Color, 1977, 96m.
Directed by Elliot Silverstein
Starring James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, R.G. Armstrong, John Rubinstein, Elizabeth Thompson, Roy Jenson, Kim Richards, Kyle Richards
Arrow (Blu-Ray) (UK RB HD), Universal, Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The CarPerhaps the first feature film to cash in on two Steven Spielberg films The Carat the same time, The Car was pushed into production by Universal as "Jaws on land," attempting to come up with a movie to tide audiences over in 1977 until the studio could turn out a bona fide sequel to their big shark hit one year later. For good measure, you get a big dose of Spielberg's Duel here as well courtesy of a supernatural vehicle straight from the bowels of hell, determined to mow down anyone in its path.

The killer car gets to work right after the opening credits in a small desert town (filmed in Utah), chasing down a couple of teen bicyclists and running them off a bridge to their deaths. Brought in to head the investigation is Sheriff Wade Parent (Brolin, warming up for The Amityville Horror), who enjoys a fairly quiet life with his new music teacher girlfriend, Lauren (Lloyd). Soon the car is striking again and again, bumping off residents both elderly and young before getting ambitious and trying to take out an entire marching band and a horse stampede. However, when the car proves unable to enter a holy cemetery site despite Lauren's taunts, it appears that the deadly force behind the wheel may not be human.

While cars were primarily the domain of comedies and action films in the '70s and early '80s (think Smokey and the Bandit), they had a pretty busy run in horror movies as well with the likes of The Hearse and a nutty made-for-TV Hal Needham variation, Death Car on the Freeway. This one didn't set the box office on fire when it first opened, but TV airings ensured it became a hot playground topic for several years and earned it a solid cult following. For some reason Universal kept it out of circulation during the prime VHS era, but Anchor Bay made up for it at the dawn of DVD in 1999 when they released it in a solid anamorphic transfer as part of their early licensing deal with the studio (which The Caralso resulted in some other treasures that are still scarce today like FM and I Saw What You Did). Amusingly, their packaging referred to the film as "existentialist" and likened it to Ingmar Bergman, which is stretching things just a tad.

Seen today, The Car is still completely ridiculous but offers a whole lot of fun, particularly one ambitious and pretty surprising kill scene in the third act later duplicated by Stephen King in his novel Christine (and wisely left out of the John Carpenter movie version). Still years away from becoming Mr. Barbra Streisand, Brolin was at a career high point coming off of Westworld and appearing the same year as this in Capricorn One. He's a solid leading man here, though the real fun is watching the bizarre supporting cast including good ol' ham bone John Marley (from The Godfather and The Dead Are Alive) as an early piece of road kill and R.G. Armstrong (Predator) as a grizzled yokel who might hold the key to taking out the car for good. Also on hand as Brolin's kids are Kim and Kyle Richards, who were in between their appearances in John Carpenter films (Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween, respectively) and would both be doomed to become Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The scope photography is The Carone of the film's greatest assets, combining crisp desert vistas with gleaming, menacing shots of the car careening through dusty highways; it's an unusual way to design a horror film, but it certainly sticks in your memory.

Universal eventually reissued this on standard DVD when the Anchor Bay deal ran out, but you can easily ignore that in favor of the marvelous 2013 special edition Blu-Ray from Arrow. Anyone with Region B capability and a fondness for '80s drive-in horror films should snap this one up right away ;it's a keeper. The HD transfer looks fantastic and drastically improves on the older version in every way, with the landscape shots in particular looking quite breathtaking. A real joy to watch from start to finish, and the LPCM stereo audio sounds great. (The Anchor Bay disc had a gimmicky The Carrechanneled 5.1 mix as well, but you won't miss it.) As for extras, you get a new audio commentary with director Elliot Silverstein, who was presumably hired due to his previous western experience on Cat Ballou and A Man Called Horse. Moderator Calum Waddell, who's done some excellent commentary work for Arrow in the past, does his damnedest to keep things afloat here, but it's obvious Silverstein doesn't remember much about making the film beyond the difficulties of the desert setting. If you've heard other chat tracks with older directors decades removed from the film they're watching, you probably have a good idea of what to expect. Waddell's observations are still good and make this worth a listen, even when Silverstein is weirdly denying having directed the MGM drive-in oddity Nightmare Honeymoon. On the video end you get a 28-minute "Making a Mechanical Monster," with special effects artist William Aldridge talking about the "strictly business" relationship he had with Silverstein and the various visual tricks used to pull off the film's car attack scenes, as well as his other career highlights like Die Hard. Actor John Rubinstein, who has one amusing extended scene in the film as a victim, also pops up for "Hitchhike to Hell," a 10-minute interview in which the Crazy Like a Fox star remembers his early role and talks about how he still puts this film on his resume, even if no one seems to have heard of it. Also included is the theatrical trailer (which has one whopper of a spoiler, so don't watch it before the movie!) and its Trailers from Hell version with John Landis repeatedly calling the film "really stupid" and talking about how admirer Guillermo Del Toro had a replica of the car built so he could drive it around Los Angeles. (As the packaging advertises, there's also a little hidden Easter Egg... happy hunting!) The liner notes booklet contains an essay by Cullen Gallagher (who says the film can "challenge our criteria of greatness"), charting its path from an early script called Wheels (with religious elements closer to one story in the '80s anthology film Nightmares) to the final car we all know and love as designed by George Barris. There's also a text interview with co-writer Michael Butler (who went on to films like Pale Rider and Code of Silence), conducted by Waddell, with the discussion covering the script's differences from the final (heavily rewritten) version and the writer's thoughts on the finished product, an unlikely fan favorite that shows no sign of slowing down.

Reviewed on July 12, 2013.