Die Hard, Jaws and Towering Inferno are all of a school of prototypical Hollywood genre films that gave birth to copycats far and wide. Many confined actions films have been referred to as ‘Die hard in a…’ Many disaster films borrow Towering Inferno motifs and pacing. As far as these three are concerned, Jaws is the grandmaster. Joe Dante and James Cameron both had early murmurings of a career behind the camera by directing Roger Corman’s Jaws rip-off, Piranha. The film discussed today that is also using the canvas of Jaws as a jumping off point is Arrow’s latest cult release in Elliot Silverstein’s The Car.
As John Landis states on his Trailer from Hell commentary [on the disc], The Car is a ‘dumb movie’. No matter whom the creative drive is, whether it is John Carpenter and Stephen King with Christine, or Stephen Spielberg with Duel, the idea of a driverless vehicle stalking and killing people off is one that will be met with derision from certain quarters.
James Brolin stars as Wade Parent. He’s a police man in small town Utah, with his sedate job, daughters and wondering whether he should marry his schoolteacher girlfriend, he has it made. Other than a local man who abuses his wife, the town has this easy-going vibe. Then the Car arrives, a customized 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III, for references sake. This black behemoth roars its way through town indiscriminately picking off locals – Jaws in the desert flats of Utah, fundamentally.
Even if The Car affords a better monster than Bruce the Shark (Jaws), it still needs some help making a mode of transportation menacing. How successful that is depends entirely on the context of the scene in question. On the bad side of the divide are the occasions when the police is chasing the mysterious vehicle, these instances are so bad because they have notably been sped up. If it wasn’t for Leonard Rosenman’s score, Landis’ claims that The Car is a ‘dumb movie’ would be unflappable. It’s in those moments where its man versus machine that the power of this machine as a monster comes to foreground. Rosenman’s aforementioned score by turns brooding and industrial helps give an otherworldly presence to the car. The cinematography helps a great deal too, especially when it has been re-mastered with a fantastic attention to detail.
The cinematography from Gerald Hirschfeld falls into two camps, that of the action sequences and that found in the silence. Those moments of silence make great use of static photography and the wondrous geography. The camera will be placed in a photogenic position near a desert road and far in the distance there will be a small flash of light, a glimmer of darkness stampeding its way towards the audience. It’s a magnificent effect. That same patience also pays dividends in the moments after someone has been killed, of particular note is the image of a house whom the car stampeded through.
The same sentiment is echoed with any point of view shots from within the car. There may not be anything there, but looking through the red of the windows to the soundtrack of an ominous rumble from the engine and a cacophonous blasting of the horn, it’s collects into an imposing presence. That alone is enough to sell this film as a great monster movie, as any less than this level of photographic ingenuity would spell disaster with the sped up material.
It’s not just the pace of this footage that’s an issue, there is a sub-narrative about a relapsed alcoholic that doesn’t go anywhere and some supporting actors leave a lot to be desired, especially the Navajo duo. However nothing derails the film with any great significance; it’s a great testament that beyond the fashion tastes there is little in the film that will confine enjoyment to the nostalgic alone. The idea may be silly, but it’s always a whole bunch of fun.