Wednesday 24 August 2022

Movie Review: The Car (1977)

A low-budget horror film, The Car drives past humble origins to deliver buoyant entertainment.

In the small desert community of Thomas County (filmed in Utah), a menacing-looking car appears from nowhere and starts mowing down road users. Two cyclists are the first to be murdered, followed by a hitchhiker. Sheriff Everett Peck (John Marley) and his detachment of lawmen struggle to make sense of the random crimes, then Everett himself is killed by the car. 

Captain Wade Parent (James Brolin) takes over as sheriff, and in addition to figuring out how to find and stop the murderous car, he has to worry about the safety of his two young daughters and his girlfriend Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd), a feisty schoolteacher. Wade's allies include recovering alcoholic Deputy Luke Johnson (Ronny Cox), native American Deputy Chas (Henry O'Brien), and explosives expert and wife abuser Amos (R.G. Armstrong).

A mash-up of Spielberg's Duel and Jaws with a dash of The Omen, The Car is an over-revved and overachieving B-movie. Director Elliot Silverstein starts with a sparse script (co-written by Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack, and Lane Slate) and produces an eye-catching and often heart-pounding spectacle, with many well-executed highlights. The willing group of actors, many of them veterans of secondary cast lists, battle bravely against plastic contrivances and cringe-worthy dialogue whenever the car is not on the screen.

But ingenuity is also frequently on display, with every kill unfolding to an original rhythm. The car sometimes races after its targets, at other times lays a trap, or pulls-off unexpected stunts. Some kills are quick-and-gone, others are monstrous displays of anger. Probably due to the limited budget, the film is thankfully gore-free.

The visuals, courtesy of cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld, make fine use of the expansive setting and ominous predator. The car itself is a piece of design genius, a 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III unrecognizably transformed into a machine proportioned to ooze pure evil, with a triumphal honk to match. Silverstein plays with rising dust clouds in the wide open desert to build evil-is-coming tension, but also demonstrates a deft touch to spring close-up surprises. When all else fails, diabolical engine noise announces heinous intent.

As the death count mounts, consensus builds that the car has no driver and refuses to enter hallowed ground. But otherwise, possession-by-the-devil metaphors for a deadly but unstoppable human invention can be embraced or discarded to suit. As it roars down the open road carrying no pretensions, The Car is pure hellish carnage.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.


  1. This is a surprisingly brutal film. There's at least one death in this that I was really surprised by.

    Also, that's a hell of a car, isn't it?

    1. Brutal but not gory - a good combo. It's a fun film, with courage to do the unexpected. The (short) dull parts are good because they're bad; and the good parts are much better than expected. And yes, the imagination that went into that car design deserves an award.

  2. i like that classic car


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