Sunday, May 31, 2009

Race With the Devil (1975)

What the hell do we have here? A horror picture involving a Satanic cult, car chases, rattle snakes, Warren Oates, Peter Fonda, and "Hot Lips" Houlihan. Sign me up, there's no way this can't be good. I wasn't disappointed.

It's pretty clear that there is some sorta massive conspiracy of witchcraft, satanism, cannibalism, etc amongst certain towns in Texas. This is a picture about two couples who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of San Antonio. So, they purchase an RV and make for Aspen, Colorado. Along the way, they plan on "camping" wherever the hell they feel like it. None of those mobile home parks listed in the yellow pages. Fuck that bullshit. They're going to take a turn on to one of those dirt roads, the kind not on any map, and drive for a few miles before camping beside a river across from which stands an ominous tree. That is what we're talking about I'm sure Oates (character named Frank) and Fonda (character named Roger) were saying. Things start off well enough. They dirt bike through some open fields before Oates inadvertantly jumps his bike into a small pond and says "I'm getting too old for this shit", they have a romantic dinner with the wives, the wives go to bed but Frank and Roger keep the party going outside with what I'm sure must have been some whiskey or maybe bourbon. Across the river, a flame goes up and a red cloaked crowd gathers. Frank and Roger sneak a little closer, with binoculars to investigate. Some robes come off and naked women frolic around. There's some chanting, some incanting, etc. Frank wonders "what are they doing, having an orgy" to which Roger says "give me those damned binoculars!" Then, a naked woman is lifted up, flat on her back, some sort of high priest with a goat mask steps in with a knife and plunges it into the woman's (virgin?) supple flesh. The movie has officially begun I guess.

After a narrow escape, and I mean narrow by the fact that those satanists were alerted to their presence by "Hot Lips" hollering out for the boys to come to bed and also the RV got stuck in mud and some of those red cloaked sons of bitches were clinging to the back breaking the rear window and shit, they make their way to the closest police department. At first the cops, led by legendary character actor R.G. Armstrong (several Peckinpah pictures) seem pretty helpful, dusting the RV for prints, going out to the crime scene, taking statements, and stuff like that. Then R.G. chalks it up to a bunch of hippies and also claims Frank and Roger, who by their own admission were drinking, must have been drunk. I don't know, there's something about his eyes that's not very trustworthy.

Well, shit, I don't know if I'll ever take that road trip through Texas backroads I've got planned. Between this, that movie with chainsaws, that movie with those ominous hills and I think there were some eyes, I think I'll just stay home this year. If there's one thing about Texas, and especially in these kind of pictures, it seems like it takes forever to get from nowhere to nowhere. And then, when you finally get somewhere well, hell, it ain't really somewhere at all, just more of that nowhere shit. In this picture, Frank and Roger don't really trust the sheriff, or the gas attendant, the deputy, etc so they plan to go to a real city (Amarillo) to alert the proper authorities. Fuck man, I don't know about that city called Amarillo, but I do know they probably aren't gonna make it there in this picture. The nearest highway is about 150 miles away. Ordinarily, I'd figure they might make it but I don't know. The phones are out at every gas station (reference to some sort of wind storm being the culprit), everyone they encounter on the road seems a little strange, and their RV just keeps getting more and more beat to shit. At one point, they stop at a gas station and the attendant tells them their headlights are out so we know if it gets dark they're in trouble.

Also, they brought along a little yippy dog. I don't know about you, but when I first saw that little thing I assumed, knowing this movie has satanists in it, that it wasn't going to survive until the end. That's just me I guess. Maybe I'm just being a pessimist. This is an enjoyable one, I highly recommend it. It's also a PG film, but that wasn't as much of a negative for a horror picture in the 70s as it would be today. There's no gore or anything, and the nudity I referenced in the beginning is obscured by a giant bonfire but there are several tense situations and the ending, while fairly obvious, is pretty bleak.

The work by both Oates and Fonda is terrific. You got them in a picture and you've got a good chance to make something worthwhile. Probably don't even need a script. Just let those two riff off each other. Oates, played Frank (I mentioned this earlier), as one of those older type of guys that just hates crowds. He's proud of his RV. The thing is self sufficient, they don't need nobody, etc. The night following their encounter with satanists, he gladly pulls into one of those packed RV parks with all the amenities. Even says something like "this place looks great." That was a nice touch. Unfortunately, there's that whole conspiracy thing I made mention of before. Hell, what's with all those people staring at our girls? What's with them hanging our dog? And, who the fuck put those rattle snakes in our mobile home while we were out enjoying a juicy steak and country music?

Shit man, this Jack Starret guy (the director) is a pretty fucking competent director but he's also a decent tough guy actor. It's possible that you might remember him as the police officer trying to shoot John Rambo from the helicopter in First Blood. He's the one that fell to his death when the chopper lost it's bearings. Also, gets off on abusing prisoners. He directed lots of television and pictures in the 70s including episodes of "Starsky and Hutch" and Cleopatra Jones. There's lots of good stunt work in this thing, people jumping onto and climbing up speeding RV's, lots of car flips and rolls, and one guy gets taken out by an underpass while trying to set the RV on fire from above. Maybe this is a minor flaw, but fuck it, I almost forgot we were dealing with satanists here for a while because the action was so good. The last twenty minutes or so is just one long car chase, involving a tow truck, a box truck, a pickup truck, and, of course, The RV. Fonda, behind the wheel, does some damned fine work. I haven't seen Dirty Mary Crazy Larry so I can't really compare. Not sure if he drove an RV in that one. Also, Warren Oates was in Two Lane Blacktop, another picture I haven't seen. He acquits himself fine as a driver, but he's no Fonda. Also, I'm pretty sure he relaxes and thinks they're in the clear a little too early. Not sure though, don't want to spoil the ending.

The final verdict is somewhere along the lines of "check this one out". Before you feminists get all crazy and start saying shit like I bet the two female characters were only in this to scream and get abused and shit like that, calm the fuck down. These two girls hold their own, even do some Nancy Drew type stuff at a library when they steal a book on satanic cults. They hand the book to their men and then spend the rest of the picture screaming. Also, one of the girls, not "Hot Lips", was even more astute than the men if you can believe that. She wanted to go home after the first night and was the one to pick up on all the weird looks they were getting. In this particular Texan county, I guess everyone is fucking in on it. Who knows how far the conspiracy spreads? The abuse those girls suffer is more mental than physical, although they do get thrown around alot in the mobile home as Frank and Roger try to swerve the thing through fake roadblocks and shit. Frank, upon seeing a school bus accident smartly claims "I don't believe in a school bus on sunday" and just guns it. The people go through hell but let's not forget about the poor mobile home, a somewhat forgotten victim. At the beginning of the picture, it's pristine, fulled loaded with a color television, a 4 stovetop oven, a god damned microwave, etc. By the end, well, it's still got those things but now just looks like a piece of shit. I could go on and on about this one but I'll let you see it and figure some things out for yourself.

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