When JAWS opened in theaters in the summer of 1975, it was instantly a bona fide cultural phenomenon. It gave birth to the “summer blockbuster,” and had people terrified to hit the beach, yet they were returning to the cinemas in droves to see it again and again. And with that level of success of course comes the imitators. The Italians went pretty nutty with JAWS fever and attempted to cash in several times with some oddball features such as GREAT WHITE and TINTORERA, great in their own right, but obviously never on par with its inspiration. However, while most only look at the aquatic horror knock offs that came in the wake of JAWS, one of the best JAWS rip-off’s is the insane 1977 cult flick THE CAR.
Yes, it’s simply called THE CAR.
In the opening of the film, two young teens are peddling along on their bicycles, peacefully and minding their own business. They race through a tunnel when suddenly, an aggressive sleek, black automobile with a penchant for the most annoying honk in the world sneaks up behind them at top speed and is chipping away at their back tires. They frantically make it to a nearby bridge, which ends up being the last decision these poor kids ever make. The Car strikes down one, then the other and knocks him off the bridge to his death, driving off while honking that blasted horn triumphantly.
We as an audience have no idea what’s going on yet. For all we know, it could be a lunatic behind the wheel of that sucker. But we occasionally get the Car’s POV and realize that this car is pure evil. It’s the freakin’ shark from JAWS! Its next victim is a hitchhiker that while thumbing for a ride, hears a domestic abuse in the house behind him and tries to intervene. A few moments later, he’s mowed down by the Car. That’s right. This sucker doesn’t care about your hero status! It shows no prejudice!
The police investigating these series of murders is led by Wade Parent (the great James Brolin) and his loyal deputy Luke. (Ronny Cox) The original Sheriff gets mowed down in the street, and an eye witness tells the cops that there was no driver behind the wheel. Can it be?
The rest of the movie gets crazier and crazier. At one point, the car terrorizes a pep rally and Wade’s girlfriend backtalks to the car while they seek safety in a closed off lot. Later, the car gets its revenge in one of the most jaw dropping kills of the whole film. While Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd) is on the phone with her boyfriend, we can literally see right out the window the headlights of the car coming down the road from a mile away. It keeps getting closer and closer, until finally it jumps the curb and literally goes straight through the house. All in one shot!
The Native American cops on duty think it may be some sort of curse. But the beauty of THE CAR is there is no true explanation behind why or what THE CAR is. It just is and it’s pure evil! Also, as ridiculous and silly as this all sounds, you’ve got quality actors taking the entire thing as serious as a heart attack. And that’s what makes it stand out against the crop of JAWS imitators of the time. (Well, that and this one doesn’t have a shark!)
You’re in luck. For our overseas readers, Arrow Video has put out a pretty stellar Blu-Ray release of THE CAR. While here in the US, Scream Factory unleashes THE CAR in high def on a Blu-Ray/ DVD combo Tuesday, December 15th. If you’ve seen it before, you’ll want to upgrade to this beautifully restored version. If you’ve never seen it before, this is the cult flick gem you’ve been waiting for!