Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #111
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: June 27, 1975
Sub Genre: Exploitation/Chase Movie
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $12,000,000
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Jack Starrett
Producers: Lee Frost, Wes Bishop, Paul Maslansky
Screenplay: Lee Frost, Wes Bishop
Special Effects: Richard O. Helmer
Cinematography: Robert C. Jessup
Score: Leonard Rosenman
Editing: John F. Link
Stunt coordinator: Paul Knuckles
Studio: Saber Productions
Distributors: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Stars: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker, R.G. Armstrong, Clay Tanner, Carol Blodgett, Phil Hoover, Ricci Ware, Paul A. Partain, James N. Harrell
Suggested Audio Candy
Gun “Race With The Devil”
I’ve never been able to precisely pinpoint what it is about witches that freaks me out so. Forget the pointy hats and broomsticks for a moment as I’m not speaking of your conventional Meg & Mog types but, instead, the mysterious necromancers that dance around fires naked at the dead of night and sacrifice goats and other unfortunate livestock. These heinous wenches have old Beelzebub on speed dial and seem to know the most direct route under my skin. Today Grueheads, I’m about to enlighten you as to why they bother me so.
So I got to thinking about witchcraft and was pondering what it is that makes for a triumphant occult movie. Naturally, my individual modern-day tormentor, the indisputably mortifying The Blair Witch Project cropped up first in my thoughts, . Anyone who has read my appraisal will be aware that the true splendor in Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick’s film lies in its minimalism; there is no need for the witch in question to ever disclose her spiky stark characteristics to the audience and, instead, it is left to our subconscious to conjure up the supplementary imagery. Needless to say, mine had a field day and I couldn’t sleep on my back for six weeks for the fear of what may be lurking in the corner with its head bowed.
However, essentially I find all witches pretty damned bowel-evacuating, Bewitched and other comedy kooks withstanding and, should I be presented with enough imagery, they can effortlessly drain my anal recesses. The diabolic necromancer from James W. Roberson’s sturdy chiller Superstition hovering atop a stairwell with blue light dancing from her silhouette, empowered a slight mud-slide, while Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man encouraged a total eclipse of the pan. Similarly, there is something more than a touch sexually arousing about them and Britt Eckland’s wild seductive slide along the door-frame assisted in depleting my mother’s hand cream on many an occasion. Mostly, however, they just freak me the hell out.
My introduction to Jack Starrett’s Race with The Devil was on late night television at thirteen-years-old, around the same time that my mom’s hand emulsion provisions began to ebb, and was already devoting every spare second that I wasn’t wrestling my member to watching any horror movie I could get my well moisturized paws on. Starrett’s 1975 film is not strictly a horror film per se, more occult carsploitation flick and the kind of fare trendy in seventies drive-ins, but it sticks in the memory sufficiently enough to warrant another look-see all these years down the line.
It tells the story of Frank (Warren Oates: Two Lane Blacktop) and Roger (Peter Fonda: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry), joint owners of a successful Texas motorcycle dealership, who treat their wives Alice (Loretta Swit: M*A*S*H) and Kelly (Lara Parker: Save the Tiger) to a road trip cum ski vacation to Aspen, Colorado in a swanky RV. However, while initially it is all winks and nudges, things take an unforeseen turn for the cursed as they witness a satanic ritual and instantly draw the unwanted attention of a host of evil cult members. They then spend the remainder of their journey regretting their forbidden preview as they learn that shaking a cult can be a somewhat bothersome pursuit.
That’s it, a simple premise and that’s all that Race With The Devil requires. For a nostalgist such as me, Starrett’s film offers up a grand evening of clammy palmed entertainment and departs with a shattering closing shot that plays out under the credits, enabling those chills to prolong their descent of our spines long after they’d ceased rolling. There are a number of startling moments scattered throughout, punctuating the action with utmost impact and I’m certain Dennis Weaver would have taken that unmanned eighteen wheeler over a coven of spiteful witches any day of the calendar month. I sure as shit would!
Fonda and Oates were like old poker buddies around the time that Race With The Devil was released and worked alongside one another on three occasions so were aware of one another’s’ nuances well by this point. You can tell as much as it plays out like a personal travelogue and the pair work in unison like a well oiled vehicle as they endeavor to out-think and outrun their dogged trailers. Good luck with that fellas. One thing’s for sure, they can’t bank on the local law enforcement to bail them out as Sheriff Taylor (R.G. Armstrong) seems to think that a bunch of inebriated hippies could easily be mistaken for a clique of cackling witches and dismisses their claim as paranoid delusion.
After Roger steals a sample of dirt stained with the murder victim’s blood and decides to deliver it to the authorities, the threat becomes more pronounced and they are forced into brawling for their liberty. It is now that we are in the safe hands of stunt coordinator, the gloriously named Paul Knuckles, who lays on quite the action platter for our delectation. In addition, the ladies go all sleuth in an attempt to stop the fast-developing rot and Kelly’s character, in particular, suitably conveys the impending dread of their quandary as she catches up on some light reading, courtesy on some books about occultism she pinches from the local library.
The term “they don’t make ’em like they used to” is one I swerve to evade as though it is roadside cattle but in the case of Race With The Devil it’s pretty much bang on the dough. Sure the concept is not exactly avant-garde and there have been many chase movies since. But it successfully melds the paranoia of satanic cults with the thrill of the chase and there aren’t many movies with such a wicked sting in their tale as Starrett’s elapsed crowd-pleaser. That infernal closing shot will be stained on my psyche forevermore. God bless Starrett for that.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 1/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: You’re barking up the wrong tree here as Race With The Devil never suggests that it will be all about the grue. That’s not to say your stomachs won’t be churning, just not through unjustified displays of violence. Fear may well be the mindkiller but it also has a canny knack of wreaking havoc with your stomach lining.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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