Schlocktoberfest #15: The Car
In the ’70s with the oil embargo, long gas lines made driving in your land yacht a horror movie in itself. Now that gas is eating up more of our monthly budget, we can see the true terror of a 5,000 pound Detroit steel behemoth bent on destroying a small desert town. With a prior generation of Brolin as the hero, this is good cheesy ’70s fun.
Probably best remembered as the movie Futurama spoofed with “The Night of the Werecar,” we visit a lazy southwestern town that gets besieged by a sleek black automobile. James Brolin plays the Sheriff, who slowly realizes they are dealing with something much more sinister than just a psychotic driver… perhaps the car is driven by Satan himself. It’s pure cheese and played completely straight, with the custom-built black shark tearing across the roadways and terrifying the pedestrians. And don’t think hiding inside the house will save you… the best scare of the movie comes when someone thinks just that.
The supernatural angle is not fully explored, and they deal with the problem like any apple pie-loving American- they blow it up. The car, with its chopped top, filled-in suicide doors, and humongous chrome grill and bumpers, is an iconic image from the ’70s and the movie is often gripping when it’s not a nostalgic chucklefest. When the Car corners a bunch of women and children at the gates of a cemetery, the Sheriff’s estranged wife taunts the unseen driver as it performs frustrated donuts of destruction. The best stunt comes when two police cars try to muscle it off the road, and learn too late that this is no mere hot rodder on a joyride.
Much of the rest is pretty predictable and not very chilling, but not too bad either. It spends quite a bit of time with the cops and the rest of the populace hiding indoors, trying to make sense of this machine tormenting their town. The director knows his suspense, and while the demonic roar of its engine and the frenetic honking of its air horn are pretty campy, when the Car corners a squad car at the edge of a cliff, or when James Brolin slowly approaches it as it idles, as if begging him to open the door, there’s some real chills.
The mystery of the Car is never fully explained, but that is part of the charm. If the Devil hopped out and gave a spiel before cackling his way down the Highway to Hell, it just wouldn’t be the same.
So while this may be a relic of the ’70s, and not as good as Duel or Christine when it comes to haunted car movies, it is still an entertaining horror film and decent lazy TV day fare.