Format: Internet video on various players.
There are times when you can tell where a movie is going to hit based on the title. The Cars that Ate Paris is not one of those movies. Based on that title, it’s going to look like something a lot more lurid than it turned out to be. Based on the title, this clearly looks like it’s going to be a spoof along the lines of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. It might just as easily have been a film along the lines of The Car or an early prototype of Maximum Overdrive. None of these are correct. This is actually closer to a movie like Peyton Place, albeit with a hell of a lot more violence.
What I mean by that is that The Cars that Ate Paris is a film that concerns a small town with a secret. In this case, the town is Paris, located in the Australian outback. The secret, which doesn’t take us that long to figure out, is that the townspeople regularly cause drivers going through the area to drive off the road and wreck. The townspeople then ransack the wreckage, taking anything of value from the drivers. Those who survive are quickly lobotomized by the local doctor and used for medical experiments. Honestly, that last part doesn’t play into the film that much, and it honestly feels like a lost opportunity.
We’re going to learn all of this about Paris through the eyes of Arthur Waldo (Terry Camilleri), who manages to survive the wreck that kills his brother. For whatever reason, the town decides to keep Arthur alive and well, hoping that he’ll decide to become a permanent resident of the town. This comes from the town’s mayor (John Meillon), who essentially takes Arthur into his family. Arthur discovers that he effectively can’t leave the town. Because of a previous accident, he’s been barred from driving and has a phobia of it anyway. And, because of what the town does, it has effectively cut itself off from the outside world; there’s no transportation like trains or buses going through the town, and it’s far too remote to allow him to just walk away.
You might think that what has been presented here would be enough for the plot of a movie with a 90-minute or so running time, but you would be wrong. There is a significant undercurrent through the town of conflict between the people in charge of the town like the mayor and the local doctor (Kevin Miles) and the young men in town who seem to revel in the cars that they create from the scrap of the wrecks created around the town. When Arthur is put in charge of parking in Paris, things start to come to a head, because the young drivers who think that their cars should rule the town are now seeing restrictions for the first time.
The Cars that Ate Paris is from the earlier parts of the Ozploitation genre of films, and is one much more focused on the violence than on sex. There’s no sex in this one, so if you’re an Ozploitation fan hoping for something along the lines of Alvin Purple or even something that blends sex and violence like Turkey Shoot, you’re not going to find it here.
What’s fascinating here is just how much this film presages one of the greatest Australian film franchises in history. As much as this borrows from the “town with a dark secret” genre like Two Thousand Maniacs!, this film seems to in large part be the natural parent of Mad Max and the films in that series that followed. It’s easy to make a case that that influence is still there. I challenge anyone to watch The Cars that Ate Paris and look at the spike-covered Volkswagen Beetle that shows up near the end of the movie and not see it as a natural precursor to the spike-covered cars that attack the War Rig in Mad Max: Fury Road. There’s no way that this wasn’t an homage from George Miller. There’s also a nice bit of connective tissue here, since Bruce Spence appears in this film as Charlie, and shows up in both the second and third movies in the Mad Max franchise.
The truth is that there is a lot here that doesn’t make sense. The doctor performing lobotomies on people doesn’t make any sense, and we don’t really get any serious idea of what he’s doing. We don’t really get an explanation of why other people new to the town haven’t figured out exactly what is happening, since it’s clear to the audience almost immediately. There’s no clear idea of exactly how the residents of Paris make any money off of the wrecks since a lot of them appear to burst into flames.
And, honestly, I don’t really care. This is fascinating to watch, even if it’s honestly not very good. But really, that name should be something vastly different, because it sets up expectations this film cannot possibly meet.
Why to watch The Cars that Ate Paris: There’s a direct line through this movie to the Mad Max franchise.
Why not to watch: That title doomed it to cult status at best.