Aaah, summertime. It's that time of year when the temperature rises, the clothing-to-skin ratio plummets (woohoo!), and Hollywood rolls out its biggest, bangiest, blow-uppiest movies of the year. Want something deep and provocative? Well, from May to August, you can pretty much forget about it. It's Christmas time for Tinseltown, as the movies get prettier and dumber to compete for your movegoing dollar.
Even Anchor Bay has followed suit, offering up the epitome of summer movie from 30 years ago: Race With The Devil. Break out the popcorn and the piss-bucket of fountain soda, and take your I.Q. down a few notches, because Race With The Devil is pure brainless shenanigans from start to finish.
Dirt bike tycoons Roger and Frank (Peter Fonda and Warren Oates, who teamed up in several previous films, including 92 In The Shade and The Hired Hand) take a break from building up their crotch-rocket empire and tearing ass around the tracks on their dirt bikes (a precursor to the non-stop "extreme sports" moments of today's films) to take a vacation. Joining up with their wives (Loretta "Hot Lips Houlihan" Swit and Lara "The Screaming Chick From Dark Shadows" Parker) in a Winnebago (with color TV!), they set out for Colorado for the ultimate ski trip.
However, (and there are always "howevers" when I review these movies) things don't quite go to plan. After setting up camp in a secluded area (and even more "extreme" dirt bike moments), Frank and Roger accidentally witness a human sacrifice committed at a satanic orgy. Whoops! Spotted by the crazed cultists after Hot Lips whines for them to come to bed, our plucky heroes beat cheeks to the nearest town to report their findings.
Unfortunately, the cops don't believe them. The drunkenness of the group coupled with the next-day discovery of a dead dog casts a shadow of doubt over their story. Undaunted, Frank proposes that they continue their trek to Colorado, even though it seems that the cultists are hot on their trail and out for blood. But when the cultists look just like everybody else, how do you tell friend from foe?
Unfortunately, you can't, and those cultists are always trying to do in our plucky quartet. Fortunately for us, the cultists try to kill them in the most over-the-top, fun ways possible. For the most part, it's done in balls-to-the-wall, pedal-to-the-medal car chase action. Race With The Devil does not mess around in this respect. It offers up some of the fastest, loudest, most exciting car chases I've seen committed to celluloid, with countless rolls, gas tank explosions, and general automotive mayhem for you to chew on. The Winnebago sheds its panels like a reptile under the sideswiping assault of the Satanists, who genuinely make us fear for our heroes, even though we know that their fleet of hick trucks is mere explosion fodder for our wide eyes. The stunts are awesome, the explosions are huge...this is great action!
All that action is mixed in with a healthy dose of horror. After a night out to dinner, the Winnebago is invaded by the cultists, who kill Ginger the dog (a dust mop with a bow) and stuff the cabinets with rattlesnakes. This is one of the best scenes in the movie, as Lara Parker uses her lungs to deliver heaps of bloodcurdling screams as Frank and Roger try to fend off the angry rattlers. It's stupid, implausible, and over-the-top, but goddamn is it good! Even through my Benadryl haze (summertime for Carl means allergy attacks), my heart was racing and my juices were bubbling.
Sure, at times it can fall flat. There are a few unnecessary "interludes" to try and explain the Satanists and offer our heroes momentary respite. It's in these moments that we realize just how useless the wives are. This movie is Fonda's and Oates' all the way, and their wives are little more than shrieking women who need to be protected and coddled. It disappointed me that such strong actresses were essentially wasted on these one-dimensional characters. But then Peter and Warren started interacting again, and it was washed right from my mind. These guys have chemistry, plain and simple, and that's what helps make this brainless movie so damn good in spite of its intentional shortcomings.
Anchor Bay did a bang up job in their presentation of this forgotten classic. The remastering of the movie, while not perfect, looks damn good, with grain being the only real problem. Blacks are solid, and colors seem accurate (especially in Peter Fonda's hideous, hideous shirts...this is the Seventies all right) with a minimum of damage. Audio is mostly clear, with the occasional soft spot in the dialogue. Extras are what really kicked my ass, though. We've got a full-length commentary with Paul Maslansky and Lara Parker, a photo gallery, a poster gallery, a handful of radio spots, and the crown jewel, Hell on Wheels with Peter Fonda. Basically an extended interview with Fonda, it stunned me with how non-pretentious it was. Fonda admits that the movie "lacked nuance," that it was a fun movie where he got to work with Warren again and make a nice paycheck. In a day and age when Hollywood stars are jumping on couches and shrieking like extras from the beginning of 2001, Fonda's frank nature (the guy admits to doing it for the money) and fond recollections of his co-stars easily makes this DVD pay for itself. Couple that with a genuinely fun action movie, and you've got a must-own movie for car chase fans. It won't replace Death Race 2000 anytime soon, but it's a great diversion.