Friday, February 6, 2009

The Car

Out of all the Jaws ripoffs that littered theaters in the late 70s, I don’t know of a single one that was better than The Car. Much like last week’s Bug, it shows that in the 70s, PG movies were fully allowed to scare the shit out of little children, something that the PG-13 rating has robbed our generation of.

The film, set in the deserts of Southern California, follows a small town sheriff (played by James Brolin, father of Josh), as he struggles to defend his people from the sudden onset of a demonic car that has started murdering everyone. The car, when you see it, just looks like trouble, even before it murders two bikers at the start of the film (and its early reveal, charging out of an ominous dark tunnel and roaring like an old muscle car with the driver flooring it every second of the drive). Even when everyone thinks someone must be driving it, the driver must be like the one in Duel, where it would almost ruin things to see his face and find he’s just some guy.

One nice thing is in how Brolin steadfastly refuses to acknowledge any supernatural possibility with the car, no matter how much the evidence seems to pile up. A large group of people attacked by the car, but is saved when they flee into a graveyard, as it seems unable to drive onto consecrated ground. One victim is killed within her own house, as the car outright leaps into the air to get into her living room. When Brolin himself is attacked, he even sees up close that there’s nobody in the driver’s seat. And then there’s the ending, which I cannot reveal, but seems to point pretty conclusively that the car was not born on this earth. All that, and Brolin stolidly refuses to accept anything other than that it was just some maniac in a car. Good for him.

The film, for all its origins as a goofy cash-in from Jaws, is quite well made, and even though the PG keeps it from being as bloodthirsty as other 70s horror films, it manages to keep as tense and exciting as any thriller (or car chase movie, while we’re at it). The car is as frightening as any masked killer, and is quite a bit louder too – this might be the loudest killer in film history, even topping the Screamers. If you liked Jaws, or just want to see a demon car running roughshod over a bunch of small town folk, you should give this one a look.

Rating: ***

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