Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Maybe some people should be run over…

If you like watching a mess of horror movies around Halloween time (38 more days till Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, 38 more days till Halloween—Silver Shamrock!), here’s one to check out…


Never claiming to be anything more than a B-movie,
there is a lot of awesome about The Car—but also a lot of awful.

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 MIA article)
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
James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, Ronny Cox
R.G. Armstrong, and a bunch of roadkill pretending to be actors

If you’re willing to wade through some badly acted, poorly written scenes of fake jocularity and “happy normal life,”
with grannies yelling, “Cat poo!”,
you’ll be rewarded with a bleak, mean-spirited supernatural thriller that’s pretty damn cool.
I mean, how can you not like a flick that starts off with a quote from Anton Szandor LaVey?

"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 Whitlock provides
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

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.)

Re-re-released in early 2008, The Car is not perfect, hardly
but definitely worth a look for fans, especially those into quasi-satanic horror. (And check out Kathleen Lloyd’s hip-huggers! Wow.)

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?

Star Wars opened on May 25, 1977, and that was a Wednesday.
That Saturday, my family and I went to see the flick in one of the six or so theaters it had opened at in NYC (really; it’s not like today—even when Star Wars went “wide” in August, it was only in eleven theaters in the five boroughs of The Big Apple).

Already a film snob at 11, I was disappointed the flick wasn’t at the Ziegfeld, but as it turned out Loews Astor Plaza (RIP), B’way & 44th, off Times Square, was just as great a place to see Star Wars.

[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 a stoner 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.

That line went around two corners of the block, out onto Broadway. Across the street was the National Theater, later the National Twin (RIP), and they were showing The Car.

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 Bug says 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!

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!




  1. You have convinced me: I need to see this ridiculous movie.

  2. It's a dopey l'il flick, but often fun: It might be best to watch it while performing a mindless and repitive task, like brushing the cat or rearranging a stamp collection--something you can stop doing to rewind the flick, watch something gnarly, then pay half-attention to.

  3. It's a great movie, better than Star Bores, but possibly not better than Devil Dog: Hound of Hell. Great the way they down-cranked the camera to give THE CAR some extra punch. Great review by the way.