Ah, the sound of that blaring car horn is certainly a noise that reminds me of my childhood. And after watching this movie again recently for the first time in years I found that it still holds up as well, if not better, than I remember.
The film tells the story of a mysterious, monstrous looking car terrorizing a small town in Utah. Seemingly running down random victims without provocation (with the exception of a gobby hitch hiker who kinda brought it on himself). On the case is local lawman Wade (played by James Brolin during his ‘Reynolds Tache’ period), obviously he and the rest of his colleagues believe this to be nothing more than some nut in a souped up car…But when the car bumps off Sheriff Everett (John Marley) and strange eye witness accounts begin to emerge, the case of this mystery car might not be so straight forward after all.
‘The Car’ is an unappreciated classic in my eyes, it’s quite surprising to me that it isn’t name checked more often amongst other movies of this era. Stephen Kings/John Carpenters ‘Christine’ seems to get more recognition and ‘The Car’ predates it by five years and has a lot more going for it in my opinion and is far more effective. I mean sure, some can look at it and call it “Jaws with a car” or pick apart some of the acting which in all honesty, is a little weak at times, but the atmosphere the movie creates is the thing that will/should win you over.
The setting of the dusty landscapes of Utah combined with the demonic black car is fantastic and makes for some great moments in the cinematography department, most notably the opening shot with the car entering the town from far away in the distance, seemingly out of nowhere, cruising into town like some sort of pimped out Lawrence Of Arabia. And who can forget the the signature horn rhythm which either means someones going to die or someones just bitten the dust. The POV of whatever is driving the car is excellent too, with the orange tinted windscreen, for some reason it’s just creepy as hell.
The ways in which the car dispatches it’s victims are varied and at times quite genius. You have your usual, simple hit and run scenarios, but now and again you’ll get something totally unexpected, like the moment where two cop cars head toward the car, blocking it’s path, cuing up a fantastic bit of carnage and stunt work.
The performances by the leads are pretty solid for the most part, from Brolin as Wade, a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders as he tries to rid the town of the car, to eighties bad guy favourite Ronny Cox as a recovering alcoholic struggling to stay away from the bottle during the carnage his town is enduring, although admittedly his character arc is one of my few criticisms of the movie, it pretty much goes nowhere and is kind of a pointless addition. You expect him to overcome his jittery and frail nature, but by the end of the movie he’s still pretty much acting like a fanny, good performance though. R.G. Armstrong is great too as Amos, the town miser, who seems to be forever beating his wife and in a strange turn of events ends up becoming a saviour of sorts.
The finale is great stuff, from the tense as hell stand off between Wade and the car, to the chase into the canyons. Ending with a special effect that still impresses today as it no doubt did in 1977. I was really expecting it not to look as good as I remember, but it still holds up and will certainly get you wondering how they pulled it off.
The score by Leonard Rosenman should also get a mention, with it’s jarring opening note that accompanies the main title really setting the tone for the movie. At times the score reminded me of Harry Manfredini’s work on the earlier ‘Friday The 13th’ entries and coincidentally Rosenman uses Hector Berlioz’ ‘Dies Irae’ as part of the main theme which was also used in ‘Friday The 13th Part 6’ (the piece was also, most notably, used in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’)
Even though the movie contains a high body count it never strays down the road of excessive violence and gore soaked aftermaths, which is a good thing here as it keeps the car itself that as the main focus of terror and not the state of the victims, you’re not really afraid of what the car is going to do, but mainly just the car itself and its imposing presence.
I see that the IMDB has a listing for ‘The Car (2008)’, I’m just praying that this isn’t a forthcoming remake as the ingredients I mentioned that make the film creepy will no doubt be swept under the carpet, and we’ll probably have an over the top shit fest with some ‘Fast & The Furious’ looking car…And considering the crap which fills cinemas that’s passing for horror today, the car will probably kidnap its victims and torture them with pliers in the back seat for 15 minutes.
All in all, if this one has passed you by over the years then check it out, to me it’s a classic slice of 70’s cinema. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.