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THE CAR is one of those movies that really wowed me as a kid. When I look at it now, I'm not so wowed. That's not to say that THE CAR is a bad movie, actually it is above bad: but the years have gone by and the bar has been raised. For those in Hollywood looking for re-make fodder, THE CAR would be excellent material. Not only is it a good old fashioned thriller, but its overtones of the Occult and Horror make it a perfect vehicle (HA! Vehicle! Get it? HA!) for today's resurge of Horror movie redux - es.
This movie smells like a Made-For-TV flick that was a bit too strong for the Networks of that time. Now days, its utter lack of carnage, mild adult themes, and over-all cornball acting makes even a PG rating seem a bit strong and it certainly couldn't compete with SF/Horror TV shows like The X-Files. So what Does this movie have going for it?
Well there's this car, see? It looks REALLY BITCHIN'! That's because it was designed by California Car Customizer George Barris (The BATMOBILE [TV & Movies], The MUNSTER COACH [TV], The GREEN HORNET's car [TV], K.I.T.T. from NIGHTRIDER [TV], JURASSIC PARK's Ford Explorers) who is one of only two people I can think of that were Custom Car heroes of my childhood. George designed the car like he designs all his cars, with an artistry that brings out a real identity in the vehicle. The Car looks cool sure, but it also conveys threat. In its smooth almost-but-not-quite identifiable Detroit lines is the heavy feel of a predator.
Rounding out the cast, we have:
Helping Wade get over his nasty divorce (Cheers for calling it a divorce instead of just killing off the unseen spouse!), is his lover, Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd: IT'S ALIVE II). She is one of the local schoolteachers in the tiny town where they all live. Lauren is a very open minded, fun-loving type person, much to the hackneyed chagrin of the template stuffy school principle character; caricature would be a better description.
Her best friend is another school teacher named Margie (Elizabeth Thompson: THE CROW). These two are close as sisters but there is no time to explore their relationship: This is largely a man's movie.
Margie is mainly background noise (a screamer in other words) who is only there in the first place because she has a relationship with another one of the Sheriff's boys, none other than Ronny Cox (ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL, DEEP BLUE SEA). Ronny doesn't bring much to his role here as Luke. He's a real sad sack who spends most of the time moping around and, like the rest of the characters, uses well-worn plot device excuses to define his character. In this case, he's a "recovering alcoholic".
There are more in the cast, but you get the idea. This movie focuses on a really cool looking Chuck Barris original design that runs around killing people. Unlike the earlier DEATHRACE 2000, THE CAR kills people in a very wild, but relatively bloodless, and totally grueless way. This is a kindler, gentler killing car. When THE CAR kills, it peppers the air with a rapid tattoo of honking, as if it is laughing, while it kills. This theme is not without its chills!
Director Elliot Silverstien directed few movies in his career, but had his share of winners. THE CAR is the only movie he both Produced and Directed. The pacing of this film really hurts it though. Some scenes that are real tension getters while being watched, are illogical soon after. The story telling is disjointed thanks to the dippy writing of Michael Butler (who has a long list of bad movies), his partner in crime Dennis Shryack (who has co-wrote many of those bad movies with Michael as well as doing a few bad ones without him), and Lane Slate, who brings to the table his own résumé of bad or B movies.
Let's focus on the positives! The late great SFX man, Albert Whitlock (THE BIRDS, COLOSSUS: The Forbin Project, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, PSYCHO II) did the SFX, including the demon itself. Albert was known for creating amazing photographic and Matte effects long before CGI took over and made it all phony looking.
Minor celebrity of the time, Anton La Vey^ (THE DEVILS RAIN), the late self-proclaimed "Pope of Satanism", has a credit in this movie as a Creative Consultant, although I'll be damned if I can tell what for (HA! Damned! Get it? HA!). He has a hokey poem that starts off THE CAR but there is nothing very creative about this movie that would need the help of the Pope O' Satanism (besides THE CAR itself, and I really can't see George Barris needing tips from creaky old Anton on how to make a cool car!). The best scene in the whole movie is the Cemetery scene but if the 3 guys who wrote this flick needed a creative consultant to help them figure that out, then I'm amazed that they ever had writing careers in the first place. Maybe they sold their souls or something. A book on creative writing would have been a better help than Old Scratch!
Despite its many problems; a sometimes draggingly dull pace being just one of them, THE CAR is perfect B-fare for family viewing. Scary for the kids but nothing gory. If anything it might be a lesson in pedestrian safety, that's for YOU to decide. I give it 2 Shriek Girls.
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