I always love me a really good, bad movie. In fact, some of my favorite films are what have been deemed “B-movies” by critics. In addition to often incorporating unconventional and inventive characters and plots, many bad movies provide unintentional laughs and goofs that can be as entertaining as the story itself.
A professor of mine at film school even went so far as to state that bad movies are as valuable to watch as good ones for the aspiring director, since they can teach you how not to craft a film. With all this in mind, I couldn’t help but chose one of my absolute favorite really good, bad movies as the subject of this month’s Rob’s Car Movie Review: The Car (1977).
Produced and distributed by Universal Studios in 1977, The Car was directed by seasoned helmer Elliot Silverstein of Cat Ballou and A Man Called Horse fame, and starred James Brolin, the lovely Kathleen Lloyd, Ronny Cox, and John Marley.
At the beginning of the film, the small, backwater Utah town of Santa Ynez suddenly finds itself terrorized by a spectre-like, black automobile that roams its canyons and dirt roads, indiscriminately running down and murdering the good desert denizens. Sheriff Everett (Marley) and his deputies Wade (Brolin) and Luke (Cox) attempt to locate the culprit and stop the mayhem, but all their plans come to naught when Everett himself is mowed down by the car.
Wade takes control of the Sheriff’s department with plans to bring his boss’ murderer to justice, but finds himself powerless to defend his girlfriend Lauren (Lloyd) and his two daughters when they are harassed and penned in an old cemetery by the automotive serial killer. Several more people are subsequently killed including a deputy and Lauren herself before Wade and his posse find a way to confront the four-wheeled beast. When they finally do, however, what they discover about the car shakes their very sanity and beliefs.
The Car has the same gritty look and supernatural feel of other notable paranormal thrillers of the era, such as The Omen, The Eyes of Laura Mars and The Amityville Horror (which also starred Brolin), and this is predominantly a good thing, as Hollywood still knew how to make a ghost story very well back then. Equally strong is the film’s premise, which, in my mind, could make for a pretty cool modern remake in spite of the fact that I am no fan of Hollywood’s recent penchant for redoing everything that has come before.
Sadly though, this is where the platitudes I can offer the film come to a screeching halt. Among other things, the dialogue and acting in the film are quite sub-par and detract from the quality of the film dramatically. Equally amateurish are some of the film’s effects and editing, the latter sometimes being so bad that the viewer is left confused as to what just happened before his or her eyes.
But perhaps nothing in The Car annoys more than the director’s choice to again and again slow down the frame rate of the film, so as to make vehicles appear to be going faster than they were during filming. We are continually beat over the head with this technique and its resultant herky-jerky movements. B-movie stuff to the maximum.
Despite this, The Car is, as I alluded to in this review’s introduction, a really fun bad movie to watch. The seventies fashions and hairstyles on display are hilarious, and despite the film’s aforementioned flaws, it manages to be a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging film from start to finish.
Which leads us to the true star of The Car: the car! Designed and engineered by legendary car builder George Barris, who was also responsible for such iconic movie vehicles as the Batmobile, The Munster’s Koach and many others, The Car (actually cars with an “s”, as four were built for the movie) began life as 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III coupes.
The cars were heavily modified with chopped roofs, slab-sided 18-gauge steel bodywork painted in a creepy satin black, amber colored laminated windows, deep-dish, chrome plated Cragar wheels, custom chrome bumpers and 460 cubic inch lumps under the hoods. The overall effect is both somewhat silly-looking and sinister at the same time, which gives the viewer the distinct belief that this is exactly the outlandish type of vehicle that would be used to maim and murder a path through a lonely desert outpost.
All in all, The Car manages to entertain, providing suspense and some thrills while providing for a dark, moody look at Americana under assault. While no Citizen Kane, The Car works on a very basic level, and man, what it could have been with less schlock and a bit more polish. Nonetheless, I give The Car six out of ten pistons, and can recommend it as one of my favorite guilty pleasures.
About The Author: Rob Finkelman is a freelance writer for Street Muscle Magazine. He attended and graduated from New York University’s film school in 1992, and subsequently worked in the movie business for twenty years as a documentarian and screenwriter. Combining his two great passions in life – films and cars – and writing about them is a dream job for him. He will be bringing us a Car Movie Review each month, and he’s open to suggestions so list yours below.