Horror Movie A Day: RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975) If you’re going to race with the devil, you gotta be as fast as hell.
Published at: Oct. 5, 2008, 2:22 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
So today the movie God’s guided me from yesterday’s 1975 Satanic cult flick THE DEVIL’S RAIN to today’s 1975 Satanic cult flick RACE WITH THE DEVIL.
I’ve had this DVD for at least 3 years and have had it actually in my DVD player in the past, but for whatever reasons I ended up not spinning it before tonight. I have to believe that the Alamo has played this film before, but I can’t remember it being on the schedule. I know I would have seen it there if I could have.
And I’m totally not a good friend. When Drew and Scotty were brought on to script the now dead remake a few years ago, I should have watched it then. I did gift Drew an original Race With The Devil one-sheet, though, so I think I made back some points…
You know, I’m a big, big fan of director Jack Starrett who helmed one of the great not-on-DVD titles THE GRAVY TRAIN (aka THE DION BROTHERS) as well as CLEOPATRA JONES, HOLLYWOOD MAN and the third WALKING TALL flick.
I had forgetten he directed RACE WITH THE DEVIL until the opening credits were rolling. You ever have that happen? Where you know something, but your memory selectively erases it until you are reminded about it? That’s an odd feeling isn’t it?
Anyway, Starrett is at the top of his game here working with Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker and RG Armstrong on this cat and mouse game of a movie.
Basically you have two best friends and their wives going on a road trip from San Antonio to Aspen in a brand new RV. Peter Fonda and Warren Oates are the friends with MASH’s Loretta Swit Oates’ wife and DARK SHADOWS’ Lara Parker Fonda’s honey.
The trip starts out swell with lots of laughs and drinking, but when they decide to overnight in the boonies instead of at an RV park they see something they shouldn’t. Across a small river is a hill where a giant bonfire is lit. Surrounding it are figures in black robes, chanting in dull tones.
Curious, Fonda and Oates watch on. The girls in the cult shed their robes and gyrate against the horned, masked cult leader. Fonda and Oates look on, grinning, passing a pair of binoculars back and forth.
A new girl, very hot, very young, is brought in dressed in white. The cult leader disrobes her as the rest of the group hold her up. Suddenly a giant knife comes into the scene and before the drunk men’s horn-dog smiles have a chance to falter this poor girl is stabbed.
This is the “Oh Shit!” moment that starts the movie going. Of course, Swit comes out of the RV, calling for her husband and alerts the cultists to their presence and that’s the shot that starts the chase that lasts for the rest of the movie.
This movie has tits, shotgun blasts to the chests, cultists being brutally rundown, lots of asses, curse words and a dark, dark tone that leads to an even darker ending… and it’s rated PG. God Bless the ‘70s. Seriously. This movie couldn’t get a PG-13 today and might be a solid R without having to make any trims.
Warren Oates is so good in this movie, so natural. He’s not a cowboy, he’s just a man doing what he has to do. He’s a man’s man, a character actor of the highest caliber. Do we have a Warren Oates today? I remember Harry did an interview with Paul Giamatti where Giamatti talked about how his dream is to be this generation’s Warren Oates. I think he could do it, but he’s not there yet.
And this is my favorite era for Peter Fonda, too. I resprect EASY RIDER a lot, but it’s my favorite. It’s very enjoyable, but give me DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY any day of the week. He’s also very strong wielding a shotgun on the top of a speeding vehicle. Must have been a blast.
The girls aren’t given much to do, but scream and investigate the cult at a local library, but they do what they can with what they have. I like that they feel like real people, not models cast to look pretty at the camera. Lara Parker has an interesting side story that isn’t very much developed, but if it was it could have been something really special.
She begins to get extremely paranoid, suspecting everybody of being a Satanist and we have a few scenes seeing things from her prespective that are actually chilling. Random people, interesting faces pulled from the locals I’m sure, just staring at her, faces emotionless.
We don’t know if that’s reality or her reality fracturing before our eyes, but either way it adds to this feeling that everybody in the giant state of Texas is a Satanic cult member. The the last act it seems every fucking car on the road holds a cultist, every school bus, every state vehicle… everybody.
There’s a scene that you see coming the second you see the little yapping pampered rat dog that belongs to Lara Parker. That scene kicks off my favorite chunk of the movie as our group drives away from this RV park only to find “surprises” left in the RV by the cultists.
By “surprises” I, of course, mean a pair of pissed off rattlesnakes. Real fucking snakes. Striking at Warren Oates and Peter Fonda. I’ve seen a lot of snake movies, my friends (did I just turn into McCain?), and it is my distinguished opinion that this movie captures the scariest goddamn footage of rattlesnakes ever. These things don’t look happy. In fact, they look evil. It’s as if they found the evil league of rattlesnakes and took the scariest looking bastards in there, pulled out their fangs and threw them, still hurting, into this RV with Peter Fonda and Warren Oates.
These fuckers are scary. I’m not kidding.
The climactic chase scenes are everything you’d want in a B-picture of this era. Metal crunches metal, glass sprays, cars flips, trucks explode, stunt men get hurt real bad… It was everything I hoped for. And then the extremely abrupt ending (although not as abrupt as DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY, which is still the golden standard as far as I’m concerned) really hits you in the gut. Dark, bleak, depressing… in short, awesome.
Final Thoughts: What a fun ride this was. RACE WITH THE DEVIL, besides having the coolest tagline ever, really does have a little bit of everything. And ignore the horrible DVD cover, look at the poster art below. That’s what should have been on the DVD, not Peter Fonda looking creepily like an old Robert Evans. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, find it and watch it with a group of friends. It’s not “let’s laugh at how bad this is” fun, though, so get that thought out of your head. It’s a real fun flick with a crazy awesome second half full of huge car play and creepy cult attacks. I know a lot of people thought of double featuring this with DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY and I wouldn’t be against that, but the perfect follow-up to this movie, in my mind, is the original THE HILLS HAVE EYES… RV horror to RV horror… Just a thought if you’re building up some Halloween month lists…
Here are the titles in the drawing pool for the rest of October:
Wednesday, October 1st – Friday, October 31st: H-MAD! Horror Movie A Day! Check out the list here!
I’ve added four more titles and have another 8-10 titles on the way, so be sure to click the above link and check out the new titles as they come in. Whatever we don’t randomly pull for this month will be added into the pool for the regular AMAD line-up.
Now it’s time to pull the next HMAD!
Tomorrow we will watch:
Hoo boy… The reputation that movie has… It’s the only title I could have pulled that actually has me nervous to put into the DVD player. I guess we’ll see tomorrow…