The Car (1977)
Directed by Elliot Silverstein
Written by Dennis Shryack, Michael Butler, and Lane Slate
Starring James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, and Kim Richards
Some movies carry a deep message. They seek to make us wiser, or at least to think for at least a little bit. They may be cringingly obvious, like the delightfully silly rock-and-roll biblical allegory The Apple; or they may be immersive and well-crafted, as in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Then there are movies that never reach beyond their high-concept premise.
The Car is a movie of the latter ilk, and the only thing it asks of its audience is to accept that a car just really likes killing people. Sure, there are characters. After all, the car needs victims. There’s even a main character: Wade Parent, played by James Brolin. Parent is a deputy sheriff who has to protect his community, his children, his girlfriend, and his officers from the car. Without revealing which people he fails, I’ll just observe that this was made at a time when the most common special effect was a police car getting wrecked.
Ultimately, while the film centers on Sheriff Parent’s efforts, it’s clear that the car is the star. It’s not just randomly running people over, although it is often opportunistic. It kills the sheriff early on for trying to wreck its fun, and a person who taunts it from a position of safety is explicitly targeted for vengeance later. It’s playful too, like a house cat tormenting mice. We don’t know where it came from, and we can only guess that it’s somehow satanic (it can’t enter holy ground), and these mysteries grab our attention. Like the graboids in Tremors, the lack of explanation only heightens the immediacy of the threat.
I confess that my first reaction on seeing this one was that someone had filed the numbers off of Stephen King’s Christine. Demonic car, indestructible, taste for blood — there’s a certain conceptual similarity, you’ll admit. In fact, this came out about five years before King’s book and the subsequent John Carpenter film adaptation. Moreover the stories come from different places. King’s story was about the relationship between people and their cars. Yes, the car was possessed and evil, but it gained power through the love and attention of its owner. The car in this movie does not need anybody. It runs on nothing but its own desires to kill.
Maybe that’s the meaning of The Car. There are threats we cannot understand, enemies with whom we cannot reason, and when that happens, you’ll need to have one hell of a mustache.