Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.
The Car is one of those movies I had heard about for years. Imagine my surprise when I found the dang thing at a library. It’s always a little bit of a shock to me when libraries have this kind of weird horror movie. I like to think that libraries are a little classier than movies about a car demon that drives over people. But hey, it’s nice to be proven wrong about that.
Anyway, that is literally what this movie is about. We have a gigantic car that suddenly appears in the middle of nowhere and starts killing people. In a very real sense, The Car is the natural cinematic child of a film like Duel. In fact, the biggest difference here is that in Duel, we know that there’s a man behind the wheel of the truck. While the truck is scary and a behemoth, it’s the driver who is the real monster. In The Car, we eventually discover that there is no driver, or at least not a driver of flesh and blood.
I’d love to step you through the plot here, but there really isn’t one. We get a few random killings by the massive vehicle, all accompanied by blasts on the car’s horn, both before the attack as a sort of bestial roar and after as a kind of victory war cry. Meanwhile, the local police, headed by Wade Parent (James Brolin) attempt to figure out what is going on and who is sitting behind the wheel of the demonic vehicle. Wade has a couple of daughters who are naturally going to be in harm’s way at some point. He’s also got a girlfriend (he is evidently a widower, which explains how he has custody of his daughters) named Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd). The body count goes up and eventually Wade and his dwindling crop of deputies attempt to corner and trap the deadly vehicle.
While Duel is the natural parent of The Car, there’s a great deal of Jaws in this as well. Sure, we’re on land—in the desert, even—but that doesn’t in the least reduce the clear similarities. We have a “creature” bent on nothing but destruction and stopping at nothing to satisfy itself. The locals, led by the police department, mobilize to slaughter the monstrous thing. Of course The Car is going to have a lot of supernatural elements to it. At one point, Lauren leads a marching band into a graveyard and discovers that the vehicle can’t get inside—hallowed ground and all that.
The Car is noteworthy for exactly one moment in the film—the car itself driving through a house. It’s a scene that builds up beautifully, with us as the audience able to see the approaching car in the distance through a picture window. If the rest of this movie were complete trash, it would be worth seeing for that sequence alone.
Fortunately, this isn’t complete trash. Oh, don’t get me wrong—it’s pretty damn close. This is an old-school horror movie that, aside from the scene mentioned above, has not a single real surprise in it. It’s generally easy to see who is going to get capped and when. It’s a movie where I think I was almost 100% in predicting who would die.
It’s hard for me to say that The Car is a good movie, because it really isn’t. What it is, though, is a very fun one. This is the sort of movie that would appear in mom-and-pop video stores in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when video stores tended to be populated with a couple of new movies, a few classics, and a huge collection of low-end crap, sleeze, and junky horror. In fact, I’m a little surprised I hadn’t seen this before now, because it’s exactly the sort of thing that I would have wanted to watch back in the day. I can’t imagine it wasn’t on the wall at the Video Bug, nestled between Re-Animator and The Hidden.
You’re not going to learn anything important watching The Car and you’re not going to find anything out about yourself or the world around you. But watching a demon-possessed 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III drive over cyclists and a guy with a French horn? It’s hard not to love the very idea of that.
Why to watch The Car: This is the sort of batshit crazy horror movies that made the ‘70s great.
Why not to watch: Even though it came first, it’s hard not to feel like this is Christine’s weak sister.