Jaws on wheels”: that’s how The Car is com­mon­ly dis­missed by main­stream and gen­re crit­ics alike. True, there are ele­ments of this pro­nun­ci­a­tion that are true. it came from the same stu­dio a few years after Jaws was an indus­try-shat­ter­ing suc­cess and fea­tures a law enforce­ment agent up again­st a sin­gle-mind­ed men­ace pick­ing off the pop­u­lace of his town. However, that’s where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. The Car has more tricks up its sleeve than being a Jaws clone, offer­ing a quirky sen­si­bil­i­ty and a creepy, eso­ter­ic super­nat­u­ral angle Car77-bluto its plot that has made it a cult favorite over the years.

The Car begins with a mys­te­ri­ous auto­mo­bile emerg­ing from the haze around a desert town. It begins mow­ing down tourists and locals alike as Sheriff Wade Parent (James Brolin) mobi­lizes his deputies to find and cor­ner it. However, they soon dis­cov­er that not only is this new men­ace clev­er and ruth­less, it might also be super­nat­u­ral in orig­in. As the phan­tom car begins tar­get­ing his friends and fam­i­ly, Parent and his dwin­dling staff must resort to des­per­ate mea­sures to take down their unusu­al foe.

The result­ing film is a styl­ish slab of pulp hor­ror that might sur­prise you with how creepy and com­pelling it is. The script, penned by Dennis Shryack and Michael Blodgett with Lane Slate, is often knocked for its out­ré premise but it han­dles the out­landish plot con­cept with skill. Rather than give the mys­tery car an easy expla­na­tion, they instead give it an air of mys­tery as it slow­ly reveals ele­ments of its nature: for instance, there is an eerie scene where it chas­es a school class prac­tic­ing a parade until they take cov­er in a ceme­tery, where it refus­es to Car77-01enter while spin­ning out at the gates with rage.

The script also has an inter­est­ing “Stephen King nov­el” kind of vibe in that it invests time in giv­ing the char­ac­ters per­son­al lives, trou­bles and dreams that extend beyond ful­fill­ing the plot’s twists and turns. On that note, The Car ben­e­fits from a strong cast that runs with the­se inter­est­ing char­ac­ter­i­za­tions and thus enhances the film by play­ing the sto­ry straight and thus inten­si­fy­ing its chilly pow­er. The under­rat­ed Brolin anchors the film nice­ly with a per­for­mances that shows plen­ti­ful charm and emo­tion and Lloyd is a quirky delight as his uncon­ven­tion­al lady love.

There’s also strong sup­port­ing work from Ronny Cox as a deputy with a guilty secret, R.G. Armstrong as a mean local who might be more help­ful than he first seems and John Marley as an old­er deputy with roman­tic prob­lems. Viewers might also want to look out for a quick, charm­ing­ly odd bit from John Rubinstein as a musi­cal­ly-inclined hitch­hik­er with an active fan­ta­sy Car77-02life.

Finally, The Car ben­e­fits from strong direc­tion by tal­ent­ed jour­ney­man direc­tor Elliot Silverstein. He clev­er­ly off­sets the like­able per­for­mances from his cast with a moody visu­al style that exploits the film’s desert set­ting beau­ti­ful­ly. He makes a meal out of each set­piece in the film, wring­ing the max­i­mum sus­pense and shock effects out of each one in a way that reflects his back­ground as a for­mer direc­tor of The Twilight Zone. His work is sup­port­ed nice­ly by ele­gant ‘scope pho­tog­ra­phy by Gerald Hirschfeld, punchy edit­ing by Michael McCrosky and an edgy, nerve-jan­gling score from Leonard Rosenman.

Last but not least, the title attrac­tion is a major part of the film’s appeal. The George Barris-designed vehi­cle has an odd, art deco design to its con­tours that gives it a unique­ly alien look. Stunt coör­di­na­tor Everett Creach deserves praise for set­ting up sev­er­al amaz­ing car sCar77-03tunts, includ­ing a bit where the tit­u­lar vil­lain takes out two patrol cars at once via a flip. It’s one of the most mind-blow­ing car stunts that Schlockmania has ever seen in a film.

In short, The Car isn’t the Jaws knock­off its often con­sid­ered be. Instead, it’s a crafty mix of car-stunt film and eerie super­nat­u­ral hor­ror that has earned its devot­ed fan­base — and it’s wor­thy of redis­cov­ery by the big­ger cult movie audi­ence.

Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory just released this title on blu-ray for the U.S. mar­ket. The trans­fer is fan­tas­tic, offer­ing a rich palet­te of earthy col­ors and sharp details through­out. Both 5.1 and 2.0 loss­less stereo tracks are iCar77-04nclud­ed: the 5.1 track was used for this review and it is fan­tas­tic, weav­ing in some great sur­round effects dur­ing the shock sce­nes and mak­ing excel­lent use of the film’s shiv­ery score. Be sure to lis­ten to the end of the cred­its for a fun lit­tle sound design flour­ish when you use this track.

A few short but inter­est­ing inter­views were cre­at­ed for this release. The first is a nine min­ute chat with Silverstein, who dis­cuss­es how he came onto the project and how he nav­i­gat­ed around some philo­soph­i­cal dif­fer­ences with the stu­dio to make the film as eerie as he could. There’s also some neat details on the stunt sce­nes, includ­ing a Car77-05scary close call the direc­tor had on the set.

The next is a 12 min­ute chat with actress Geraldine Keams, who dis­cuss­es how she got her film career going and how she had to trans­late dia­logue for anoth­er actor in one key scene. Finally, there is a 10-min­ute chat with Melody Thomas Scott, who dis­cuss­es how this role helped her tran­si­tion from child actor to adult actor. She’s also frank about her dif­fer­ences with Silverstein and tells a fun­ny sto­ry about she took a big risk to get back at him.

The disc is round­ed out by a set of pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als. There is a the­atri­cal trail­er and a t.v. spot that both cap­ture the film’s creepy vibe well and also make effec­tive use of its car stunts. Next up is three min­utes’ worth of radio spots that use the same grim-voiced style of nar­ra­tion as the trail­ers. An expan­sive image gallery clos­es things out, offer­ing over 100 images of stills, pub­lic­i­ty pho­tos, lob­by cards and ad art from around the world.