Worst thing you’ll see in 42 years: The Car: Road to Revenge

, | Movie reviews

Although the 1977 horror movie The Car belongs in the killer car genre, the template was Jaws.  Move Amity from a coastal town into the desert. Change the shark to a demonic driverless car. Otherwise, pretty much everything else is the same.  A small-town sheriff, mysterious casualties, Fourth of July celebrations interrupted by a public attack, an old man with unique insight enlisted for a third act hunt, and everything resolved by an explosion.  The Car ended with the car vanquished. Or did it? The credits played over footage of the car driving around a city. Hmm. So it wasn’t buried forever in a desert canyon?

That’s where I come in.

As far as I’m concerned, The Car is a classic.  Of goofy 70s horror. But the actual design of the car is iconic for me.  It’s a 1971 Lincoln Continental modified by the same guy who designed Herbie the Love Bug.  It’s black, of course. From the front, it looks like a muscular hearse with a leering grill and all-seeing headlamps.  It’s low to the ground and long. The windows are tinted so red they’re black. It runs with “open pipes”, as someone describes it in the movie.  Throaty and lugubrious when it idles, an unabated roar when it’s angry.

It’s pretty shameless for ripping off Jaws, but in a way that helps its case.  You can see what the screenplay is getting at. A lurking primal evil, a monster that swims just below the surface, omnipresent but invisible until it strikes.  The script also implies a theology and intent. The car can’t enter hallowed ground. It doesn’t kill people who are evil, opting to steer around the town’s resident drunken wife beater to instead kill an honest policeman.  All this is silly, sure, but I can see what the movie wants to be, what it thinks it is. I can see how it wants to play to those of us freaked out by The Exorcist and Jaws.

If I were to do a sequel to The Car — yes, this is a thing I have thought about — I would apply the concept to the modern fascination with car chases and the media.  The car would roll into Los Angeles and start a televised chase through the city, with the police and news helicopters in tow. It would start out exciting, like all car chases.  Like a Fast and Furious movie. But as it went on, it would wreak havoc and cause dismay with increasingly violent acts. While people watched the live telecast, it would gradually turn into something dark and ugly.  It would eventually invite parallels to the terrorist attack in Nice and the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. Back in 1977, to invoke evil, we had to resort to sharks and demons.

But I’m not doing a sequel to The Car.  Universal is. Out of the same dim basement office that greenlit a string of half-assed, cheaply shot, direct-to-streaming Death Race movies.  All the no-budget trash, but without any passion or even intent. Without anything like a message or an homage. After 42 years of resting in repose, The Car was resurrected for this?

The Car: Road to Revenge is a sequel in name only.  It has far too little car and far too many scenes of its subpar Vancouver TV actor cast talking to each other and coming to occasional poorly choreographed fisticuffs.  It’s never a good sign when a movie’s leads are people you know from Syfy. Grant Bowler from Defiance. Jamie Bamber from Battlestar Galactica. Some chick who isn’t Yancy Butler, but not for lack of trying.  The setting is supposedly cyberpunk. You can tell by the costumes everyone who isn’t a lead has to wear. At least, the idea seems to be cyberpunk. But the execution took a left turn in 1988 and got lost on the way to the set of The Hunger Games.  Here’s some of the couture:

And while I’m grabbing images, here’s an exchange between Jamie Bamber and the chick who isn’t Yancy Butler.

Most movies will light the faces of all its actors in a scene. But The Car: Road to Revenge couldn’t quite manage that. Maybe it was intentional. If I were Jamie Babmber, I wouldn’t want anyone to know I was in this movie, either.

So here were are in our cheap sets and risible cyberpunk costumes. How is a movie going to introduce a car that comes alive and kills people? Instead of implying something demonic, this car comes alive because the soul of a murdered dude gets trapped in a microchip that gets plugged into a state-of-the-art luxury car called a Lazarus.  Get it? I don’t know if that’s the make or model. Probably both.

There is the slightest spark of life when The Car: Road to Revenge blows up the Lazarus and the burnt-out husk gets towed to a garage where Ronny Cox works.  Ronny Cox played one of the deputies in the original Car. Is he playing the same character here? Who knows. Who’s to say a deputy from a small town in Utah wouldn’t spend his twilight years as a mechanic in a cyberpunk city?  So Ronny Cox looks at the burned-out husk of the modern luxury sedan and ponders out loud that he knows just what it needs. He flips the tarp back on another car to reveal a familiar fender and headlight. And for a very brief moment, I didn’t hate The Car: Road to Revenge.

“You just might be the baddest thing I ever saw,” Ronny Cox says after he completes his work, having transplanted whatever was in the Lazarus into the car from the original The Car.  Could this actually be one of the vehicles used in the 1977 movie? According to movie lore (i.e. Wikipedia), three of the cars were destroyed during the production of The Car, but a fourth is part of a private collection. Could it have been lent to the production of this movie? It looks the part, although this movie has no concept for what gave the car in The Car its personality. We don’t get any of the red-tinted car’s-eye-view on its prey.  None of the lovingly shot close-ups of its wheels, fenders, grill, or headlights. We never even hear the horn. How can you not include that high-pitched horn from The Car? That’s like making a Jaws movie without a dorsal fin in the water.

So the car, newly restored to its 1977 form, comes alive and kills Ronny Cox.  That was probably two days of shooting, tops. That’s a wrap for Ronny, folks. Hey, before you go, can you sign my Robocop Blu Ray?  At this point, there’s only about 15 minutes left in the movie. The car bounces a half dozen stunt men off its hood. It visits a strip club with conveniently located ramps to the front door and room enough for a car to drive around.  It interrupts a shootout between the villain and our heroes. Then the good guys find some random dynamite to blow it up with. But it doesn’t work because it’s the car. The heroine who isn’t Yancy Butler finally yanks some wires out from under the dashboard and then pushes it into a lake.  That seems to do the trick. Except right before the credits the headlights come on while it’s still underwater. Maybe I’ll get my chance to write a sequel after all?

Look, I understand you might be lacking evil car movies in your life. I can relate. So if you want to watch a less dumb and less offensively cheap entry in the genre, check out Monolith.

Katrina Bowden plays a mom whose baby accidentally gets locked in a smartcar in the middle of the desert.  Oops. Monolith is the name of the SUV with state of the art smartcar integration. Again, I’m not sure if that’s the make or model. The Monolith thinks Katrina Bowden is a thief trying to steal the car, so it won’t let her in to get her baby. The template here is a rogue AI movie. Mom vs. CPU. It’s not very good, but at least it’s better than some piece of joyless trash with nothing under the hood with more horsepower than a bad Syfy movie.