The Car (1977)
“Is it a phantom, a demon, or the Devil himself?”
Director: Elliot Silverstein
Cast: James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley
Synopsis: A sleek, possessed black car terrorizes everyone it comes in contact with in a small town in Utah.
Elliot Silverstein’s 1977 B-movie The Car, in which a mysterious black sedan indiscriminately mows down innocent people in a small desert town for no apparent reason, is reminiscent of the kind of thing Stephen King would write about. In fact, King did write about a possessed car in a novel called Christine, which was made into a so-so movie in 1983. But, although the story could have come from the mind of King, the details and characterisation are strictly fifth-rate.
James Brolin plays Wade Parent, a police officer in the small town of Santa Ynez, which must be the most lawless town in the States judging by the number of officers it seems to need to police it. Parent’s a single parent who looks like a country-and-western singer and who’s having trouble getting his two young daughters to accept Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd), the new love of his life, as their surrogate mother — and that’s about as far as characterisation goes in The Car. Everyone else is simply on screen to provide road-kill for the Car or to dodge out of its way. One character, a cranky old coot named Amos Clement (R. G. Armstrong) knocks his wife (Doris Dowling, Alan Ladd’s duplicitous wife in The Blue Dahlia) about, much to the chagrin of the town’s police chief (John Marley), but that goes nowhere, and as Amos is one of the survivors, we can safely assume he goes back to knocking the poor old girl about once all the excitement is over. In an early scene, in which the police question Amos over the death of a hitch-hiker (John Rubinstein) who is one of the Car’s first victims, we see that he drives a truck marked ‘Danger: Explosives’ and we just know those explosives are going to play a part in the story sooner or later.
The police really start getting worried when they find the bodies of a pair of cyclists whom we’ve already seen being toyed with and murdered by the Car, although they don’t yet realise just what they’re dealing with. The police chief orders road blocks to be put up, but somehow the police fail to notice that their quarry is parked right outside their station just waiting for the chief to stand in the middle of the road so that it can plough him down. Parent later finds out that an Indian witness claimed there was nobody driving the car.
The movie pretty much carries on in this vein for a further excruciating hour, during which the long-haired, overweight Santa Ynez police force pretty much does everything wrong as we wait impatiently for them to remember that truckload of explosives waiting outside old Amos’s house. Although there’s nothing about The Car that is terrible as such, there’s little that is good about it, and a lot that’s mediocre at best. The dialogue is there purely to drive the plot along, with no attempt to explore the lives or the feelings of the characters. It is, at least, matched by the acting which is strictly B-movie standard throughout. Not one person stands out amongst the cast as worthy of mention. Overall, the entire picture has a TV movie feel about it, and it’s clear to see that the best years of director Silverstein (he made Cat Ballou (1965) and A Man Called Horse (1970), were far behind him.
(Reviewed 10th September 2013)