The Car (1977; Universal) Directed by Elliot Silverstein Produced by Marvin Birdt and Elliot Silverstein Screenplay by Michael Butler & Dennis Shryack and Lane Slate (Slate’s the creator of the short-lived super-ultraviolent 1981 TV show Strike Force; subject of a future DVD MIAarticle) Story by Michael Butler & Dennis Shryack (These two were the screenwriters of Clint Eastwood’s awesome The Gauntlet, also 1977) Music by Leonard Rosenman Cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld Editing by Michael McCroskey Visual effects by Albert Whitlock Car built by George Barris Starring James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, Ronny Cox R.G. Armstrong, and a bunch of roadkill pretending to be actors
"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!"
(Although, that is a pretty lame quote; hardly one that instills fear or dread, and certainly not very thought provoking. The quote should have been something like “The Devil appears as something familiar to you, something you use every day, and Satan will crush you with it,” or something. But despite my gripes, it is pretty cool that they used a quote from a fringe character rather than The Good Book.)
The Car absolutely needs lots more gore and destruction, but it is almost a must-see for one grand, sick moment that really “breaks the rules.” I’m not telling what it is, but it’s at roughly the one-hour mark. (But at the cool site Monstrous Calientes, there are some righteous frame grabs of the sequence in question—as well as some of The Car’s cool overseas posters.)
Universal Studios in-house effects wiz Albert Whitlockprovides some appropriately hellish opticals at the conclusion (above, snagged from Monstrous Calientes), and I really liked the minimalist art-deco Nazi hot rod look of the car: It’s really simple, almost to the point of dumb, but it works!
Look out! Here comes Satan’s Super-Sonic Cadillac!
And I loved the fact that the vehicle itself wasn’t possessed by a demon— —it is a demon! (That’s my interpretation anyway.)
(And I also love the fact that the Car’s powers keep showing up, like rabbits being pulled out of a hat—one of my fave scenes is when the Car has somehow let itself into Sheriff Brolin’s locked garage; huffing and puffing and blowing its horn like a dinosaur, the black vehicle seems quite diabolical.)
Originally released in Spring 1977, forces were at work to make sure The Car was not destined for great financial success—although the flick looks cheap enough that Universal Studios probably recouped its bread, and made enough of a profit to be remembered fondly by the bean counters; why else the re-releases this movie gets?
[Randomness: but do people realize that Star Wars, when it first came out, was considered, at least by the people around me who could have these sorts of opinions, to be astoner flick? Or at least, the height of camp? I mean, my mom thought Star Wars was a hilarious parody of old movie serials!]
So there we were that Saturday, May 28, 1977, waiting on line for Star Wars. We’d arrived at the theater early for the noon show, around 11 (even though we drove, we must’ve left the house around 9:30~10:00am), and were promptly informed that that show was sold out, but we could get on line for the 2 o’clock show.
Because their marquee was large, I recall, they could have little silhouettes of the car and its victims (images taken from the poster) there. (Later that year, I remember the National showed Friedkin’s awesome, but doomed, Sorcerer—wow, I guess the National didn’t have too good a batting average… (Although this review of Friedkin’s Bugsays Sorcerer opened a week before Star Wars, that’s not how I remember it—the facts be damned! Ha-ha!)
But no one was going into the theater, it seemed. Once, a guy with two kids, a small boy and a girl my age, walked by our line, seemed to be grumbling to himself or the kids, then crossed Broadway, past the recruiting station, and dragged his kids to see The Car instead: “I ain’t waitin’ an ’our in line for no damn space movie! Yeah, yeah, sure, you kids can have as much popcorn and soda as ya want! Just shaddup will ya?!?” But other than that sad trio, I don’t remember anyone else going into the National to see The Car….
I saw The Car a few years later, on CBS-TV, I think, on their Saturday night movie. That Monday at school, it turned out quite a few other boys saw the movie, as it was a hot topic of discussion. We all thought that the original motion picture, the un-edited for television version, would be much gorier and blood splattered— Ha! Were we wrong!
OMIGAHD!!! The Car has made it to the big city (as predicted by the flick’s end credits—although the metropolis zooming by in the background against the looming locked-down-camera close-ups of various parts of the monstrous automobile, like its wheels or the grill, in the foreground, looks like Los Angeles—showing that the second unit director was demonstrating more style than director Silverstein), and it’s been sighted on New York City’s Lower East Side! Look out! Honk-honk!
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