- Directed by Elliot Silverstein
- May 13, 1977
A mysterious black sedan begins killing people in a small and isolated town.
The Car is one of those films that could only come out in a specific era. There are many movies like that in the history of movies. You watch it, you enjoy it, but you know if it was made today (whatever ‘today’ might be when you are watching) it would not be made. I cannot imagine there is an executive at Universal or any other Hollywood studio that would look at this and say, “Let’s make this happen!” It is too goofy of an idea on paper that works much better when executed.
Starting in the 70s and I would say into the late 80s there was a burst of unusual creativity in Hollywood. Maybe it was a time of unbridled expression. Maybe it was a time of really good drugs. Whatever it was it seemed that movie makers were willing to try anything. If they could squeeze a script out of it, they would give it a shot. And they were not doing it to make something bad. They genuinely believed they can make something good out of what hairbrained idea they had.
That is not to say that movies before or since have not been creative, but they were willing to push the boundaries just a little or a lot more. The Car is a mid-70s example of this weird burst of creativity.
This is a vehicular slasher film. Slasher films were a horror mainstay during the 70s and lasting well into the 80s. A killer for reasons known or unknown would start hacking people up and the police would have to stop them.
This film throws in some supernatural elements to that. The car is clearly not driven by any mortal being and after a kill it disappears. It is never seen until it is too late. There are only ever hints of the car approaching at first. A dust cloud in the distance. The sun reflecting off the windshield and then you hear the horn and the rumble of the engine. It’s a tease followed by a payoff.
The car itself is an intimidating looking muscle car. It was a customized 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III designed by well-known Hollywood car customizer George Barris. Director Silverstein in order to give the vehicle a sinister look made the roof three inches lower than normal and altered its side fenders that same length again both higher and longer.
I cannot recall when I first saw The Car, but it has stuck with me ever since. For some reason I recall coming into contact with this film on a Sunday afternoon after church as I have with so many films. I think the story ultimately appeals more to children than adults even though it is a horror movie. The idea of a killer car is rather silly and the kid in me likes that. The adult is inclined to share the kids love of things.
The Car is just great fun. It’s a little silly but a great deal enjoyable. There is just something oddly entertaining the whole thing. A whole bunch of elements that should not work come together and make something that does work and is quite enjoyable.
We have James Brolin as Captain Wade Parent. Kathleen Lloyd is his girlfriend Lauren Humphries. John Marley is Sheriff Everett Peck who seems to take orders from Capt. Parent though it looks like a sheriff should outrank a captain. Ronny “Dick Jones” Cox is Deputy Luke Johnson. Weird to see him as a nice guy. R. G. Armstrong is abusive husband Amos Clemens who finishes the film a hero. Eddie Little Sky is Deputy Denson and has one of the funnier moments in the film with a rather bigoted caller.
For years something about the music has struck me as familiar and unlikable. I have never quite liked it from the first time I saw it, but I enjoyed the film so much that my lack of enjoyment of the music did not bother me. While some of it is appropriately threatening and menacing, too much of it is just too upbeat and perky. And now I know why. Leonard Rosenman, the man that wrote the music for this also wrote the music for quite possibly the worst of the original Star Trek film scores with his work on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Great film. Bad music. Just like this.
Music aside, The Car is a better than it should have been film. You care about the characters even if they do over act at points. The situation becomes believable even if it should not be. And you will find the vehicle menacing. But what really sells this whole film is that explosive finale.
The Car is a fun and outlandish horror film from when Hollywood was at a creative peak. This is a must see for horror connoisseurs but for the general film audience I will give it an if you want.