BBFC Classification: 12
Director: Elliot Silverstein
Starring: James Brolin, Ronny Cox,
When a film comes along with the prefix of being a bit like another classic film but in a different setting – for example, Under Siege is often referred to as ‘Die Hard on a boat’ – then eyebrows can, quite rightfully, get raised. In the case of 1977 exploitation movie The Car the prefix is ‘Jaws on wheels’, which is really setting itself up for a fall if it doesn’t live up to Steven Spielberg’s game-changer.
Police Captain Wade Parent (James Brolin – The Amityville Horror) goes on the hunt after a mysterious car starts doing away with the locals in the desert town of Santa Ynez. However, Parent comes to realise that this is no ordinary car and that something other than a disgruntled driver may be at play, but how can the car be destroyed when it doesn’t seem to dent or scratch at all?
So does The Car really live up to the Jaws comparison that is often thrown at it? Of course it doesn’t. How could it? Jaws was a big-budget summer blockbuster based on a best-selling novel and pushed the boundaries of filmmaking and the landscape of movies forever whilst introducing the world to a new directing talent, showcasing some amazing performances from an established cast and exploring the nature of three flawed characters, each with a point to prove and going up against one of nature’s most fearsome beasts; The Car is a dirty, dusty exploitation shocker about a killer car. But that doesn’t make it a bad film. In fact, The Car is a very well made film that does have a cast of established actors and does manage to create a substantial amount of dread, but let’s not kid ourselves – it is about a killer car, after all.
With a film so straightforward and ridiculous (in a good way) there isn’t really a lot to criticise without sounding like a joyless old sourpuss, which is the impression that most of the cast give throughout. James Brolin plays Wade Parent as the archetypal alpha male hero who exudes strength whilst keeping a cool head and to be fair, if he was given funny lines or made out to be a comedy figure then he’d have ended up being Burt Reynolds. As it is, he (and his porn star moustache) holds the film together very well but the supporting cast are all fairly one-note and add very little character to the overall movie; even the usually excellent Ronny Cox (Robocop/Total Recall) as a policeman comes across as whiny and ineffectual and is totally underused. The only respite in the dour tone comes from an early scene involving John Rubinstein (Crazy Like a Fox) as a hitchhiker who confronts a wife-beating R.G. Armstrong (Predator) before becoming a victim of the car – it doesn’t sound like the basis for comedy gold but the dialogue between the two actors and Rubinstein’s glowing presence help lift the tone for a brief time.
And what of the car itself? The Lincoln Continental (with a few modifications) is a pretty scary car to look at whether it’s at night or in the bright desert sunshine and once it’s in pursuit you can see where those Jaws comparisons come from – sleek, deadly and soulless, this killing machine absolutely will not stop until it claims the person it is aiming for. But whereas the shark in Jaws killed for food, the reasons for this monster’s killing spree is less clear.
Yet again, Arrow Video have packed the disc with some quality extras, including a revealing interview with special effects artist William Alridge, a fun chat with actor John Rubinstein, audio commentary with director Elliot Silverstein, the original trailer, a trailer commentary by celebrity fan John Landis (An American Werewolf in London/Coming to America) plus the customary reversible sleeve and collector’s booklet full of interviews and artworks. The picture quality on the disc is excellent, the colours rich and the image full of depth but with a little grain to add to the dusty feel, and the audio is particularly effective, with any scenes involving the car itself being very loud and booming.
Evoking the action and feel of many vehicle-based films of the era – Duel, Two-Lane Blacktop and even Smokey & The Bandit spring to mind – and, with the benefit of hindsight, showing where later films like Christine, Maximum Overdrive and Death Proof drew some of their inspiration from, The Car is 96 minutes of solid 1970’s fun that isn’t to be taken too seriously, despite the somber nature of the performances. There’s no gore and the kills often happen off-screen but Elliot Silverstein manages to make the action exciting and tense with some speedy camera work and quick edits that don’t distract or take anything away, making The Car an entertaining joyride.
Special Features: Audio commentary with director Elliot Silverstein moderated by Calum Waddell, Making a Mechanical Monster interview with special effects artist William Alridge, Hitchhike the Hell featurette with actor John Rubinstein, introduction and trailer commentary by film director and fan John Landis, original trailer, easter egg, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Joe Wilson, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Cullen Gallagher as well as a brand new interview with co-writer Michael Butler conducted by Calum Waddell, illustrated with original archive stills and artwork.
UK Release Date: 15th July 2013