The Car (Elliot Silverstein, 1977)
Ushered into drive-ins in a sea of Jaws knock-offs, The Car was swiftly dismissed in 1977. Fair enough. It’s a pretty silly movie. However, this gloriously dumb film is also the sort of thing that cults are built on. The movie might not have received the critical revival of Steven Spielberg’s motor-monster-movie Duel, but it’s earned a collection of followers (including Guillermo del Toro who commissioned a replica of the titular car to drive around Los Angeles as a one man movie homage) There’s an undeniable charm to Elliot Silverstein’s absurd exploitation movie. So it’s only appropriate that the good people at Shout/Scream factory would add The Car is a to their ever-growing library of oddball genre releases. This one in need of a wider audience comprised of those special folks with a taste for cheese.
Kicking off with an Anton LaVey quote, there’s a suggestion that a meditation on evil will follow, but that never arrives. Instead, a car possessed by some sort of Satanic force appears in a tiny desert town with only a ragtag group of corn fed cops (headlined by a young n’ spectacularly mustached James Brolin) capable of stopping it. The flick works on two levels. There are some pretty fantastic car kills executed years before John Carpenter (by way of Stephen King) delivered Christine. Thanks to a surprisingly decent budget from Universal Studios and a 70s stunt team with no regard for their physical safety, Silverstein stages remarkable chases, crashes, and explosions. The ominous car speeding through the desert trailed by atmospheric clouds of dust is quite an evocative image, creating some sort of redneck gothic horror flick. Then any time characters open their mouths, the film’s second level of charm appears. It’s unlikely anyone involved in The Car was aiming for comedic effect, but they delivered an absolutely hilarious movie nonetheless. The cast of up-and-comers earnestly act their hearts out to the best of their limited ability, delivering big laughs along the way.
Whether deliberate or accidental, The Car offers non-stop entertainment. The mixture competency and incompetency forms the special cocktail that made Roger Corman’s New World Pictures so legendary and created a subgenre of self-conscious homage following the grand Grindehouse folly (The Car is undeniably one of the many influences on Death Proof). In fact, the movie works so well as a horror-comedy that you might start to think Silverstein played the proceedings with tongue jammed firmly in cheek. Certainly the director’s track record (including Cat Ballou and a handful of Tales From The Crypt episodes) suggests that he knew how to craft scares and camp. However, his awkward interview on Shout’s wonderful new Blu-ray should knock that opinion right out of your skull.
As usual, Shout Factory’s technical presentation of The Car is top notch. The video/audio transfer appears to be pulled directly from the Blu-ray that Arrow video released a few years ago. But that’s A-OK. The dusty desert visuals pop with remarkable depth and colour while the lossless audio tracks (available in 5.1 and the original stereo) offer as much clarity as 70s genre flick can offer. Sadly, the special features from that Region B Arrow disc didn’t make the cut, which is a shame because it features one of the most uncomfortable director’s commentaries of all time with Elliot Silverstein barely containing his disdain for The Car. Thankfully he pops up for a delightfully awkward 10-minute interview about the film in which he goes out of his way to warn viewers not to set their expectations too high.
Another pair of interviews with actresses are also included. Geraldine Keams sits down for a nostalgic 12 minute chat with great fondness for the film, while Melody Thomas Scott delivers a hilariously candid 9-minute chat discussing her feuds with the director, the tremendously unsafe stunts, and a prank she pulled on the set. Toss in some vintage trailers, TV and radio spots and you’ve got a nice package for a weirdo camp/cult film in desperate need of rediscovery. Arrow’s UK Blu-ray remains the home video gold standard for The Car, but Shout have delivered a perfectly worthy Blu-ray for North American genre nuts who don’t have a region-free player. If you’ve never seen The Car, its mix of well-crafted suspense and bonehead writing/acting is rather special. There’s certainly nothing else quite like it.
Does it deserve a spot on your Dork Shelf?
Whether deliberate or accidental, The Car offers non-stop entertainment. Shout Factory’s technical presentation is top notch, making this a must own for any genre fan.