|Horror, Mystery, Thriller
May 13th, 1977
Release length: 1:36:00
The small town of Santa Ynez finds itself terrorized by an unknown vehicle that continues to run over the pedestrians of the town. First it targets two bicyclists, knocking them off a large ledge to the death, and a random hitch-hiker that earned the spite of Amos Clements (R.G. Armstrong) when the man intervenes as he is beating his wife. It’s at this point the police become aware of the vehicle, and try everything they can to stop the driver, though a few witness accounts hint to there being nobody behind the wheel. Road blocks can’t seem to stop its killing spree, sometimes going over specific targets.
Considering this is from the late seventies, most of the death scenes end up shot out of frame, especially when the vehicle is running over its victims. Sometimes they show an impact, but it looks more like the car driving by at a slower speed with the actor throwing himself on the car as it goes by. This is all effective enough to still give the idea that these people are dying, though the death of the hitch-hiker is handled a bit differently, having the car charge toward him on the ground, then fading, showing an obvious overlapping of film. It’s a bit out of place, but, still effective for its time.
The car design itself is actually rather creepy, looking like a twisted face within the vehicles steel frame. This makes it even more intimidating when on screen, especially when chasing down its victims. This also leads to part of the tension when it starts chasing down the children who are practising for the local parade. When they take refuge in the cemetery, it’s genuinely creepy as it stares at the children, taunting them from their hiding spot.
While the car itself and some of the camera work manages to set up some downright intimidating scenes, especially with the animal-like movement it pulls off, some of the acting could have been better by some people involved. James Brolin and R.G. Armstrong do a fantastic job in their roles, and Kyle Richards as Debbie plays up a very sweet, incredibly cute love interest. Her general concern comes through well for the most part, and the scene involving her and the car at her house is a bit outrageous, finding the vehicle jumping through the air at an outrageous height. This isn’t the only time it becomes a little too far fetched, as it does a barrel roll that takes out some police cars in a later scene, and the next scene simply drives away.
But, the one thing the film really seems to ignore is exactly what the vehicle is. It hints towards it being a creature that the native Indian residents happen to fear, but never explain exactly what it is. The big reveal comes at the end when the outline of a dog-like creature appears in the sky not long after a reveal related to the aforementioned scene involving he children preparing for the parade. A little more back story definitely would have been helpful overall. Aside that, most of the explosions are, well, impossible. One of the police officers get pushed off a cliff by the car, and shortly after it starts falling, the roof of the car seems to spontaneously explode, which will have you cracking up with laughter due to the absurdity of the visual.
The Car is a surprising film from the late seventies that does stand the test of time. There isn’t much need for special effects other then speeding up the film to make the vehicle move more like an animal on the hunt, as well as some explosions that are simply unnecessary. The choice of the car due to the detail and body was a superb one, making its presence far more intimidating than it would any normal vehicle at that time. If you haven’t seen The Car yet, it is a film you should familiarize yourself with. It’s an mysterious film that flows smoothly from start to finish, and stands the test of time, making it something you won’t regret watching.