• Car, The



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: December 15th, 2015.
    Director: Elliot Silverstein
    Cast: James Brolin, Ronny Cox, Kathleen Lloyd
    Year: 1977
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    The Movie:


    Ah, THE CAR.

    We have a long and complicated history. This is a film I first saw the ads for at about 11 years old. At that point, I was just beginning to develop a fascination with the occult and was inextricably drawn to this slice of very strange Velveeta due to the fact that the infamous Anton Szander LaVey, head of the then headline grabbing Church Of Satan, was listed as a technical advisor on it. When I finally saw it, replete with opening LaVey incantation as a text crawl on the opening screen, I was just a tiny bit spellbound.

    But make no mistake. THE CAR is a "bad" film, beset with potentially crippling problems. It's fundamental concept is as dumb as a bag of wet hammers. Some of the dialog is risible. There's a couple of sloppy stunt sequences. And the acting is all over the map. So why do I love this wreck?

    But first, let's get the minimalist plot out of the way. In a small picturesque town in Utah, a mysterious car has appeared out of nowhere in the surrounding desert and started killing people by running them over. Deputy Wade Parent (James Brolin) and Sheriff Everett (the great John Marley of THE GODFATHER) are tasked with trying to find out what the hell is going on, assisted primarily by another deputy - melancholy recovering alcoholic Luke (Ronny Cox, ROBOCOP). The other people primarily involved are Parent's girlfriend - schoolteacher Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd), mean town drunk Amos (R.G. Armstrong, EVILSPEAK) and Parent's two daughters, the kids from ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN's (Kim and Kyle Richards).

    THE CAR was directed by journeyman Eliot Silverstein - the A list director of Lee Marvin's hit CAT BALLOU and the well received Richard Harris vehicle A MAN CALLED HORSE. But the biggest influence you see in Silverstein's work here is, oddly enough, his Twilight Zone episode "The Obsolete Man" from 1961. Because, as has been pointed out many times over the years is that THE CAR has the soul of a Swedish existentialist arthouse film. Much like that Twilight Zone episode about a futuristic fascist state with its odd camera angles and overweening sense of free floating anxiety, THE CAR traffics in overwhelming and oppressive atmosphere. The killer vehicle is quite arresting - the squashed down roof, satanically tinted windows and bluntly evil looking grille give it some gravitas. Then there's the characters. Half of them don't even have last names that we ever hear. People just randomly stare off into the vast desert landscape for no apparent reason at regular intervals. There's a strangely compelling aura of American Indian mysticism too - being set in a southwestern state much of the local sheriff's force is Native American. Emotions are generally tamped down with odd outbursts occurring at strange times. Brolin - who wavers between joking banter with his girlfriend, blank wall gazing, and screaming at the town drunk for details after the car mows down someone, isn't particularly good in the film, but he's compelling. The real scene stealer is Cox, who seems to have stepped right out of an Ingmar Bergman flick. Constantly weeping, craving a drink and just essentially capturing soul crushing depression in every shot, he's riveting. The film has some great dark humor too with actor John Rubinstein's French horn playing hitchhiker having the film's most hilariously painful interaction with the film's vehicular star.

    The opening sequence, with the car chasing down two teenage bicyclists on a mountainous road, is masterfully shot and ends with some spectacular stunt work. While a couple of the film's kills suffer from poor editing, the main set pieces are well done. And the ending, as ridiculous as it is, is only slightly let down by some primitively period challenged fx. Overall however, the film LOOKS stunning. The vast and barren Utah landscapes look phenomenal enough to have you heading to Expedia to book a vacation. The night scenes in the film are best for creating actual dread, but as "sunlit horrors" go, this one is pretty good. And did I mention the killer car's signature honk? Brilliantly sinister. I'd like that in a ring tone.

    For a film not exactly gifted with a lightning pace, THE CAR motors along with an engaging momentum. The big moments - the cyclists, the car's attack on a student marching band ending in a cemetery and an amazing demolition assault on a house are quite memorable. The dynamite infused final showdown is mostly solid as well. Lloyd gets the lion's share of awful dialog but it's not fatal to the enterprise. Approach this one the right way and you'll enjoy the... ride.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    THE CAR drives onto Blu ray road with a solidly engineered 2.35:1. framed 1080p AVC encoded transfer. I own both this version and the earlier Arrow U.K. edition and find the transfers quite similar. Which is a good thing. THE CAR has some truly spectacular location shots and so fine detail, color saturation and strong black levels are crucial to making the movie transition well to HD. Others have noted some very minor compression artifacts in this edition but I never really noticed these. The image also looked quite organic to me with no obvious use of DNR.

    Unlike the U.K. pressing this disc has two audio tracks: a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 one. The original track is good but this is a rare case where I prefer the new multichannel audio. It's carefully constructed and manages to amplify the tension in the car's more violent sequences quite nicely. The surround effects never get gimmicky or too distractingly OTT. I've always been a fan of Leonard Rosenman's brassy score for this, so it's nice to hear it get some added "oomph". Also, there are no defects in either track - all dialog is clear and well balanced.

    This USA set has substantially less extras than the Arrow U.K. version, but it trumps that edition in one crucial area: the dumping of the disastrous audio commentary. So instead of being "gifted" with what I consider to be the single worst audio commentary I've ever heard in my life, Scream give us a nicely informative chat with director Silverstein. He may be up there in years, but he looks great and has a nicely down-to-earth attitude towards the film. He recognizes it as far from a classic but explains that he did the best he could with the studio's "JAWS on land, with a car" mandate. This is a very nice little piece. Next up we get actress Geraldine Keams (who played a deputy in the film) who details her time on it and her experiences as an American Indian in the film business. This is a very personal and interesting interview and well worth a look. Finally, bit player Melody Thomas Scott talks about her part in the film's memorable opening sequence. Scott went on to massive stardom in the soap opera "The Young And The Restless", and while she doesn't have particularly fond memories of this early acting credit (mostly due to her poor interactions with Silverstein) she's engaging and funny and has some good stories. Make sure to check out the gloriously cheesy theatrical trailer and TV and radio spots though. Prime 70's stuff. There is also a pretty strong still gallery worth taking a look at included.

    The Final Lap:

    I love THE CAR. The "horror movie that Ingmar Bergman should have made" is a terrific so bad it's good 70's fossil that manages to be alternately sinister and silly. I consider it one of the great 3AM flicks. Scream's edition looks good and sounds great, dumps the UK edition's worst extra and throws in a small but satisfying batch of exclusive bonus content.

    Recommended.

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    Comments 1 Comment
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      This is just plain bad for me, I was 18 when it was released, & disliked it when new and have never been able to enjoy it on any level. Brolin is awful, like R.G and Cox though.Agree about that commentary on the Arrow though, yowzers that one is hard to stomach.