The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Race With the Devil

Ah, the open road where anything can happen.  Of course, if everyday life was anything like the open road in movies, no one would ever leave their home.  Has anything ever gone well on an epic road trip?  There's always murdering hitchhikers, roving motorcycle gangs, or suicidal semi-truck drivers just waiting to kill you.  In 1975's Race with the Devil, it's none of those.  Instead, it's a satanic cult terrorizing our all-American couples on the open road.

After saving for years for vacation, two couples, Roger and Kelly (Peter Fonda and Lara Parker) and Frank and Alice (Warren Oates and Loretta Swit) head west in their new RV for Aspen, Colorado for some skiing.  The first night out, they camp a mile or so off the road to enjoy the beauty of the country.  Staying up late drinking, Roger and Frank see something weird on a nearby hilltop; a group of people chanting and dancing around a roaring fire.  At first, they think nothing of it until one of the dancers is stripped and stabbed.  They're spotted, and by the skin of their teeth escape.  The sheriff (R.G. Armstrong) in the closest town investigates and sends them on their way when he decides there's nothing more they can do.  But these cultists aren't done with these two couples yet.

When it comes to horror and thriller movies, I typically stay pretty clear of them.  But with this one, the cast and the very B-movieish plot caught my eye.  'Devil' was released four years after Steven Spielberg's Duel premiered on TV, and it would be hard not to compare the two.  Where Duel had one man vs. one rogue semi driver, 'Devil' has four people running for their lives from a lot of people -- a number is never really established.  SPOILERS  It seems everyone they run into following the murder is in the cult.  You could call it a twist, but it was pretty obvious to me what was going on the second Armstrong enters as the all too helpful country sheriff. END OF SPOILERS

I enjoyed the movie as a whole, but two scenes will stick with me most of all.  One, the getaway after they've been spotted.  It's the dead of night, and these cultists are hauling ass after them.  I'll go into this more later, but a gigantic, new model RV also isn't the best getaway vehicle.  Of course, the RV gets stuck in a shallow riverbed as the cultists close in.  Check out the murder and getaway HERE at Youtube.  Another is midway through the movie as paranoia starts to set in that they're being tracked.  The cult has hidden rattlesnakes throughout the RV, and coming from someone who isn't a huge fan of snakes in general, this is an incredibly uncomfortable scene to watch.  Add to it that the scene goes on and on as Roger and Frank try to throw these snakes outside, and you've got quite a shocker sequence.

The last 45 minutes are more like Duel because the story is almost completely contained in this RV as the cultists try to knock them off the road.  These chase sequences are something else, especially considering the type of vehicles.  The RV seems to swallow up the road with its size, and chasing them are tow trucks, school buses, and midsize trucks.  The chases feature some impressive stunt driving and keep that lightning fast pace going right up until the end.  The two couples just want to get to Amarillo and a bigger police force to report what's happened, but nothing is going to come easy for them on the open road and all its dangers.

Fonda and Oates had worked together four years earlier in 1971's The Hired Hand, and the chemistry they had there rolls over to this B-movie.  These aren't roles that require a whole lot of acting -- look worried/pissed/terrified and repeat -- but both stars look to be having fun.  Oates always is worth watching even in the worst movies, and Fonda holds his own alongside the wily character actor.  This was also the first time I'd seen Swit -- MASH's Margaret 'Hot Lips' Houlihan -- in a movie and not TV.  The same as the gents, she's required to look worried and be scared.  Parker doesn't make much of an impression as the wife who's losing her mind a whole lot quicker than the rest of the RV passengers.  They do meet a handful of people on the road -- all of them connected with the cult -- but they're nothing more than creepy faces.

And then there was the ending.  I won't spoil it here for you, but it is the type of ending that could only be in a movie from the 1970s, and more than that, a 70s horror/thriller flick.  It's quick with little build-up and certainly caught me off guard.  Don't blink or you might miss it before the credits start to roll.  Apparently, it's a pretty unpopular ending, but I really liked it in terms of story and shock value.  The whole story's been building up to this so why throw in a happy ending?  Check this out at Youtube, starting with Part 1.  A cheesy movie for sure, but it packs some good scares and a good cast.  Worth a watch.

Race With the Devil <-----trailer (1975): ***/****

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