My first Final Girl Film Club attempt. I’ve tried to avoid car-related puns as much as possible. It was hard!
The DVD of The Car (1977) that I rented was very impatient for me to get watching. It started itself up without my say-so... Spooky eh? No? Okay then. So, just as a warning: the film itself doesn't get a whole lot spookier than that anecdote. This does not mean it isn't enjoyable, however!
As an opening sequence we have the first murder, in this town at least, that the vehicle commits. Two youthfully exuberant young cyclists are laughing and panting their way up a mountain road, when they have the misfortune to be caught in the orangey-red POV of the car in question. As the Jaws-esque "Duh duh DUH-DUH!" music builds… er, for quite some time... the car looms behind them menacingly. And soon enough, a pleasing smear of blood, a crumpled bike wheel and the triumphant honk of that damned car is all that is left of them.
This establishes what we are going to get over the next 96 minutes: the sometimes eerie, sometimes downright ridiculous plot of a huge black car menacing the population of a small Utah town. Prepare yourself for a lot of speeded up car footage.
James Brolin plays Wade Parent, a cop with two kids (Kim Richards I recognised from my Disney "thriller" days; Escape To Witch Mountain anyone?) and an incredibly annoying girlfriend. From the very first scene involving this woman, I was hoping to see her become a hood ornament at some point in the film.
Despite this poor choice of partner, Wade is cool. The evidence of this is thus: He has a great moustache, he likes gin, he has respect and admiration for his deceased cop father, he dotes on his daughters, he doesn't bother to wear a crash helmet on the motorbike he takes his children to school on - although does demand they both wear one. Cool!
After a confusing segment involving a French horn playing hitchhiker, where I was certain some kind of fatal "French horn or car horn?" confusion may take place (It didn't. What a random and completely wasteful use of a brass instrument), the demon car begins to cause so much bloody havoc that it drives formally on-the-wagon policemen to drink...
In case we haven't caught on to just how evil this car is yet, we have an old Native American lady witness one of the murders, and later explain that there is no driver in this car. Quite how she saw this with any certainty, as its windows were extremely heavily tinted and it was nighttime, is never fully explained. Still, we the viewer are now several shades more creeped out than before. What the hell is going on here, and how are they going to stop it?
Yelling won't help, stupid Wade's girlfriend! Nor will cussing in front of schoolchildren. You're just lucky there was a cemetery nearby in which you could all hide, when it drove through your band practice.
What with the ground being holy, the evil car cannot follow them, you see. And it is here the threat of the car kind of falls flat for a moment or two. Unable to enter the cemetery, it loiters around outside for a while, revving its engine threateningly and... doing donuts. I think I may have chuckled a little at this point. Finally, bored, frustrated and with no one to play with, the car speeds off, leaving the kiddies safe and Wade's daughters finally accepting of his girlfriend, aww. Must have been all that cussing.
Next comes the winner of the "You've just sealed your fate with that line, you idiot" award. An expendable cop - for a small sleepy town, their police department is huge - leads the possessed vehicle up a mountain... do you see where this is going? Oh yes. Shortly after cheerily radioing back to the guys with: "No way down but straight down!" he's, yes you guessed it, toppled over the edge in his squad car. This sequence, and others that follow it, illustrate the common theory that the very moment a car falls anywhere, or is touched in an aggressive way, it immediately explodes. I've played Xbox games with more robust cars than the ones in this flick.
Before the climax, Wade manages to get up close with the car. What starts out as sinister, in that no bullets seem to mark or harm the thing at all (Wade: "Two rounds in the tyres. One straight into the windshield. Not a scratch on him..."), soon becomes a little chucklesome again. As Wade is peering at it wondering what to do, the car pops open one of its doors. The cop walks quietly over, and he and the viewer get a teasing glimpse into the interior of the vehicle. At this point things are still tense as we strain to see if the drivers seat really is empty. Then, the door opens fully and quickly, pushing Wade over into a ditch. So the car basically shoves him over into the dirt, like a bully in the playground. He then passes out and wakes up in the hospital.
Understandably, Wade has had it with this shit. It's a little embarrassing for a town cop with an impressive moustache to get hospitalised by a push from a car door, so he starts planning a way to destroy this hunk of murderous metal. Although, not before the car catches up with his girlfriend at home! In one glorious moment of car meets annoying character's face, I rejoiced.
The climax then: in an overly complicated plan I didn't entirely follow, the remaining cops and the town wife-beater (no, really, they bring him out of jail to help them!) rig a batch of dynamite in a nearby canyon and lead the car to it. In the emerging flames and smoke of the – this time justifiably – exploded car, an hilarious representation of the evil spirit inside the vehicle is shown.
The car is no more. OR IS IT?! You decide if the pre and post credit honking hints at an eternal evil... or just an over enthusiastic use of the same sound clip.
This film was definitely watchable, despite my initial reservations. Moments of it were genuinely creepy; with the car lurking and silently emerging from the shadows, and the "open pipes" revving of the engine was threatening purely because it was such a loud, intense noise.
Depending on your mood, the fact that we are told the car is without a driver adds another level of menace or absurdity to the proceedings. It's either a case of "OMG no driver? *shudder*" or "No driver? Okay you've lost me, I'm out."
Hey, I like lists. Have one of the few aspects which prevented me from getting really into this flick:
- The segments of speeded up footage - was it really necessary to do that?
- Dropping the car POV shots after the first third of the film. I know there was only so much that could be done with such a thing, but I liked them.
- The sky-continuity during the climax. Is it night, sunrise, or daytime? Not a hard question!
It was a fun movie though, and I'm glad I made time to watch it. I'm thinking of making the laughable/scary "Honk… honkhonkHONNNK!" sound my new text alert noise...