FEBRUARY 2, 2010
“My picture is now the first one that comes up on Google for ‘Class A Moron’, so step aside, Randy Quaid.” - Jack Donaghy.
Like many film fans, when I think of Randy Quaid, I think of his buffoon characters from the Vacation films and assorted other nonsense like Not Another Teen Movie and Kingpin, and not so much his dramatic work (which actually covers more of his filmography) in films like Brokeback Mountain or his Oscar-nominated turn (!) in The Last Detail. And I CERTAINLY don’t picture him as the star of a horror movie like Black Cadillac, which is sort of like Duel meets Wind Chill. The only other horror film I can think of with him is Parents, and that’s a black comedy first and foremost.
(Note - when I checked his filmography I found a Frankenstein film from the early 90s where he played the Monster. Must see.)
Anyway, Quaid isn’t too far out of his element here, as an easy-going cop who is stuck (or IS he?) with three college guys who are being menaced by an ominous black Cadillac on the occasionally snowy (continuity is not this movie’s friend) roads of Wisconsin. For a while, he just seems like the most awesome cop ever - he doesn’t mind that they’ve been drinking, he urges the one driving to race the Caddy, etc. But eventually he, like the movie itself, wears out his welcome and goes far past the breaking point of believability.
As is usually the case with these sort of car-based thrillers, the movie has no believable geography - they drive for hours (at high speeds) and never come across a house, place of business, or major road? Wisconsin is not THAT big, and we are told that the bar wasn’t too far from the Minnesota border (which is where Minneapolis is located), so even if they were as far from Minneapolis “along the border” as possible, they should have come across a populated area after 3 hrs max. And for most of the movie, this didn’t bother me, because I assumed it was some sort of supernatural element that was keeping them lost, but the final reveal is not only a letdown, but it’s very much a real world answer, thus preventing the filmmakers from being able to chalk up the illogical isolation to ghosts or whatever.
On the plus side, this means that the film is NOT a ripoff of Carnival Of Souls (which I often suspected), and that is a good thing. I just wish the reveal was a bit more interesting than what it was (spoiler - the guy chasing them is the husband of a girl one of the guys in the car fooled around with at the bar). There are times where it seems that the car has omnipresent “powers” (getting ahead of them after they leave it behind), so the fact that it’s just a guy driving around is sort of weak. And when you consider that the ultimate point of the film is more or less a life lesson for the main kid to stop being such a hothead and trying to be “number one” (as it is his bravado that gets them into trouble in the first place), I really don’t think we needed any explanation for the driver at all. Granted, this would give it even less of its own identity from Duel, but I think being ambiguous is better than being lazy.
There was an odd set of circumstances that sort of helped me feel like I was in the movie though - I had no way of knowing when it would end. The DVD didn’t have a time counter built into it (or at least, one my player could “read”), and the clock on my cable box was just saying “REC” the whole time (for the Lost premiere - which I had already watched thanks to the East coast ABC feed at work). I also had left my cell in the other room, so I spent the entire film in this sort of weird void where I had no idea what time it was or how much of the movie I had seen or how much was left. As the characters in the film kept driving around and engaging in the same scenes over and over (there are at least three “lets drive alongside each other and have a lot of shots of the two cars skidding ever closer to one another” scenes) wondering when daylight would come, I found myself wondering when I could “escape” and play some Xbox.
But until that letdown of a finale, it actually works as a low-key thriller. The three leads are good (though I was constantly distracted by actor Shane Johnson’s voice - it doesn’t sound like it belongs to him), and Quaid is a welcome addition (at least until the point where it’s impossible to believe that this cop would spend this much time driving around with these kids without coming across a radio to call his fellow officers). It also has a brief appearance from actress Kiersten Warren, who I was quite smitten with in the 90s (to this day, I will stop and watch at least a few minutes of an episode of Saved By The Bell’s “college” incarnation, which was my introduction to the lass) and STILL looks like a 20ish young woman.
This is addressed in the commentary by director John Murlowski (joined by writer Will Aldis and DP Steven Douglas Smith) who claim that her youthful appearance actually caused some confusion amongst audience members, because they thought she was too young to be married to the guy playing her husband, when in reality she was in her late 30s at the time the film was shot. The rest of the commentary largely concerns both the rigors of shooting (apparently they destroyed 3 Caddys and 4 Saabs over the course of production) and a lot of slightly pretentious observations, like the hero’s “Christ” pose near the end of the film. Murlowski also explains the “based on a true story” text at the top of the film - apparently one night he got into an altercation with some guys in a bar and was then chased by them for hours. You might think it’s thin, but compared to other claims in modern horror films, the film might as well be a docudrama. They also allude to making-of documentary, but that is not included on this disc. There are a pair of deleted scenes (one featuring Quaid’s Vacation wife, Miriam Flynn, though they are not in the scene together) and a series of shockingly unfunny outtakes, which are broken up individually for some goddamn reason. You know, in case you specifically wanted to see Quaid botch his line about lipstick on someone’s collar.
What say you?