The Car is a 1977 American horror film directed by Elliot Silverstein and written by Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack and Lane Slate. The film stars James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley and Ronny Cox, along with real-life sisters Kim and Kyle Richards (as Brolin’s daughters). It tells the story of a mysterious car which goes on a murderous rampage, terrorizing the residents of a small town.
The film was produced and distributed by Universal Studios, and was influenced by numerous “road movies” of the 1970s including Steven Spielberg’s thriller Duel (1971) and Roger Corman’s Death Race 2000 (1975).
Two bicyclists cycling on a canyon are followed by a mysterious matte black car down the road. At a bridge, the car proceeds to crush one cyclist against the wall and ram the other from behind, catapulting him off the bridge. A hitchhiker, hoping to get a ride, encounters the car and insults it after it purposefully tries to run him down. In response, the car runs over him several times and leaves. The local sheriff’s office, called to the first of a series of hit and run deaths, gets a lead on the car that appears heavily customized and has no license plate, as pointed out by Amos Clemens (R. G. Armstrong) after he sees it run over the hitchhiker.
That night, in an apparent bid to kill Amos, the car instead runs over the sheriff, leaving Chief Deputy Wade Parent (James Brolin) in charge. During the resulting investigation, an eyewitness to the accident states that there was no driver inside the car, furthering Wade’s confusion. Wade asks his girlfriend, Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd), who is a teacher at the local school, to cancel the upcoming marching band rehearsals for their safety. Lauren and her friend, who is Wade’s deputy Luke Johnson’s (Ronny Cox) wife, ask him to let them rehearse, to which Luke unwittingly agrees.
The car enters the town and attacks the school marching band as it rehearses at the local show ground. It chases the group of teachers and students into a cemetery. Curiously enough, the machine will not enter onto the consecrated ground as Lauren taunts the purported driver that any of the townsfolk have yet to see. Seemingly in anger, the car destroys a brick gate post and leaves. The police chase the automobile along highways throughout the desert before it turns on them, destroying several squad cars and killing five of Wade’s deputies in the process. Wade confronts the vehicle and is surprised to see that none of his bullets put a dent on the car’s windshield or tires. After trying to open the door (when it is revealed that the car has no door handles), Wade is knocked out and the car escapes.
That evening, Lauren, on her way home to pick up her things, is killed when the car jumps driving straight through her house and rams her, right when she is speaking to Wade over the phone. Luke puts forward to a grief-stricken and maddened Wade the theory that it acted in revenge for the insults hurled on it by Lauren and notes that it apparently did not enter the cemetery because “the ground is hallowed,” a biblical reference. Wade concocts a plan to stop the car by burying it beneath a controlled explosion in the canyons that lie outside of town. After discovering it waiting for him in his own garage, he is forced to carry out his plans post haste. He is pursued by the car into a mountainous canyon area where his remaining deputies have set a trap for the machine.
In a final confrontation, Wade and Luke, at the edge of a cliff, bait the car into running straight at them, then jump aside as it goes over the cliff. With the dynamite detonated and the rubble falling on it, a monstrous, demonic visage appears in the smoke and fire of the explosion, shocking the deputies. The final scenes show Wade refusing to believe what the group saw in the flames, despite Luke’s insistence about what he saw.
The film concludes, in some cuts, with the car prowling the streets of downtown Los Angeles, clearly having survived.
The evil, black car in the film was a highly customized 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III designed by famed Hollywood car customizer George Barris. There were four cars built for the film in six weeks. Three were used as stunt mules, the fourth for closeups. The stunt mules were destroyed during production, while the fourth is now in a private collection.
Parts of the film were shot in St. George, Hurricane-LaVerkin Bridge, Zion, Kanab, Crazy Horse Canyon and Glen Canyon in Utah.
The late Church of Satan leader Anton LaVey was given a “Technical Adviser” credit on the film. His quote, “Oh great brothers of the night who rideth upon the hot winds of hell, who dwelleth in the Devil’s lair; move and appear”, is given in the opening credits and is taken from the “Invocation of Destruction” in The Satanic Bible.
The film’s main theme, heard predominantly throughout, is a reworked, orchestral version of the Dies Irae.
Reception and home release
The film was panned by critics, citing poor dialogue and acting. The film holds a 29% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes based on 17 reviews.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film “has all the ingredients of a parody, although someone has made the mistake of doing it straight.”Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel gave the film one star out of four and wrote, “What’s worse than the rotten acting is that ‘The Car’ makes absolutely no sense as a story. In some scenes the car is presented as a supernatural being, able to materialize at will. In other scenes however, the car is hopelessly realistic. Even more surprising is the poor quality of the film’s special effects.”
Arthur D. Murphy of Variety wrote, ” ‘The Car’ is a total wreck. Story concerns a phantom auto on a killing spree (allegory, anyone?) in a small western town where everybody overacts badly.”Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film’s “various special effects are superior,” but stated, “With often laughable dialogue—some of it deleted after previews—the film’s appeal is limited to the undiscriminating seeking a new sensation.” Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it “a blatant, pitiful attempt to recycle elements from superior scare vehicles,” namely Duel and Jaws.John Gillett of The Monthly Film Bulletin stated that the film “manages to be a fairly brisk thriller” when the action was focused on the car, but lamented that director Silverstein “has been saddled with one of those small-town family scripts complete with Deputy Sheriff romping with his schoolteacher friend, a drink-and-neurosis-ridden police force, and some generally strained acting by a less than starry cast.”
The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson’s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of the 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.
The Car was released in standard definition and without additional features on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment on July 20, 1999. Arrow Films released The Car on Blu-ray on December 15, 2015. The Blu-ray release features the first HD 1080p transfer of the film, as well as commentary and additional features.
In 2019, 42 years after the original film, a sequel was released called The Car: Road to Revenge.
- Similar titles
- Killdozer!, a 1974 film about a possessed bulldozer.
- The Hearse, a 1980 horror movie about a possessed hearse.
- Christine, a 1983 horror film inspired by Stephen King’s novel of the same name about a possessed red 1958 Plymouth Fury.
- Nightmares, a 1983 movie made up of four separate story segments; the third, “The Benediction”, features a traveling priest attacked on the highway by a demonic 4×4.
- Maximum Overdrive, a 1986 horror movie, based on the short story “Trucks” by Stephen King.
- Trucks, a more faithful 1997 made-for-TV film based on the King short story.
- Wheels of Terror, a 1990 made-for-TV film about a mysterious car with an unseen driver terrorizing a small Arizona community.
- Black Cadillac, a 2003 film about a mysterious black Cadillac that stalks three young men as they make their way through the virtually deserted mountain roads of Wisconsin.
- Super Hybrid, a 2011 film about a shapeshifting monster that transforms into cars.
- “The Honking”, a Futurama episode where Bender transforms into a similar-looking demonic car.
- “THE CAR (AA)”. British Board of Film Classification. May 16, 1977. Retrieved July 22, 2015.
- D’Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
- “The Car”. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
- Canby, Vincent (May 14, 1977). “Film: The Car”. The New York Times. 10.
- Siskel, Gene (May 17, 1977). ” ‘The Car’ could be The Turkey of cinematic year”. Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 9.
- Murphy, Arthur D. (May 11, 1977). “Film Reviews: The Car”. Variety. 79.
- Thomas, Kevin (May 13, 1977). “Killer Auto Plays Hit, Run in ‘Car’ “. Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 22.
- Arnold, Gary (May 16, 1977). ” ‘The Car’: A Real Lemon”. The Washington Post. B9.
- Gillett, John (August 1977). “The Car”. The Monthly Film Bulletin. 44 (523): 164.
- Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood’s Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.
- “The Car”. Arrow Video. Retrieved November 3, 2016.
- “‘The Car: Road to Revenge’ Isn’t Quite the Sequel You’re Expecting”. /Film. January 11, 2019. Retrieved January 29, 2019.