SEPTEMBER 1, 2009
Another ugly hole in my horror input has been filled today, thanks to a long overdue rental of Race With The Devil. This is one of those 70s movies I always hear about but never got around to seeing, even with the occasional threat of a remake (I HATE seeing a remake, or even having a remake in existence, before I see the original). But as it turns out, it’s that rare sort of film that I both really enjoy and would endorse a proposed remake (in the right hands).
Now, don’t get me wrong - there’s nothing about the film that makes me cringe and say “This can be fixed”. On the contrary, it’s a blast. We’re on the road fairly quickly, and they stumble across the cult around the 20 minute mark (and up until that point, we’ve seen two dirt bike races AND a brief appearance by the late, great Paul “Franklin!” Partain). And from then on it’s pretty much our heroes trying to escape the cult OR trying to find out more about them and getting thwarted by the creepy townsfolk, some of whom may be with the cult. And the finale seemingly influenced Road Warrior’s, as we get a multi-vehicle chase/smash em up scene that features not one but two nonsensical explosions (one of which occurs the second the car starts to go off the road, before it even hits anything - YES!).
But of course, stunts and action scenes have gotten more complicated over the years, and even a relatively low budget modern film like Breakdown featured more destructive action for its (quite similar) finale. As a fan of ‘splosions and cars flipping over and guys shooting other guys that are clambering about their giant RVs, I would LOVE to see a remake with a 40-50 million budget, allowing for MORE destruction, MORE cars blowing up for no reason, and MORE anonymous cult guys getting buckshotted to death. It’s not often we get the action/horror hybrid (last major one I can recall would be End of Days, though the upcoming Legion seems to fit the bill as well), and a successful remake of an established story (one with a great title to boot) might usher in a few more. I could live with 2-3 Race With The Devil knockoffs a year.
(Oh, and my dream team for said remake? David Ellis - director. Peter Fonda role - Kurt Russell, Warren Oates role - Kevin Costner. And maybe Madeline Stowe and Rene Russo as their wives, since they’re still hot)
One thing I really liked was how Fonda and Oates are amused by the cult at first. Nowadays, people are just too cautious and worrisome in horror movies; it’s nice to see some guys stumble upon a cult and find it kind of funny rather than instantly panic and draw attention to themselves. Just seems a lot more realistic, and also makes the “Oh shit” moment all the more interesting, because the only reason we are expecting it is because we’re watching a horror movie, as opposed to modern horror films where the characters seem to know that as well.
In fact, the only real foreshadowing is the nonsense with the dog. Like any sane human being, I don’t like seeing a dog get killed in a movie, but I like it even less when its telegraphed a full hour before it occurs. Just as our heroes are about to embark on their trip, Fonda shows up with the dog and explains that their dog-sitter had to bail so they will have to bring the pup along. Gee, you think that will work out OK for little Ginger? Then, as if it’s not upsetting enough, there’s a little scene where Fonda buries the poor thing, and puts her collar and little bow on top of the fresh dirt. Christ, the Devil himself might choke up a bit here. And since our villains are just a bunch of anonymous cult weirdos, it doesn’t make the audience really hate the villain more (the only reason to kill a dog - cinematic hate shortcut!), so it’s just largely unnecessary.
The DVD comes with a retrospective from Peter Fonda, and also a commentary track by producer Paul Maslansky and co-star Lara Parker, moderated by DVD producer Perry Martin. Both are interesting for the same reason: the respective participant’s obsession with money. Fonda seems to hold the film in high regard primarily for the good salary and profit points that he received (as well as working with Oates again - this was their third film together), and Maslansky is particularly proud of the film coming in under budget despite a director replacement halfway through production. But the track is never silent, and the two offer a number of amusing anecdotes and production info (apparently, the downer ending was completely made up in post-production). An above average track, though I wish Fonda could have sat in as well; he was obviously around to do the new retrospective.
With the right director (and as long as it retains the 40+ leads) the remake can be a lot of fun, but as it has been in development for years with little progress, it might not happen. Luckily, the original holds up quite well, and I would love to see either version on the big screen with an appreciative crowd. So many modern action movies skimp on the car chases (and when they do they never blow a car up), and I’ve watched The Rock, I Come In Peace, Striking Distance, etc so many times (those three films have what are among my top 10 favorite car chases of all time). It’s nice to see a “new” one that delivers the goods just the way I like it.
What say you?