Car, The (1977)
Cast: James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, and Ronny Cox
Director: Eliot Silverstein
Nutshell: A small town community is terrorized by a mysterious, murderous car.
It was way back in 1977, the Summer of Sam and Donna Summer’s I Feel Love that the appetite for a more modern horror film was on the upswing after a diet of Hammer through the formative years. Hammer Horror was the bread and butter growing up but as we approached a new decade Christopher Lee’s fangs weren’t quite cutting it any longer and there was a yearning for a more contemporary kind of horror that was relevant to the world today.
The 70s were already breaking barriers and setting new benchmarks with films like The Exorcist setting the bar with its realism and superlative special effects. Night of the Living Dead had led the way with Last House on the Left and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre following and introducing a new brutal, unflinching in your face kind of realism that had audiences reeling the world over. The gentle if eerie world of Rosemary’s Baby and The Haunting had given way to a realism that changed the shape of the genre forever. Meanwhile in 1975 we had one of the most successful films ever made released that was essentially a brilliantly executed horror featuring one nasty toothy fish terrorizing swimmers off the shores of a small town called Amity.
Steven Spielberg’s box office juggernaut Jaws heralded a wave of copycats of all shapes and sizes featuring Whales, Barracudas, Piranhas, Killer Fish, Octopus and various Alligators and Crocodiles as well. Among the land dwelling beasts given the Jaws makeover were Grizzly bears, Yeti’s, even dogs, cats, cockroaches, rats, snakes. There was hardly a living creature not exploited for a Jaws re-run in a crazed effort to cash in on what was the biggest Box Office champion of all until Star Wars came along a few years later.
One Jaws off shoot was a film that didn’t involve an animal at all but a vehicle and oddly enough it was far more effective than most of the other spin off/rip offs. The Car arrive in 1977, a few years after Spielberg himself had directed what is arguably the finest “evil vehicle” movie of them all in the made-for-TV feature Duel. The Spielberg film featured a massive truck with no visible driver though there was clearly somebody at the wheel. In The Car, the vehicle is treated much more like Bruce the shark from Jaws, but rather than killing to eat, this car appears to kill simply for the pleasure of killing. The simplicity of the plot and as well as the deliberate ploy of not explaining anything are a strength of this movie that plays out a lot like a “Jaws on the Road” hybrid horror film, and a pretty entertaining and effective one as well.
The Car cuts a menacing figure as it thunders into town from the barren mountains in the distance in search of its victims that appear to be randomly selected. The design of the vehicle was specifically altered for the sake of the movie and the team has come up with an iconic Devil Car which would not have been out of place in any of the Mad Max movies.
It’s a breathtaking sight and bristles with menace, a major ingredient in the effectiveness of this little B movie that manages to be surprisingly enjoyable, well performed and commendably executed.
The plot is not trying to be anything cleverer than what it is which is basically a stripped down cat and mouse game between and Evil dark force and the innocent people of the town that the car has targeted.
It’s a silly, hokey B movie of a horror film but it is also well executed and contains some gripping, even scary scenes and whenever The Car is on screen its great popcorn horror fun especially if you are not the kind of person who looks for logic in movies. Suspend your belief, keep your expectations realistically low and there is much to enjoy in this little forgotten and largely overlooked B Movie nugget. James Brolin and Kathleen Lloyd both perform convincingly and help to keep the movie from lapsing into the laughable which it could so easily have done. By today’s standards it may be a little unevenly paced in parts and certainly not at all gruesome but it has some genuinely well mounted and tense scenes as well.
Certainly far from being a classic horror film by any stretch of imagination, The Car nonetheless manages to rise above its goofy material quite effortlessly and surely ranks as one of the finest Jaws spin-offs of them all. Definitely solid matinee or late, late night viewing material, enjoyable, amusing and well performed as well as even a little tense and scary in parts. The Car, rather surprisingly, stands the test of time and remains as solidly entertaining today as it was back in 1977.