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Film / The Car

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Evil’s wheels.

"What evil drives... The Car?"

A 1977 horror film directed by Elliot Silverstein, The Car is exactly what would you get if you crossed Jaws with Duel. (But minus the Spielberg.) The cast includes James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, Ronny Cox, R. G. Armstrong, and John Rubinstein.

Out of nowhere, a car appears in the fictional Utah town of Santa Ynez. But not just any car – it is a heavily modified, black 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III, which proceeds to mercilessly run people down. The local sheriff's department is baffled by this, especially given the sketchy claims from eyewitnesses that the car had no plates – and, much more oddly, no driver...

Enter Chief Deputy Wade Parent (Brolin), who must try to find out who or what is driving the damn thing and how to stop it, while – hopefully – protecting his kids, his girlfriend Lauren (Lloyd), and, well, everybody else in town from the motorized menace.

A direct-to-video sequel, The Car: Road to Revenge was released in January 8, 2019. This one, set in a Cyberpunkish-future, focused on a district attorney who was viciously murdered coming back to life as the eponymous car. Ronny Cox cameoed.

There's nowhere to run, so you might as well read these examples:

  • Adaptational Wimp: Mrs. MacDonald is relatively composed after the Car chases everyone into the graveyard and gets in one or two insults at it (albeit after the demonic vehicle turns and leaves), but is a gibbering, comatose wreck throughout the scene in the novelization.
  • The Alcoholic: Deputy Luke Johnson was one, and briefly falls Off the Wagon when both Pete and Everett get killed on the same day. He gets it back under control after forgetting Wade's orders to have the school marching band cancel its parade practice, which leads to the deaths of five fellow deputies.
  • Antagonist Title: And Vehicle Title, besides.
  • Anyone Can Die: Come on, was anyone really expecting Lauren to die? Not to mention the Sheriff buying it barely a quarter of the movie in.
  • Attack of the Killer Whatever: This movie could just as easily have been titled The Car That Killed Santa Ynez.
  • Automated Automobiles: It is not exactly stated, but it seems the Car is possessed.
  • Badass Bystander: The rodeo cowboys at the parade rehearsal who ride in to distract the murderous Car long enough for the teachers to lead the kids away.
  • Badass Driver: The Car demonstrates some tricky maneuvers. Wade also qualifies, given that he's the only guy in the movie who outmaneuvers the Car.
  • Bait-and-Switch: At one point, it seems like the Car is going to run over Amos, established as the resident Jerkass and an obvious Asshole Victim. However, the Car swerves to avoid him and instead kills Everett.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted; Chas, the only non-white officer in the film, is one of the officers who survives until the end, though he narrowly avoids being killed alongside Lauren.
  • Bully Hunter: Everett goes on a rant about hating bullies after watching Amos screaming at his wife and dragging her across the street.
  • Car Fu: The Car is so adept at this that attempts to out-Car Fu it fail utterly. Wade is Genre Savvy about this, and rather than try to take it out on a mere motorcycle, simply uses that to lure the Car into a trap.
  • Car Meets House: The Car kills Lauren by driving through her house as she is talking to Wade on the phone.
  • Chase Scene: A number of them. Most of them don't end well.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Amos's blasting business expertise is eventually used against the Car.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: John Norris, who is such a weirdo that he manages to confuse a pissed-off Amos enough to get him to back down.
  • Cool Car: Aside from its appearance, the Car can shake cliffs by ramming them.
  • Cool Old Guy: Everett Peck, the sheriff of Thomas County and an old friend of Wade's father. Wade has some big shoes to fill when Ev ends up as the Car's fourth victim.
  • Cop Killer: The Car murders countless cops, even running over Everett in front of the police station.
  • Cool Teacher: The film awkwardly attempts to make Lauren come off as one by having her dismiss a boy drawing a picture of her naked as harmless fun to the crabby principal.
  • Cue the Sun: The sun rises just after the Car is destroyed.
  • Deathly Dies Irae: Used as both the film's opening theme and as the Car's Leitmotif.
  • Disconnected by Death: Lauren is on the phone with Wade when the Car kills her by driving right through the middle of her house and running her over.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • The Car runs over John Norris for flipping it off. Four times.
    • Later, it kills Lauren for taunting it from the cemetery.
  • Disney Villain Death: Bicyclists Pete Kyle and Susie are rammed off a cliff by the Car, though Susie is crushed against a wall first.
  • Domestic Abuse: Amos, who regularly beats his wife Bertha.
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: At least twice, it is shown that taunting the Car is not advisable.
  • Epigraph: The film opens with a quote from Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey:
    "Oh great brothers of the night, who rideth out upon the hot winds of hell, who dwelleth in the Devil's lair; Move and appear!"
    • When the film airs on Netflix, the LaVey quote is omitted (presumably to avoid angering Moral Guardians), resulting in just ten seconds of black.
    • A relevant passage in more ways than one: Not only is the Car possibly demonic, but its appearances are often preceded by an ill wind, as noted by Lauren a bit too late.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The end credits show the Car driving around Los Angeles, suggesting that it wasn't destroyed after all. Or that there's more than one such car.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Ray's police car explodes when the Car pushes him over the cliff, as do the other cop cars when the Car rolls over them. Funnily enough, this even applies to the Car itself: When it is defeated by falling into an explosive-rigged canyon, it sends up a huge, unearthly firestorm. Possibly justified when one remembers that the Car is literally demonic.
  • Evil Laugh: The Car simulates one with its horn, blowing it in a short, staccato rhythm whenever it drives away from its latest scene of the crime.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: During his introductory scene, Wade's kids eavesdrop on him fooling around with Lauren.
  • Exact Words: One of Lauren's taunts towards the Car is "I'd like to see what a creep like you looks like!" Cue the Car drifting in a full 360 motion, thus showing what it looks like.
  • Flipping the Bird: John flips the Car off when it almost hits him. This probably wasn't a good idea.
  • For the Evulz: Implied to be the Car's main motive for killing people.
  • Free Wheel: After the Car kills the two cyclists at the start of the movie, there is a shot of the wheel from the girl's bike lying on the road, still spinning.
  • Glass-Shattering Sound: When the Car is in Wade's garage, it honks so loud that the garage's windows shatter.
  • Good Hurts Evil: They don't realize it at the time, but running into the cemetery is specifically what saved Lauren and the kids—the Car cannot enter the cemetery, as it is hallowed ground.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: A cloud of dust obscures the Car running over John.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The Car's truck-like horn, which blares every time it seems to be mocking its victims.
  • Hidden Depths: After his death, it’s mentioned that John was a war veteran.
  • Homicide Machines: The titular car, which is virtually indestructible and either driven by (or is) a demon from Hell.
  • Honking Arriving Car: Played With. The killer automobile blares its horn whenever approaching its victims, most notably just before driving through Lauren's house and running her over while she's on the phone.
  • I Shall Taunt You: When the Car traps the kids in the cemetery, Lauren starts taunting it to cause distraction. This turns out to have been a bad idea, as the Car later seeks her out in revenge.
  • Immune to Bullets: Shots fired at the Car either do nothing or mysteriously change their courses to miss it. This is dismissed as bulletproof glass and foam-filled tires, but the reality is quite a bit worse.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: When Ray has the Car at point blank, he fires at it repeatedly, but, due to the Car’s supernatural powers, he misses every shot.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Played straight, but only just barely. The Car only didn't get at the kids because they ran into the cemetery. It does injure one kid's arm but he survives.
  • Jerkass: Amos, the local wife-beating drunken lout who handles dynamite.
  • Karma Houdini: Amos. Might be justified in that the Car is literally diabolic and as such would want to spare a wicked man so he can do more evil. This bites it on the tailpipe in the end, though.
  • Loud of War: The Car's horn is extremely loud (more like a semi's air horn than a normal car horn), and is variously used to intimidate or taunt victims and as a sort of Bond One-Liner, coupled with the equally loud engine. At one point, it gets so loud that it shatters some windows.
  • Magical Native American: Thankfully averted with Deputy Chas and Donna, both of whom are depicted as perfectly ordinary people who happen to be Navajo rather than as dispensers of ancient wisdom. Does come slightly into play with an elderly Navajo lady who sees Everett get killed and tries to get Chas to tell the other deputies that "There was no driver in the Car."
  • Men of Sherwood: Zigzagged with the dozen or so local deputies. Several of them are killed without much trouble during one encounter with the eponymous villain, but the rest play a successful role in helping to trap and destroy the Car in the climax.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Used surprisingly effectively with the death of Everett. While it is pretty obvious he’s going to die, it’s still pretty shocking when the Car kills him before the end of the first act.
  • Metaphorgotten: "You know what your father once said to me?" [Beat] "...I was gonna make it up anyhow."
  • Missing Mom: Wade is divorced and raising his daughters alone.
  • No Escape but Down: Said almost word for word by Ray as he chases the Car towards a dead end; "There's no way down but straight down!". This how he meets his own end, when the Car pushes his cruiser off the side of a cliff where it explodes into flames as it tumbles down the mountain. Not only that, but Ray's burning corpse is shown being flung out of the flaming cruiser.
  • Novelization: A surprisingly good one by screenwriters Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler (the cover of which is seen above), which features more backstory about the town and the characters, and also has a different, darker ending where there are actually more possessed, evil cars.
  • Obviously Evil: The Car is big and matte black, with huge fenders, a low-cut roof, and windows tinted so dark it's impossible to see the interior. It also has no license plates or handles on its doors, and honks loudly to bully its victims. Virtually the only thing disturbing the overall image is its shiny grill and over-sized chrome bumper, almost giving the thing an Evil Grin.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: The Car appears in Wade's locked garage this way. This is also likely how it moved about the town unchecked in spite of police patrols and roadblocks.
  • Parental Substitute: Luke was one to Pete after his father died, which is why Pete's death hits him so hard that he starts drinking again.
  • Plot Armor: Wade. After killing countless police officers who've pursued it, the Car comes across Wade, who stands in the middle of the road and draws his gun on it. Rather than just run him down, it slows to a stop and sits there, likely so Wade can find out the hard way that bullets have no effect on it. When he attempts to get a look at the driver, the Car just knocks him out and leaves him on the side of the road.
  • Plummet Perspective: Used to surprisingly good effect when Ray is attempting to exit his squad car as it's teetering over the edge of a cliff.
  • P.O.V. Cam: We get a number of shots from inside the Car, looking through its dark reddish-orange tinted windshield as it bears down on its victims.
  • Railing Kill: The Car bumps Pete over a bridge railing to his death.
  • Red Shirt Army: Zigzagged with the deputies. Several are killed quickly and without much of a fight after the attack on the parade, but the ones left, many of them minor characters, provide effective aide in the climax and survive.
  • Scare the Dog: Before the Car crashes the parade rehearsal, the horses that are part of it are shown to be scared.
  • The Sheriff: Everett, then Wade. Wade's father was also a sheriff once.
  • Shirtless Scene: Wade's first scene is one, as he's getting up from bed that he has been sharing with his girlfriend Lauren.
  • Sinister Car: The titular Car goes on a murderous rampage, terrorizing the residents of a small town.
  • Shown Their Work: Unlike most movies that inexplicably depict sheriff's departments as being town cops, the sheriff and deputies are accurately depicted as being a county department (Thomas County, according to their patches). It simply appears Santa Ynez is the county seat.
  • Stock Footage: Footage from this movie would later be used in an episode of Knight Rider, where a different sort of evil automobile is sent plummeting over a cliff.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: When it's clear that Car Fu and bullets won't work, explosives are used to finally defeat the Car... and even that might not have been enough.
  • Tempting Fate: As he pursues the Car, Ray gleefully and repeatedly brags on how the Car has trapped itself and will easily be taken down. It isn’t hard to guess what happens next.
  • To the Tune of...: The main theme by Leonard Rosenman is based on the Latin hymn "Dies Irae" (well known for its use in The Shining three years later).
  • Toyota Tripwire: When Wade attempts to go inside the Car, it knocks him out with its door.
  • Vehicle Title: The Car
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never do find out what happened to Tattleman, the deputy on guard duty at the parade rehearsal. He's seen wounded but alive when Margie runs to get his car, and he isn't counted among the dead officers that night, so we know he survived, but some update on his condition would've been nice.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Car's first victims are a pair of teenage cyclists, and it would likely have killed most if not all of the kids at the band parade rehearsal if they hadn't been herded into the cemetery.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: Averted. Even though Lauren died when Chas was supposed to be on guard nearby, but had briefly been detoured, Wade comments that if he'd been there they'd have both died and he doesn't feel any resentment about Chas's survival.