Monday, January 10, 2011

Film Review: The Car - 2008

Over 2008 and 2009, I did a bunch of horror film reviews on a now-defunct blog of mine that were tied in to another blog called Final Girl, which is run by a very funny woman named Stacie Ponder and is all about her love of horror movies--good, bad, or ugly.

The handful of films I covered--most of which I'd never seen before--were a blast to watch, and
I thought the reviews I came up with were pretty funny and keeping in the spirit of the whole endeavor. Since the blog of mine I originally posted them on has come and gone, I thought I'd metaphorically dust them off and post them here. Here's the first one.
This month's selection is the 1977 classic The Car, starring James Brolin, Ronny Cox, and R.G. Armstrong, and is about a In the wake of Jaws, Hollywood was pumping out as many "killer [fill-in the blank]" movies as they why not a killer car?

Anyway, The Car was directed by Elliott Silverstein, who directed A Man Called Horse and Cat Ballou. As far as I can tell from his imdb profile, this was his last theatrically-released film. Make of that what you will.

Anyway, the film opens up promisingly:
Starting your movie with a quote from Professional Satanist Anton La Vey? Man, the 70s were awesome.

Anyway, we meet two young, freshly-scrubbed bicyclists, who are probably on their way to an Up With People audition. Life and all its promise stretches out before them:

But there's trouble on the horizon--literally. We see an ominous black sedan tearing down the highway, and its here we get to see the first of many shots from The Car(caps from now on)'s POV, what I call Car-O-Vision:
The two bicyclers notice this car is revving up behind them, and as they hit a part of the road that hugs a mountain's edge, it starts ramming them, sending Polly Pigtails over the side into a ravine:

There's lots of shots like this one, of the expressionless car. Man, and you thought a shark's face was fairly inscrutable:


The Car hits the other cycler, sending him off a bridge, plunging to his death below. We get a shot of the results of the tragic events of the day:

Now we cut to the film's star...Doc Holliday!
No, wait, it's James Brolin, actually. He wakes up in bed with his girlfriend Lauren (played by Kathleen Lloyd, whose previous credit was The Missouri Breaks, with Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson--wow!).

Turns out Brolin's character, a highway patrolman named Wade Parent (awesome), is a single dad who is having a relationship with his young daughter's teacher. Lauren is not too sure about letting the kids in on in yet, so she sneaks out the back while he gets the kids up for breakfast.

Meanwhile, in the small town of Santa Ynez, a DFH waits for a ride as he hitchhikes across the state:

His incessant horn playing(!) drives the owner of the nearby house, a crusty old guy named Amos Clements (played by R.G. Armstrong), into a fit of rage. In fact, he takes time out from beating his wife to tell the DFH to get the hell out:
...feminism has not yet come to Santa Ynez.

Anyway, he tells the kid to hit the road, and after going back inside, the DFH hears the promising sound of a car approaching. This means a ride!

Here we are treated to about a full minute of the DFH vamping for the camera, making faces and trying to be funny. He's sure the driver of the car will be a Groovy Chick, who no doubt adhere to the "Ass, Gas, or Grass" policy of 70s hitchhiking.

Of course, the car is The Car, and it tries to ram right into our Young Man with a Horn!

It misses, but then the stupid kid starts trash-talking The Car, causing it to skid to a stop, back up, turn around, and plow right into him!

If that wasn't cool enough, it backs up a few times and runs over him again and again:

sg far, The Car has killed two innocent people and this guy. In my book, The Car is down -1.

Anyway, back to Wade, as he takes his kids to school--on his motorcycle, making him the coolest Dad ever:

Anyway, he then responds to a call, along with his fellow police officers Ronny Cox (Beverly Hills Cop, Robocop, probably other films with the word "Cop" in them) and John Marley, the guy who woke up with the horse's head in his bed in The Godfather!

Marley notices Mrs. Clements' bruises, which Mr. Clements doesn't take too well to:


Meanwhile, we find Lauren at her job as a schoolteacher, where we see she's pretty popular among her students:

Lauren thinks its cute, much to the consternation of the severe-looking Principal-type lady. Her flat delivery and clenched-teeth delivery suggests to me this woman was a honest-to-gosh real schoolmarm, not an actress:
sg, when was my grandmother Nan in a movie?

Anyway, Lauren and teacher friend Margie confer, and they get excited when they're respective cop boyfriends, Brolin and Cox, arrive. Margie says this is a call for celebration, since Luke has been off the bottle for two whole months!

Oops, not so fast, Margie--Luke is doing the old "secret drinking" thing:


After being questioned in the murder of the DFH, Mr. and Mrs. Clements are sent home, but not after Everett (John Marley) tries to get Mrs. Clements to tell the truth about where she got those bruises. She refuses.

While outside, Everett gets to meet our title character, The Car:


Now that The Car is feeling his (her? its?) oats, it starts to ramp up the carnage. It shows up at a Pep Rally-style celebration run by Lauren and Margie's school, and starts mowing people down left and right:

A whole gang of kids, Lauren, Margie, and some other teachers find themselves pinned down in a beat-up old cemetery. Hiding behind various tombstones, The Car waits outside the gates, surveying its options:

Lauren decides to try and use herself as a decoy, so Margie can escape and call for help.

Its here that director Elliott Silverstein runs into some of the inherent problems of having a car be your main villain--its expression never changes, and there's only so many ways to show the car and try and wring emotion from it.

Case in point, during Lauren's extended solo scene, where she taunts The Car by calling it names. We get repeated shots of Lauren mouthing off:


Then to The Car:

Then back to Lauren:

Then back to The Car:

...and so on, for several minutes.

Anyway, the plan works, Margie gets away, and calls the police for help. They all hop in their squad cars and head for the cemetery.

As two squad cars race down the one road leading there, they see The Car coming the other way. Oh man, how are those Gol-darn' Duke Boys gonna get outta this one?

Easy--The Car flips itself over and rolls right over the cops, in a truly spectacular stunt:


Several cops are killed, and The Car gets away. Wade comforts Lauren, and has another deputy drive her home.

The sequence with Lauren at her home is well staged and well lit, and is genuinely creepy. Lauren gets on the phone with Wade, and you can see trouble coming up the road:


The Car then drives itself right through her house, in one side and out the other, smashing everything in its path!

Lauren is killed, and here is what I think is the movie's best shot--a static shot of the demolished house, lights flickering on and off, sans any background music, that runs for about a full minute or so:

sg know, up until this point as I had been watching the movie, I kind of found the whole thing pretty silly. And of course the notion of a car driving itself right through a house is pretty silly. But if you can get out of your mind that the monster in this sequence is a car, its a very well executed scene and one of genuine horror.

Plus, the main hero's girlfriend generally didn't die in movies like this, so her death was, to me, fairly shocking. It gives the rest of the movie a really grim tone, because even if Wade destroys The Car, Lauren is still gone.

Anyway, the cops ask Mr. Clements--who runs an explosives company--to help and set a trap for The Car. Wade sets out on his motorcycle, hoping to capture The Car's attention.

He does, and he leads The Car to a ravine, where he and Luke use themselves as decoys, while the other police officers rig the area with explosives:


They jump out of the way in time, and The Car flies off the edge, into the rigged canyon:

The explosives are set off, causing a massive conflagration. The cops watch the giant fireball escaping from the canyon, and after a few seconds they seem to see something like a face:

The men stand there, knowing that even if, somehow, The Car is still "alive", its buried under many tons of rubble.

The menace is over, and a new day dawns:


We fade to black, and the credits roll.

But, interestingly, we see footage of The Car tearing down the highway, past a major metropolitan city, something we never saw in the film itself:


...are the filmmaker trying to tell us The Car isn't really dead, and its back on its reign of terror? Or is this another Car, possibly to be featured in The Car 2? We'll never know... (Hey, check it out--Car Customizing is by George Barris, who also did the 1960s Batmobile!)

You'll notice I don't mention why this car is doing all this evil stuff. There's a few half-hearted attempts in the movie to explain it (something having do to with a cursed burial ground), but overall it doesn't really matter why--it's an evil car, that's all you need to know.

(Of course, if they remade The Car today, it would be all backstory, giving all kinds of explanation as why the Car does what it does, and it would star Josh Brolin, and it would take all the fun out of an evil car movie)

Over all, The Car is a pretty silly movie, but not without its moments. The photography is beautiful, and it does have a couple of good chills. Plus, its probably The Pep Boys' favorite film.

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