The Film: Race With The Devil
The Principals: Director: Jack Starrett. Peter Fonda, Warren Oates
The Premise: A competitive motorcycle racer and his (manager?) friend set out on an RV trip across the country with their girlfriends, intending to hit white snow, ski, and drink away their troubles. All doesn’t go well though when on their first stop they happen on a satanist cult performing a sacrificial ritual during the night. The cult detects the tourists and doesn’t take kindly to their interruption. This sparks a road-trip horror movie as the cult subtly and not-so-subtly leads them into trap after trap.
Is It Good: It’s no classic, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Peter Fonda and Warren Oates enjoy great chemistry here, and there’s something genuinely creepy about how far the cult is willing to chase them, and just how many people they have spread across the road. What makes the film so fun though, is that the cult is almost completely incompetent and despite planting trap after trap, Fonda and Oates’ characters just grow more frustrated and motivated to take them all down. The third act gives way to an intense action/chase scene that leads to a truly batshit ending.
Is It Worth A Look: Surely. Anything with Warren Oates is worth watching dammit, but he’s part of a legitimately strong ensemble here. Loretta Swit and Lara Parker play the girlfriends, but both are full and interesting characters and everyone plays off of each other nicely. Roger and Frank, (Fonda and Oates respectively) are not your typical action heroes, as they stumble onto trouble and almost seem to be the last to catch onto the danger. That said, when the shit really goes down they’re more than willing to hand it back to the crazy occultists.
I mentioned above that the cult is incompetent, and it’s kinda true. Always marked by crazy eyes and a lack of subtlety, our heroes are rarely fooled for more than a moment by their tricks. All of this makes the crazy ending even more abrupt and shocking. It’s a true 70s ending, the kind that Tarantino loves and will burn the film into your memory forever. If we ever share a drink together, remind me to give you my theory on the ending…
Starrett was no stranger to the lower budget side of things, and he handles this film with class and skill. The direction lacks any flashy panache or standout flourishes, but it’s all competent and straightforwardly delivered. That said, there is one bizarre scene involving a pair of snakes that is so strangely choreographed and edited that it becomes funny. The film gets stuck in some bizarre feedback loop (in which Roger and Frank grow inexplicably incompetent). It’s almost as if the Steenbeck got stuck on a loop until somebody kicked the shit out of it and the edit suddenly continued normally.
Random Anecdotes: This was pegged for a remake for awhile, with onliners Drew McWeeney and Scott Swan writing a new version. Kevin Smith has also publicly stated that this film was very scary for him as a kid, and that Red State draws on similar fears, with religious fundamentalists in place of satanists.
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