The Car (1977)

NOVEMBER 28, 2008

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

Kiefer Sutherland can quit 24 and make nothing but shit movies for the rest of his career, and I would still respect him forever due to his response at the Mirrors press conference when someone asked what movies scared him and the other cast/crew. Usually, A-listers seemingly grew up in a world where the only horror movies are The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Shining, but Kiefer said that The Car scared him the most as a kid. Not that I doubt that those other movies really are the scariest some folks have ever seen*, but it just seems like such a stock answer since it’s literally ALWAYS one of those whenever a big star is queried. So kudos, herr Bauer, for having the gravitas to be honest, and show a little personality in your response.

(For the record, Amy Smart and Alex Aja both said The Shining).

In one of my first trips to the New Bev, Charles Band himself screened a print of his movie Crash! (not to be confused with Cronenberg’s not that good movie, or the horrendous and godawful piece of shit Paul Haggis film), which was a killer car movie in which the car would kill a cop car every 5-10 minutes, regardless of what else was going on in the movie (which, to be fair, wasn’t much). So as I was watching The Car, I began to wonder if Band’s film was a quickie cashin response to this one, much like a lot of the late 80s/early 90s Full Moon movies (Hollywood has Chucky, Band has Demonic Toys!). But I was wrong! According to the IMDb, Band’s film was released four months before it. I suppose he could have read a trade announcement about the film and got his done sooner, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

Besides, his movie was missing one crucial ingredient: JAMES BROLIN. Specifically, his moustache. The movie would be a lot of fun even without him, but Brolin elevates it into near-classic territory with his straight delivery. You might expect an actor to ham it out the entire time when dealing with this particular concept, but nope. You almost buy it as a serious storyline thanks to Brolin’s no-nonsense performance (not counting his goofy introduction, in which he tries to convince his girlfriend that eight minutes is more than enough time for lovemaking before work. Smooth.).

That introduction actually kind of fits with the rest of the movie, which is more than just a little “off”. Characters are introduced awkwardly, people say odd things, and bizarrely melodramatic subplots are tossed in, seemingly to make the movie feel less B-movie-ish, but just distract and inadvertently seem as odd as everything else. How else to explain Ronny Cox’s drinking problem, which leads to a honest to goodness “For your consideration” crying scene? But back to the dialogue – it’s worth noting that the car’s antics aren’t even the funniest things in the movie. An old lady yells “Cat poo!” after the car is scared off by a graveyard; Brolin’s daughter responds to his inquiries about him re-marrying with “Do you like it when I cook?” (it comes off like she is offering to take the wife position herself); and best of all, an old jerk sees a guy sitting outside of his house and demands “What the hell ARE you?”, without any respect for proper pronoun usage or traditional verb emphasis.

The old guy also mentions something about his “dynamite truck”, which would have been even funnier if it wasn’t just the most glaringly obvious foreshadowing this side of Cathy’s Curse. I love movie logic – the car can’t be dented with other cars, the tires can’t be shot out with a .357 at close range, etc. So why is dynamite any different? Ah, who the hell cares.

One can’t help but notice the similarities to Jaws in the film. A teen dies first, there’s a big annual town to-do that the monster disrupts (and no one wants to call it off because of the threat), a lot of POV shots, and our finale features a bunch of guys banding together to take it out with a plan that involves human bait. The key difference (well, besides the slight difference in overall quality, but come on) is that for whatever reason, writer Michael Butler can’t bring himself to kill anyone off during the finale. Even the dynamite truck owner, who is a drunken abuser of his wife, is spared. Yet, Brolin’s kindly girlfriend gets utterly annihilated at the end of the 2nd act, which is a great twist but still rather mean-spirited, compared to the rest of the movie.

I really hope this movie gets shown at the Bev someday. It’s too fantastic a film to watch at home with just one or two people. I also hope that the DVD gets double-dipped, since the existing one offers a trailer and absolutely nothing else (not even a chapter menu, which is almost unheard of outside of David Lynch movies). I bet Brolin can do a great commentary.

One final note – one of Brolin’s daughters is played by Kyle Richards, forever known as Lindsay Wallace and/or the vanilla twist loving plot device in Assault on Precinct 13. And according to her IMDb photo, she is incredibly fucking hot now.

What say you?

*If I was going to be honest, the "scariest" movies ever made are Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and Halloween 5, because those are the only movies I was too scared to watch by myself when I was 10 or so. If I was the star of a big budget studio movie and being told to suppress my personality, I’d go with Halloween or Blair Witch.


7 comments:

  1. Yeah this was pretty much Jaws with a car but I still dug the shit out of it, and was freaked out by it in my youth much like Herr Bauer.

    It would be great if they double dipped. Last I saw the old DVD was going for over a hunnert clams.

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  2. I loved this movie! I just saw it for the first time a couple of months ago and it shows that you can make a good horror movie Without Gore, more than once the scenes where the car appeared made me jump! and if the Bev doesn't show it, we can always make a minishow, I'll bring the beer!

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  3. My favorite part is when the old lady just yells "Cat Pooooop!" at the Car. Strange, indeed.

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  4. Best decade for movies, great fun film. Cool design using the 71 Lincoln modified. I remember leaving the theatre on a hot summer afternoon with an uneasy feeling after seeing it.

    Later that night my Dad asked me to go to the garage and take out the garbage. We had a 75 Mercury Cougar and the front end design was very similar to that Car. Same basic grille shape and lights etc. My Dad never backed the car in to the garage, he always drove in straight and had the tail facing the garage door. That night he backed it in (I have no idea why), and when I pulled up that door to get the garbage, the front end was right in my face (exactly like the Car in Brolin's garage scene). The only light that hit the front end was from the street lamp and it just lit up that grille and those headlights... scared the shit right out of me like you have no idea.

    Excellent memory now, excellent movie!

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  5. According to the sub-titles, the old woman actually screamed, "Tadpole!", but I don't hear it that way. It sounds more like "Tad Poo!". Whatever, it was, it was extremely inappropriate for the situation and thus... AWESOME!

    Other things that were great:

    1. When the evil car nudges the cop's car off the cliff, it explodes in a fireball before it's even turned over once.

    2. This wonderful piece of dialogue:

    GUY ON PHONE: Hey Chas, why don't you quit sheriffing and go back to what you people do best?

    CHAS (who is a Native American): If I do, white eyes, you're gonna be in a lot of trouble, because I'm gonna track you down and shoot an arrow straight up your ass.

    3. The self imposed roll over in order to steam roll the two cop cars. That thing always lands on its feet.

    4. How there is a road leading directly to the front window of the girl's house (plausible) and another road leading directly away from her rear window (not plausible). I know it was an editing decision to keep the action going but still...

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  6. Damn my parents took me to see this film as a drive in double feature with The Sting. I was around 7 at the time. They told me it was a Love Bug movie...NOTHING scared me more my entire life. I lived on the second floor of our house and I would stare out the window for hours before bed horrified that the car was going to jump up and smash through it. I was surprised to see it again a few years ago and see how well it held up. It is a fun scary movie. I think my love of horror comes from this movie, as with all of us we are trying to tap into how we felt growing up, those pure emotions. For me the extreme emotions I felt when I was young are easiest to recall and being afraid for a good year after seeing this is an easy emotion to remember.

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  7. Great review, funny and interesting comments...I assume the Car wasnt destroyed by the dynamite, probably just buried by the falling rocks? And while closing credits roll, we see the Car's POV, so we assume that it survived...heck its a horror fantasy so I didnt look for logic (as with the scene when the Car appears in Wade's locked garage). This film is messy but you have to admire the complete seriousness with which it was made...and the music was worth it alone...not to mentioned the final effect...I suspect they superimposed some animation over some real flames to achieve the effect? This film came out the same time as "Damnation Alley" which suffered from bad FX and a release date that coincided with a small film by George Lucas...

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