Owing to 1970s TV movies such as Steven Spielberg’s DUEL (1971) and KILLDOZER (1974), 1977’s THE CAR is not the first filmed effort to portray a driverless car terrorizing hapless victims, nor is it the most commercially successful (that honor would go to John Carpenter’s CHRISTINE, adapted from a Stephen King novel). But even though it was overshadowed by the year that gave us box office genre triumphs like STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD CAR, THE CAR has remained something of a fan favorite with an undeniable cult following, and it’s a miracle Hollywood has not yet secured a CG-laden remake. The demonic auto antics now make their way to Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory.
In the desert highways of New Mexico, a black Sedan is sadistically offing unsuspecting victims, from a pair of young cyclists to an obnoxious hitchhiker (John Rubinstein, ZACHARIAH) hoping to get a ride from a hot mama. Police officer Wade Parent (James Brolin, WESTWORLD) a single parent of two girls (real-life sisters and future “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” Kim and Kyle Richards) is in love with a local schoolteacher Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd, THE MISSOURI BREAKS), but the notion of her being a new step-mom is the least of his problems. “The Car” continues to claim victims, including one of his co-workers, and makes its aggressive presence known at a parade horded with school kids. As the vehicle apparently has no driver and can perform unfathomable acts of destruction, it’s believed to be possessed by the Devil, and the community must unite to put the four-wheeled hellraiser to rest.
Opening with a quote from “Church of Satan” founder Anton LaVey (!), THE CAR has a rather silly premise that not only culls from the sporadic “killer car” genre, but also JAWS, which at this point was still being ripped off left and right. Despite it being compared to the work of Ingmar Bergman by one reviewer upon its release (whaaat?), the film is far from high art, but it has some excellent widescreen cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld (YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN), decent thrills and makes for – if nothing else – a pleasurable Saturday afternoon popcorn flick from the decade that gave us more than its fair share. It even takes itself quite seriously (well, for the most part, least of all when Kathleen Lloyd’s character tries to verbally intimidate the demonic jalopy), giving its supporting character’s some surprising development, including Ronny Cox (ROBOCOP) as an alcoholic cop, John Marley (DEATHDREAM) as an aging lawman with feelings for a woman being abused by her husband, and character great R.G. Armstrong (RACE WITH THE DEVIL, THE BEAST WITHIN) as that very wife beater who tries to redeem himself during the final showdown.
Director Elliot Silverstein was a veteran of numerous “Twilight Zone” episodes, and even though the film feels like an expanded version of that show (at least in story), he manages to do a decent job and make this all look cinematic. It’s Leonard Rosenman’s menacing and thunderous score that gives the film a somewhat epic feel, but it’s so similar to the soundtrack he did years earlier for BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, they’re practically interchangeable (pieces of the music also resemble the score for BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, which he also did). James Brolin (who around this period would be on a role with fantasy films – CAPRICORN ONE and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR) is underrated when you look back at these kinds of films now, and Kathleen Lloyd… whatever happened to Kathleen Lloyd? Charming, pretty and likable, Lloyd seemed to be an up and coming leading lady in the late 1970s, landing parts in the rarely seen SKATEBOARD opposite Allen Garfield and as a doomed mother in Larry Cohen’s IT LIVES AGAIN, but afterwards, she mainly did guest spots on various TV series. Unfortunately, she hasn’t appeared in anything for years. Fans of “Gilligan’s Island” will recognize the late Eddie Little Sky (here, playing another member of the local police force), who guest starred several times on the sitcom as either a native or a witch doctor menacing the castaways.
Previously available on DVD from Anchor Bay (back in 1999) as licensed from Universal, the studio itself released an upgraded DVD in 2008. More recently, Arrow Video in the UK released a Blu-ray special edition, and now Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory arm has issued their own Blu-ray edition for U.S. consumption, with their own exclusive new special features. The transfer here is presented 1080p HD in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looks quite striking. Everything from the bright colors (check out those blue desert skies) to the ultra crisp detail and the textures in the facial features looks excellent here, and the film’s elements are in obvious flawless condition, with the grain structure also being handled extremely well. The DTS-HD Master Audio is available in Digital Dolby 5.1 and 2.0. On both tracks, the dialogue is clear and well-balanced with the music and sound effects. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.
“Mystery of The Car With Elliot Silverstein” (9:16) has the director commenting that the production company wanted to make “Jaws on Land” and he explains the difficulties in making the movie convincingly suspenseful. Silverstein relates that they had to make changes to the original script since he was dealing with a series of contradictions due to the theory that “God is in the light” and “The Devil is in the Darkness”, and he also mentions some of the difficulties with the automobile itself. “The Navajo Connection With Geraldine Keams” (12:10) is an interview with the actress who plays “Donna”, the police station phone operator. She talks about her first movie (THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES with Clint Eastwood) and then getting offered THE CAR immediately afterwards. She mentions liking her part when she first read the script and describes her director as a “very smart man” (she also admits that her favorite part of the movie was the music). “Just Like Riding a Bike With Melody Thomas Scott” (11:52) is an interview with the long-time “The Young and the Restless” star who plays the victimized teen bicyclist in the film’s opening. She doesn’t recall how she got the part in the film, but does remember shooting her scenes very well (she was very nervous about it), and describes her director’s technique as “gruff”. Rounding out the supplements are the original trailer, a TV spot, radio spots and an ample still gallery with photos, posters and more (did you know that Kenner marketed a “The Car Game” based on the movie which was never actually released?). (George R. Reis)
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