Long and flawed apparently, because that scene never showed up in The Hearse. No, that scene is from The Car, a similar "Killer Car" horror flick that predates The Hearse by about three years. Apparently I had seen them both and shoved them both together as a single memory. Man, my parents and the films they let me watch, man!
Well, unlike when they consented to letting me watch Alien, neither The Hearse nor The Car could qualify as contributing to my delinquency, at least from an academic standpoint. While both are creepy, especially if you're a kid, both are also rated PG!
Yeah! PG Horror. Watch out, everybody, we might actually hear "The S-Word!" But seriously, considering all, director Elliot Silverstein's The Car is not so bad and is actually kind of fun. Considering the strange (yet strangely repeated) premise, the low budget, the acting issues, the "safe" MPAA rating and the bad reviews, The Car has some interesting ideas and great moments. That especially goes for the scenes surrounding the frightening title character who shows up one day to terrorize a quiet Utah town.
We get to know (and support) our local Sheriff's department, first in the form of deputy Wade Parent, as played by James Brolin... while in his underwear. This hardly makes him endearing, especially seeing as how the woman he's trying to entice (Kathleen Lloyd's Lauren) is still wearing all her clothes. This guy thinks he's got issues because he has to figure out just how to present Lauren to his daughters (yeah, Parent is a parent), even though they're still sad about their mother leaving. Well, his problems are about to get a whole lot bigger.
Enter The Car, a big, honkin' black monstrosity of a car that pollutes enough to make a television commercial Indian cry and comes off like Ralph Nader's worst nightmare, being truly, truly unsafe at any speed. Let me tell you, it's quite a vehicle, too. The thing is solid black, with opaque, rust-colored windows, it looks like it's snarling (and has a loud-ass engine to complete the package) and sports a horn that alternately sounds like it's a screaming locomotive and a laughing decepticon! It's got no rear-view mirror, no door-handles, no scratches or tire wear... and apparently no driver either. This, folks, is our villain, as designed by George Barris (creator of the 1966 Batmobile, amongst other famous cars). Barris may have based this monster car on the 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III, but this thing looks less like a rich-chick's personal luxury car and more like a touring sedan for the seven rings of perdition. In short, Barris Kustoms in North Hollywood California did one HELL of a job!
The Car begins its reign of terror by picking off a couple of bicyclists on a joy-ride, before shooting into town to kill your average migrant hippie French Horn player (John Rubinstein's John Morris). Strangely, this is the death that actually interests the department first. You'd think they'd be happy to get rid of brass-tooting transient rejects from Hair, but hey, I'm easy. The only witness is local demolitions expert and well-known hot-head Amos Clements (R. G. Armstrong).
Soon the community is gripped by fear, much like my home town was when Dan Quayle came to visit for the day. Sheriff Everett (John Marley) is petrified and tries to keep the peace while facing the biggest and strangest challenge of his career. Meanwhile his deputies are all business, but privately are scared to death. Chas (Henry O'Brien) can't bring himself to translate some of the superstitious warnings a certain Navajo Woman (Margaret Willey) says about The Car, while Donna (Geraldine Keams) thinks it's too dangerous not to, regardless of how "The Car had no Driver!" might sound. It's Deputy Luke (Ronny Cox) who takes things the hardest, hitting the Bottle after two years of Recovery! Too bad for Luke and Company, The Car is only beginning to drive its point home.
What follows is an impossible collection of sequences that feature The Car pulling off run-down after chase after push. Sometimes the action scenes are spectacular and effective. Other times, regardless of the potential, these bits are "almost there". Matted-in explosions and sped-up film are two lacking moments that spring to mind, along with some budget-masking quick cuts. These, coupled with some stiff acting (though Cox is pretty good here) and dated situations help to make The Car feel a bit more like a TV Movie of the week than a true theatrical horror feature. Plus, it's hard not to think that the suspense and terror were handled just a bit better in Spielberg's Duel.
That said, when the effects work they are amazing and the design of the car makes it a villain you can't keep your eyes off of, even when it's barely visible in the foreboding darkness. In truth, Silverstein does do a fine job of keeping the audience both scared and guessing as we race toward our finish line. He's able to give us a small blip on a large canvass and trust us to fill in the blanks! Be it a dust cloud in the distance or a headlight on the horizon, we know The Car is out there and that somebody's going to die. He also pulls out some of the more chilling moments from the script by Lane Slate, Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler and brings them to frightening life. That scene I mentioned of The Car threatening its victims as they hide in a desert cemetery is a fine example. Here The Car is more of a hungry wild animal pacing for its prey and making horrible sounds of frustration at the fact that it can't quite get to its quarry. Yes, the scene can be funny (intentionally) and yes, there are also issues with it, but this is one more example of how the cast and crew took an interesting idea and a low budget and made it something interesting.
It's easy to nitpick The Car for its flaws (and those are certainly there), however, it's rewarding to accept the fact that the film isn't perfect and enjoy what you get in this fun (even at PG) B-Movie. The Car itself is really something to see for its design and its animalistic, bestial menace. What ever that truly is driving the car, it's safe to say he could scare the hell out of K.I.T.T., Herbie, Christine and probably even The Hearse itself. As for Killdozer or that freaky truck from Duel... well, the jury's still out on those. And as for The Car, it rolls over the lower half of Three Stars out of Five. Yeah, it's basically a 2.5 star flick, but there's something about it that pushes it just that much higher. Disagree if you might but for demon-car movies, this one's at least worth a look. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a meeting with Knight Industries. They want my advice on building the "Knight Automated Roving Robot". I'm thinking this one is going to have quite a personality. Until then, I'll see you in the next reel!
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