Sunday, April 4, 2010

THE CAR (1977)

I first saw THE CAR on television way back in the day, and there is one scene in this film, THE one scene that every one remembers, that scared the ever loving shit out of me. I swore I heard that damn car’s horn outside my bedroom window many a night.

I guess it was about 1999 when ye ol’ Anchor Bay drove out the new model CAR. Never before released on home video, the 2:35 widescreen print of director Elliott Silverstein’s most interesting film was a watershed moment for a lot of genre nuts. If the future of DVD brings us widescreen releases of stuff like THE CAR, then we as movie fans not in love with the new school really do have a reason to live.

Jump ahead about 9 years. It’s May 6, 2008 and Anchor Bay’s version of THE CAR has been out of print on VHS and DVD for sometime, commanding collector’s prices for both on eBay. During a rough patch, I had to liquidate my DVD collection and THE CAR was one of those that had to go. I’ve rued the day since then, but then what do you know about that? A major Hollywood studio went and done me a solid; Universal Pictures re-released THE CAR ON DVD.

On May 13, 1977, twelve days before the unleashing of that garbage ass STAR WARS, America had the theatrical release of THE CAR given to them and the asshole filmgoers of the time ignored it. For shitty ass robots, of all things.

Almost 31 years to the day of it’s original unveiling, America was once again able to rectify it’s error and run out and get themselves a new refurbished CAR, and possibly figure out that this sleeper of a horror flick is ten times better than that fucking wookie movie people can’t seem to let go of.

James Brolin stars as Wade Parent, a sheriff whose small Utah desert community happens to run afoul of the titular car. The car, a 1971 Lincoln Mark III designed by custom king George Barris of Munsters and Batman vehicle fame, just shows up. It starts running people off the road, killing cops and attacking children and horses and private homes. It’s a long, black, creepy monstrosity with a lowered top and tinted amber windows. It has no door handles and it seems to be lacking a driver as well.

As more people are ground into the Utah dirt by the car’s evil wheels, it comes to no surprise that sooner or later, somebody in the cast was going to bring the idea of the supernatural into play. And that person would be the impotent, alcoholic and god-fearing deputy Luke played by master thespian Ronny Cox.

And the thing is, he’s right.

It’s the devil, or a disciple of the devil, or just pure telepathic evil, but whichever one it is, the car itself is real and must be stopped. And what’s left of the police force along with local dynamite salesman/mountain blaster R.G. Armstrong (LONE WOLF MCQUADE) get together for a rip-roarin’ finale that caps what is still today, a fun and unpretentious horror film safe enough to show your kids but not stupid enough to bore you silly. And it is still better than STAR WARS.

THE CAR has quite a pedigree too. Director Silverstein helmed CAT BALLOU (1965) with Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin and the Richard Harris classic, A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970). Writers Michael Butler and Dennis Shyrack co-wrote Clint Eastwood’s best film THE GAUNTLET (1977), as well as Chuck Norris second best film, CODE OF SILENCE (1985) and went back to Eastwood again with PALE RIDER (1985). You’ve also got Ronny Cox (ROBOCOP, DELIVERANCE) and Oscar nominated John Marley (LOVE STORY, FACES) lending needing credibility to the proceedings (it is a possessed car movie) as well as the Sarah Silverman-esque Kathleen Lloyd (IT LIVES AGAIN, “Magnum P.I.”) making every thing easy on the eyes when she pops up.

One of the major things to mention about THE CAR, for me anyway, is the start of what I consider James Brolin’s sweet spot, career wise. You talk about a hot streak: this film in 1977, CAPRICORN ONE in 1978, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR in 1979, the criminally underrated NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER in 1980 and the 1981 buddy-action caper HIGH RISK with Cleavon Little (BLAZING SADDLES) and Anthony Quinn (ACROSS 110th STREET), which while not criminally underrated is underrated none the less. After RISK, we lost a great action star to the unfulfilling world of soap opera network TV.

I’m totally going to hang myself out on a limb here, but this transfer may be better than the Anchor Bay version. Granted I can’t make the comparison because I don’t have that release anymore, but for the life of me, I don’t remember it looking this good, and I know for a fact, that back in ’99, the Anchor Bay version was as sweet as they came.

And technically, this is a good-looking horror movie. Even though it resembles a made for TV pic in some respects (most 70’s Universal theatrical releases did), it’s obvious that Silverstein and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld, knew just what they had in their surroundings and made excellent use of the Utah landscapes, shooting in glorious Panavision. The cinematography makes you want to jump right into the dusty, sun-soaked, mountainous terrain of the film, even if Satan is out there trying to run you down.

The Anchor Bay version had some well-written liner notes that are not included here and I remember them talking about filming people or possibly Ronny Cox in doorways to signify something, somehow getting arty about shooting THE CAR. Who knows? Maybe that’s what makes it so interesting and fun.

The Universal release is also missing the 5.1 surround present on the Anchor Bay version, opting here for a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio presentation. It works just fine for this anamorphic dual-layer disc. No chapter list, which is interesting but it does have the original trailer.

Like any film that helped shaped my odd tastes, it’s always good to see THE CAR again. Hell, there’s even a whole new generation of horror fans who’ve evolved since the original Anchor Bay release and have possibly been deprived due to the wacky price structure of quickly OOP DVD’s.

Jump ahead again to 2010. THE CAR is still readily available for you to test drive.

Brolin and Car pic hotwired from Cinematical.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, a great read...made me watch the film, and i wasn`t dissapointed...

joker said...

Thank you for this.the car has always been my favorite movie(even over dawn of the dead)and will always be.thanks for the nostalgic trip back.