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One of the odder JAWS wannabes from the seventies: a big budget horror programmer about a killer car!  It has its moments, but overall really isn’t much of a movie.   

The Package 
     Along with JAWS, THE CAR recalls genre fare like DUEL and THE HITCHER with its desert setting and highway action…although it isn’t nearly as good as either.  Directed by Elliot Silverstein, a longtime TV and film veteran (his feature credits include CAT BALLOU and A MAN CALLED HORSE), it’s slow, routine and uninspiring, and unsurprisingly did little business upon its 1977 release (though in its defense, it was up against STAR WARS).  Nobody even bothered to release it on video until 22 years later, in 1999 (not that I remember too many folks calling for its home video release in the interim!).
     Incidentally, the late Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan and a contributor to films like ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE DEVIL’S RAIN, was apparently a consultant on this film…though what “consultations” he might have given I can’t imagine.

The Story 
     In a remote Arizona town a mysterious black car with tinted windows comes roaring out of the desert to knock a couple bicyclers off a bridge.  It also nearly runs down a hitchhiker which alerts the attentions of Sheriff Wade Parent, who makes it his mission to track down the errant vehicle.  Unfortunately he’s elsewhere when the car makes its big appearance at a fair, destroying property, spooking horses and driving the fair’s patrons—including Parent’s wife—into hiding.  This leads to a chase through mountain roads in which the car drives one policeman off a cliff and offs two others by literally rolling over them.  The only survivor is Parent, whom the car allows a brief glimpse into its driverless interior before knocking him unconscious.
     And there’s more: a Native American colleague backs Parent’s idea that the car is supernaturally endowed.  It also seems the vehicle is targeting cops and their families, as its next victim is the wife of Parent’s superior officer.  The car then appears in Parent’s garage, leading to another mountain road chase during which Parent manages to trick the thing into driving over a cliff into a bed of explosives.  But apparently we haven’t seen the end of The Car, as the end credits sequence has it driving through the streets of LA. 

The Direction 
     Being the veteran he was when he made this film, Elliot Silverstein helms with a sure and confident hand, and even manages a couple bravura sequences.  Foremost among these are the mid film chase through the mountains, easily the most imaginative portion of a singularly unimaginative narrative.  The way the car slowly creeps up to a waiting police car and gently closes one of the latter vehicle’s side doors is downright eerie.  Equally memorable is the sight of the evil car’s headlights approaching one of its victims through an open window.
     The car itself, a vintage shark-like monstrosity, is quite cool and the bleak desert setting extremely well utilized.  But let’s face it, there’s only so much a filmmaker can do with an evil car, and the endless scenes of the thing kicking up dust, backing up and skidding out grow old fast, meaning that by the time the all-action climax arrives, terminal boredom has set in for good.

Vital Statistics

Universal Pictures 

Director: Elliot Silverstein
Producers: Marvin Birdt, Elliot Silverstein
Screenplay: Dennis Shryack, Michael Butler, Lane Slate
Cinematography: Gerald Hirschfeld
Editor: Michael McCroskey
Cast: James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, Elizabeth Thompson, Ronny Cox, Kim Richards, Roy Jensen, Kyle Richards, Kate Murtagh, Robert Phillips, Doris Dowling, Henry O’Brien, Eddie Little Sky, Lee McLaughlin, Margaret Willey, Read Morgan, Ernie F. Orsatti, Joshua Davis

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