The True ABCs of Death: V is for Vehicular

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Suggested Audio Candy:

 

[1] Gary Numan “Cars”

[2] Dr. Dre “Let Me Ride”

[3] The Fatback Band “(Are You Ready) Do The Bus Stop”

[4] Queen “Bicycle Race”

[5] April March “Chick Habit”

[6] Elton John “Rocket Man”

 

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I’ve never really been much for cars. Of course, this didn’t stop me from learning to drive the very day that of my seventeenth birthday, but it took eight gruelling driving examinations before it was deemed safe for me to take my seat behind the wheel. To be fair, I earned every last black mark on my test sheet after heading down one way streets in the opposing direction, crossing mini roundabouts without any idea they even existed, and damn near clocking up a pedestrian kill tally on occasions too numerous to mention but, when I finally received that shiny new license and a clean bill of motoring health, I still felt like the shit. Needless to say, I went straight out and pranged my primary chariot at the first available opportunity and can consider myself blessed that my car took the brunt for my complete lack of awareness. However, I put it down to beginner’s luck and buckled in once again soon afterwards, determined not to be beaten by my asphalt antagonist.

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According to statistics, well over a million worldwide deaths every year are directly caused by road accidents, which equates to one fatality every 25 seconds. That means that, in the time it has taken to write the above sentence, two people have likely perished on the tarmac. It hardly makes for encouraging reading and acts as a harsh reminder of just how close I was to becoming one such stat. In the winter of 2013, I finally consigned my last set of wheels to the big junkyard in the sky and have since used my mother’s gas guzzler only when A to B trips necessitate such. If my brush with death didn’t provide stern enough warning that I’m better off with my getaway sticks, then a lifetime’s allegiance to horror provided me that final gentle nudge towards remaining grounded. You see, while death can come in various guises, more often than not, it has four wheels and a chassis. Horror stands testament to this claim.

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As we start our engines, there seems no place quite as fitting than John Carpenter’s silver screen adaptation of Stephen King’s 1983 novel Christine to provide to fire up our pistons. Poor Arnie Cunningham didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he rescued his damsel in distress from the local junkyard. Tired of being labelled the outcast, Arnie looked at his red Plymouth Fury as his ticket to coolness, blissfully unaware of the heartache she had inflicted when dropping off the assembly line twenty-one-years prior. Granted, she had seen better days, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and beneath all that twisted metal was a beautiful young lady who had every right to be treated like a princess.

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Arnie obliged and delivered her straight to the repair shop for restoration. However, something was changing within Arnie and he couldn’t deny the pounding suggestion beneath his own hood. Love works in mysterious ways and it wasn’t long before he could hear the trundle of tiny wheels on the horizon as the couple looked to consummate their blossoming relationship. Of course, intercourse with an automobile is unlikely to amount to the usual missionary hijinks and he couldn’t risk her leaking her crude oil on his freshly laundered bed linen so he took her right there in the workshop. Meanwhile, his new-found popularity had assisted him in procuring him the most beautiful girl in school and he was no longer considered the chump change like previously. This was all down to Christine and he couldn’t thank her enough for his sudden turnaround in fortunes.

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The problem is, Christine was the jealous type and didn’t welcome the news of his new acquisition at all well. Hell hath no fury like a Plymouth Fury scorned and it wasn’t long before the roadkill started piling up. Even Arnie started to change from the shy reserved guy he once was to a selfish, erratic petrol head with little regard for his new girlfriend, or anyone else for that matter. While his dedication to Christine was commendable, she wanted more and who could blame her? Every girl dreams of being the fairytale princess and she believed she had just the same right to his sole attention. Alas, this led to their first spat and Arnie chose his moment poorly as she wasn’t the most congenial when on her period. I learned three things from Carpenter’s film. Firstly, don’t take a lady for granted. Secondly, don’t take a red Plymouth Fury for granted. And last, but by no means least, let some other hapless bastard perform any oil changes.

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I had been warned. However, it was going to take a lot more than motorized menstrual cramps to encourage me not to rev up my engine. Thankfully, Steven Spielberg’s 1971 road movie with a twist, Duel, was on hand to teach me the rules of the road. Here, car selection wasn’t the problem. Indeed, Los Angeles commuter David Mann chose wisely when opting for brand new 1970 red Plymouth Valiant as his method of transportation through the dusty Californian plains. What was far more ominous was the imposing tanker truck in his rear view mirror that had a tendency to drive bumper to bumper. David’s life became a living hell as the anonymous pilot of said towering terrorizer took particular exception to his driving technique and made it their personal mission to give him the hard shoulder. Even more disparaging was the fact that it appeared to be on auto-pilot. Once again, I gleaned much from the experience, that being that road rage is no laughing matter.

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Something else not to be taken lightly are hitchhikers and Robert Harmon’s cautionary 1986 tale The Hitcher convinced me never to pick up stragglers, no matter how much upper thigh they are flashing. John Ryder didn’t even need to resort to such frivolous antics to bag himself a lift as fresh-faced suburbanite Jim Halsey was growing tired of the lack of conversation and took pity on the mysterious drifter. To start with, his decision appeared to be astute and his passenger’s soft-spoken demeanor suggested nothing untoward was afoot. However, after producing a switch blade and waving it in Jim’s face with the intent to carve out his tongue, the grim realization set in that this ride was heading straight for the human junkyard.

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After escaping his tormentor by the seat of his pants, Jim met an attractive young waitress named Nash and it was ultimately she who came off worst as a result of the questionable company he had been keeping. Ryder had to find some way of amusing himself during the long stretches of inactivity that came with the territory and what better way than nipping this budding romance in the bud? This was decidedly bad news for Nash who ended up suspended between a Mack truck and its trailer, before being learning what happens when you apply both gas and clutch at the same time and being opened up like a ripe piñata. On the plus side, Jim now had a much larger cavity to slide his dick into. However, his opposite number wasn’t about to take his foot off the accelerator. I won’t insult your intelligence by relaying back the lesson I learned from The Hitcher but I was about to receive mixed signals.

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Michael Gornick’s Creepshow 2 offered conflicting advice with its closing segment The Hitchhiker and Annie Lansing probably wished she had pulled over as opposed to leaving this particular wayfarer in her wake. To be honest, she didn’t make it easy on herself by not paying due attention to the road ahead and ploughing him down decisively. This harried adulteress had good reason for fleeing the scene as her husband would have likely frowned on her duplicitous extracurricular activities. However, her decision to hit and run proved decidedly costly as this hellish hitcher wasn’t about to let her forget her moment’s madness. Moreover, he still had a destination to get to and the least she could do was to deliver him there in under five pieces. While his actions may have been somewhat capricious, his manners certainly couldn’t be questioned as he made every conceivable effort to thank her for the ride.

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Okay, so picking up hitchhikers is not advisable and denying them is also a bad idea (particularly after introducing them to your fender). So what is a man to do? Richard Franklin’s suspenseful 1981 thriller Road Games helped solve this troublesome riddle. Well-disposed truck driver Pat Quid had been on the road for far too long to be healthy as he transported a semi packed with pig carcasses across the Australian outback with only his pet dingo Boswell for company. Fast running out of activities to keep him sane, he was then introduced to a new game that involved being framed for the murder of a number of hitchers in and around his coordinates. Eventually he came across a beautiful young woman on the side of the road and, having passed her twice already, decided to throw her a bone.

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This is where I struggled with Pat’s logic. You see, the “hitch” in question was none other than Jamie Lee Curtis and most men would have had their foot down on the brakes the very moment they first spotted her toenail varnish. Mercifully, Road Games taught me that it is absolutely fine picking up hitchhikers, as long as they’re female and have bodies to die for. His travel companion assisted him in clearing his sullied name and apprehending the villain responsible so it all worked out for the best on this occasion. However, I still have an axe to grind with Pat as Tom Atkins also stopped for Curtis a year prior in John Carpenter’s The Fog and, in less than an hour, was gripping onto his mustache for dear life as he pounded her into the motel headboard. Pat too possessed a ‘tache and she was clearly begging for it and more than willing to adhere to the rules of the road, so his refusal to collect down-payment suggested one of two things to me: either he had a thing for defiling dingoes or was in entirely the wrong profession.

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Back to hit and run momentarily as Joe Lynch’s Wrong Turn 2: Dead End threw a cat amongst the pigeons by suggesting that you should, in fact, carry on driving after fashioning your very own road kill. After spoiled city girl Kimberley ventured off the beaten track and hit a life-sized bump in the road, her first thought was to right her wrongs and check on her casualty’s vital signs. Not at all good, the impact had evidently compromised any dashing good looks, and left him resembling an inbred. That should have been a sufficient clue for Kimberley that CPR was about to prove costly. Once she knelt down to perform the all-important kiss of life, her subject took her sentiment a little too literally and gnawed off her entire lower jaw cage in the process. And then this shit happened.

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Sheesh, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. Suddenly, public transport was appearing a far more appealing option At least then, should disaster strike, it is the sole responsibility of the bus driver and you cannot be held accountable for your actions. Alas, even the school bus isn’t safe any more, thanks to a certain somebody who should never have gotten his license. What the DVLA were thinking when they passed this crispy cretin for active duty is anyone’s guess but, then, he made a pretty lousy school caretaker too so I guess he needed a second-string vocation. Call me pedantic, but I would harbor severe doubts for my child’s safekeeping the moment the school bus doors opened to reveal his filthy red and green sweater.

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For starters, I would ponder how is he supposed to shift gears with that razor-sharp glove on. While I was always taught not to judge a person by their appearance, all that blistering burn tissue would suggest that he may well be prone to accidents. Then, if I needed any more convincing that this was not a shrewd decision, perhaps the fact that the bus had the words “STRAIGHT TO THE FIERY PITS OF HELL… NO STOP-OFFS” as its intended destination would have had the alarm bells ringing. In the words of the great Alice Cooper, “school’s out forever” and, whatever Krueger had planned for these sweet innocent little cherubs certainly wasn’t on any curriculum I know of.

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Never one to turn his nose up at new ways to torment the children whose loose lips got him lynch mobbed, Freddy later decided to dish out motorcycle lessons for Stephen Hopkins’ A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and this turned out to be no more well-suited a career choice. Luckless Dan made the critical error of falling asleep during his lecture so Freddy decided to provide a little on-the-saddle training to help pummel his message home. Given that these death traps possess only two wheels with which to chaperone you between points A and B, his first tip involved teaching his student how to become one with his bike. Any training was hands-on and this proved dire straits for desperate Dan as he injected him with wires, topped him up with fuel and additional horse power, before sending the easy rider careering into oncoming traffic. Freddy being the stand-up guy that he was, this first lesson came on-the-house. Alas, it came as no consolation for Dan who now resembled a compacted toaster.

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Mike Marvin’s 1986 thriller The Wraith supplied a different kind of scholarship entirely and, this time, the dos and don’ts of drag-racing were on the agenda. After Jamie Hankins was stabbed to death for fraternizing with the local bully’s dish of the day, he pondered long and hard over how to exact his revenge from beyond the grave. Given that this renowned petrol head and his gang of good-for-nothings had a thing for drag racing, he decided to play them at their own game. Thankfully, he had an invincible sports car lying around, one that would go from 0-60 mph in the time it takes a geriatric to fart after brussel sprouts. One by one, these perishers paid their penance, while Jamie was sued by the writers of both Street Hawk and Knight Rider and now drives the school bus to keep a coffin lid over his head.

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It didn’t turn out much better for Stuntman Mike McKay either as his license was also revoked on account of his shady shenanigans in Quentin Tarantino’s geared-up grindhouse throwback Death Proof. Being the trained professional that he was, Mike’s ride came fitted with all the necessary safety perks that made it something of an impenetrable fortress (for those in the driving seat at least). What Mike didn’t bank on when sniffing around the heels of good time gals Abernathy, Kim, Lee and Zoë was that, sooner or later, he’d have to unbuckle from his chariot to take a leak and, when bladder-gate arrived, these four firecrackers kicked the living shit out of his aging ass. Turned out that Stuntman Mike wasn’t quite so much of a hot-shot without his wheels. Having said that, if I were asked the manner in which I met my maker, then there are worse ways to go than being pummelled into oblivion by busty ultra-vixens. Sooner or later the nerve endings are going to fray and, when they do, you can lay back and marvel at those painted toes as they kick you to the curb.

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I wonder how Frenchman Quentin Dupieux pitched his brainchild Rubber when looking to secure its funding and would envisage some raised eyebrows as he burst into the boardroom with “Hey guys. I’ve got this idea about a possessed tire with psychic powers that goes on a rampage through the Californian desert blowing the heads off mannequins”. Whatever his approach, it worked, and his film ended up at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival en route to becoming a firm cult favorite. As an affectionate homage to I haven’t the faintest clue what, it worked a treat. However, this tire had no real motivation to embark on its killing spree, other than being a pissed off tire with the ability to make heads explode and, thus, precious few lessons were learned. Right now, I’m perched alongside one of its rubberized brethren and I can’t say it has me flummoxed. A for effort though.

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Canadian kook David Cronenberg has always been a source of great fascination to me and his 1996 masterpiece Crash gave body horror a whole new meaning as it shunned skin in favor of metallic paintwork and traded dingy motel bed linen for the damp grass in the vicinity of fatal car wrecks. Desperate to spice up their sex life, film executive James and his significant other Catherine decided it might be fun to branch out and try something fresh and exciting. I would have suggested a ménage à trois and, indeed, this was under consideration. However, the scent of burning Sandalwood gave James the most dreadful migraines, whereby the smell of fused alloy and charred passengers hit the spot with far more efficiency. Each to their own I guess.

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The titular Creeper of Victor Salva’s Jeepers Creepers had some explaining to do after giving brother and sister Darius and Patricia a particularly torrid time. As they travelled home for spring break, an old dilapidated truck attempted to run them off the road and commenced to make their road trip less far than pleasurable. This was all well and good until around the halfway mark when their shady antagonist revealed his true identity and opened up its full spread of flight feathers. Now, I don’t wish to split hairs here, but I know at least half a dozen kestrels who would kill for that kind of wingspan which begs the question “what the fuck were you doing mooching around in an old rust bucket?” The whole sorry affair reeked of laziness to me.

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Speaking of which, the Mrs. Deagle from Joe Dante’s 1984 blockbuster Gremlins paid the ultimate price for opting against walking up her stairwell, in favor of her motorized chair lift. Thankfully, Stripe and his pals were on hand to rewire this beast and, when the cranky old crustacean decided a trip to the second floor latrine was in order, her rocket powered hot seat propelled her to the heavens above in record time. While it actually looked kind of fun, E.T. was less than amused and the old bag damn near knocked Elliott off his airborne BMX on her one-way mission to Mars. This taught me a most important lesson: Gremlins may be fun to hang out and shoot the shit with but they make lousy electricians.

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There seems no better way to close than by celebrating every vehicle known to man and Stephen King’s 1986 film adaptation of his own novel Maximum Overdrive provided just the fuelled up free-for-all to transport us to our ultimate destination. The indisputable Master of Horror was on particularly magnanimous form here and didn’t stop at four (or even sixteen) wheeled fury as planet earth passed through the tail of a comet, causing every last electrical device imaginable to become vicious killing machines. This included inanimate objects such as lawnmowers, electric knives and previously docile drinks dispensers but the real meat and potatoes was the huge blackened semi bearing a Green Goblin mask on its grille. This was one bad boy you didn’t wish to trifle with and it would have gotten its way too, had it not been for Emilio Estevez. While his half-brother was milking Wall Street for every last nickel, Emilio was saving the world from imminent annihilation. What a stand up guy!

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Anyhoots, the moral of my story is this: don’t purchase an automobile without a full service history, don’t piss of truckers, don’t pick up hitchhikers (unless they’re Jamie Lee Curtis) but don’t run them down either, leave resuscitation to trained professionals, never trust a bus driver in a filthy red and green sweater, don’t fall asleep at the handle bars, don’t stab people in cold blood, don’t leave your car unattended when taking a piss, be on the lookout for rampaging tires, get your wife a rampant rabbit, if you are fortunate enough to have been born with the ability for flight…FUCKING USE IT, get a downstairs lavatory fitted, and make sure you have Emilio Estevez on speed dial the next time a Comet passes. Abide by these simple instructions and you may not end up as road kill.

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Click here to read V is for Venereal

 

 

 

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