A blacked out 70’s sedan roams the Utah desert, leaving a trail of dust, and tire tracks of blood. Hitchhikers and bicyclists, ground meat, flesh, bone and all, churned into the pavement beneath 2500 pounds of merciless steel. Its thunderous wail of a horn blasts in a distant, dusty horizon, as the police and citizens of a small southwestern town scramble frantically for a way to stop it. The body count rises – police cruisers and bullets alike – all effectless against this supernatural force of evil on four wheels.
Sheriff Wade Parent (James Brolin) and his girlfriend Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd) are enjoying the domestic challenges of a new family and starting a new school year when the slaughter starts. First two cyclists are ground into stone and rammed off a 200 foot bridge to a broken doom. Then a hitchhiking musician is (rightfully) smeared into the road with repeated effort. Brolin takes a stance against whats brewing, and still – his captain is fractured to death into the cement, and two cruisers are steamrolled into oblivion, along with the officers driving them.
Something very dark and evil in the form of a black sedan has come to town in The Car – a 1977 stalk and kill horror film spun from the mood set by the stunning release of Jaws. The vehicle used for the film – a customized 1971 Mark III Lincoln – was an original developed by George Barris, the same man who designed the TV series Batmobile and the Munsters family car. It is without a doubt a main character in the film, with presence. Its tinted red windows, bulletproof exterior, spinechilling horn, and heavily browed headlights personify it with evil, setting a very dark tone for the latter half of the story.
It is no coincidence that the High Priest of Satan himself, Anton Svandor Lavey, was a technical adviser on this film, as he had also been for The Devil’s Rain in 1975. Both films incorporate a sense of dread that is intangible, but felt throughout nonetheless. Where special effects are absent, there is an underlying feeling of negativity, subtly inferred with Ronny Cox sneaking drinks from a whiskey bottle stashed in the truck of his police cruiser, snatched with a shaky hand… the long scenes of silence and staring off into surely what must be visions of impending doom and an inescapable, Hellish fate… not to mention the rarely focused upon fact that there is no driver in that car. Hope being lost, weakness, and loss of self were the types of things Lavey would advise be included. All inferred signs of the deterioration of the characters’ souls, and are effective in relaying the general impression that there is very little hope, and that the enemy they face is one of true, Satanic evil.
Final analysis: The Car is a widely underrated horror film that does a good job of inducing negative vibes without the use of gore or shock tactics. In 1970’s fashion, gritty acting and mass panic rule the day, with Brolin providing a firm masculine stance against the vehicular mayhem of The Devil. It manages to maintain an attachment to realism regardless of its supernaturally based circumstances. This is one of those films you can scare younger types with (due to the lack of Tarantino language, nudity, and adult levels of death), but at the same time get the creeps from watching late at night – as The Car revs its engines circling a graveyard in search of victims, or appears out of nowhere in someones garage. The scene where the Sheriff’s girlfriend Lauren is taken out – when The Car drives through her home at 70 miles an hour and obliterates her while she’s on the phone – is nothing less than “classic”. In my opinion, The Car is one of the best PG horror films out there. Check it out.