Movies From the Black Lagoon: The Car

Movies From the Black Lagoon
The Car - 1977, Rated PG

The citizens of a sleepy Southern California town find themselves trapped in a pit stop of evil when a demonic automobile terrorizes their community in this, often effective, chiller from the late 70's.
It all starts on a sunny morning with a young couple racing their bikes along a desert highway. While they cavort away a black sedan creeps up on them and blasts its horn before proceeding to crush them into road kill. The body count climbs another notch when the car decides to take down an overly cheery hitchhiker (you know the guy is toast when he's first glimpsed playing the French Horn) who flips off the wrong automobile.
Meanwhile, we meet Wade, a divorced deputy, whose happy home life is about to be disrupted. A ten-minute scene establishes him as a loving father of two young girls who is making his best effort to integrate his schoolteacher girlfriend, Lauren, into his family. The scene is light and manages to get the audience to like these characters before plunging them into the vehicular nightmare that has come to their town. Wade drops his kids off at school and finds himself investigating one dead hitchhiker before things get even more twisted with the discovery of the young adults glimpsed in the opening. Later that night the Sheriff and Wade opt for a drink but never make it to the bar as the titular fiend runs down the sheriff and leaves him steaming in the road like street pizza.
Wade has no time to celebrate his early promotion to the top lawman gig as he still has the hot rod from hell to deal with and no clue where it will strike next. He does get proactive and orders a deputy named Luke to cancel marching practice for the school band. Unfortunately, Luke, a recovering alcoholic, has picked the wrong time for a relapse and he botches the assignment. The car attacks with a vengeance in a tense scene that heralds its arrival with fierce winds that kick up ominous dust clouds from which the evil auto strikes without warning. Lauren saves the day by leading the children into a graveyard, which the Devil's Limo is afraid to enter.
It all comes down to a duel between Wade and the car that takes place in a canyon. It's a pretty good coda that finds Wade having to keep the auto busy, basically by making donuts with his motorcycle, while his men plant dynamite all around the site. The resulting explosion sends a ton of smoke and flames into the sky, which briefly coalesce into a devilish form but don't skip the end credits, which find a similar make and model winding its way through the streets of Los Angeles.
This one works because it understands what you want in a killer car movie. A lot of vehicular slaughter and characters that you somewhat care about. Wade comes off as a stand up guy who is out of his element but not about to quit and he's well played by James Brolin (Mr. Barbra Streisand). Ronny Cox (Deliverance) also shines here as lawman Luke whose bouts with the bottle have more heft due to Cox's artful emoting. Kathleen Lloyd is also good as Lauren. She's tough and funny but has her best moment when that veneer is stripped while she's confessing her fears to Wade over the phone. It's a powerful scene as the audience can see over her shoulder where, through a large window, the car is glimpsed as two headlights off in the distance which get closer and closer until it comes roaring into her living room. The other factor that works here is the abbreviated running time that makes this shocker roll in at a comfortable 90 minutes.
Interestingly this was released during the 70's gas crisis which makes it more appropriate now, despite the fact that our president doesn't seem to know there is a problem at the pump, due to skyrocketing prices which make us all want to shoot our beloved vehicles unless they're an SUV in which case you'd probably rather take a bazooka to it.
Best Line: "Do you think it's healthy for a 13-year-old boy to imagine his teacher naked?"

Tom Doty will be emerging from the Lagoon to meet fellow genre movie fans at Borders on the August 21st. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@pennswoods.net.