netflix.**