I am so in love with the RetroFlix channel on Comcast Cable. If it ever goes away, I will be devastated. I have discovered so many little gems of film there, and most of them are so much better than some of the crap that is released these days. Actually, most of them are huge influences on the films released today – both the crap and the treasures. I’ve had Race with the Devil saved on my DVR for over a month, and yesterday I decided I would give it a go. I wasn’t disappointed.
Released in 1975, the film was directed by Jack Starrett, who was also an actor – with roles in everything from Blazing Saddles to Hell’s Bloody Devil’s. Obviously, Oscar eluded him, but he was a major B-movie player. The film stars Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, and Lara Parker. All did a pretty good job, given that this is a B-movie, and I have to say that Warren Oates came across as pretty darn sexy.
In the film, Fonda and Oates play friends Roger and Frank, who head out on a road trip together with their wives, in Frank’s brand new RV. That RV is loaded – a color TV, a bar, a microwave oven (!), and a stereo. The couples are very excited to head out on their adventure in such a plush ride.
When it’s time to park the RV for the night, Frank is stubborn and doesn’t want to park in one of those cheesy RV parks where they are surrounded by annoying people, so they decide to pull off down a deserted road and set up camp for the night. (Sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea, eh?) While the women are getting ready for bed, the guys are outside getting wasted. When Roger and Frank see something go up in flames across the creek and the field, they sneak over to investigate through the bushes.
With binoculars, they watch as a group of people in capes and hoods chant and writhe around a fire. They really start to get into it when the women begin to take off their clothes. They’re both enjoying the show until Frank sees a woman sacrificed. As the guys are quietly trying to figure out if they’ve actually seen a murder or if it was an illusion of sorts, Frank’s wife suddenly cuts on the RV lights and yells out to him to come to bed. This gets the attention of the cult members, and they come after the men, ready to get the witnesses to their satanic crime.
Thus begins their race with the devil. When they finally do get out of the middle of nowhere, escaping the cult members, they go straight to the police with what they saw, and an investigation gets under way. However, they slowly begin to realize that the sheriff is the one that actually performed the sacrifice, and he’s got a big network of people along this stretch of road who will stop at nothing to silence the outsiders!
The film has its cheesy moments, but I did thoroughly enjoy it. Fonda and Oates carry that 70s “man-swagger” that is always fun to watch. The film has numerous car chases with the backwoods satanists, and several scares that, though they are standard in films today, were probably much more shocking in that time period for film. I think that the director did a good job of building tension and keeping the audience on their toes–wondering if each stop along the way was a legitimate source of help or merely another of the sheriff’s minions, sent to try to stop the couples from escaping.
The best part of watching these types of films from the 70s is that you never know how it’s going to end. Will Frank, Roger, and their wives find a cookie-cutter ending, with all of the satanists being locked away? Will they perish at the hands of the cult members? Will the ending be ambiguous? B-movies are unpredictable in this respect, which I love so much. Nowadays, you almost always have to expect a sweet little cookie-cutter ending to keep the audiences “happy,” but back then, you never knew what you were going to get.
The film, as I mentioned, obviously influenced many films that came after it, though there are many influences here that surely came from films before it. I can see the influence of earlier films such as Hot Rods to Hell, and you can see how films such as this influenced such modern films as Joy Ride, From Dusk Til Dawn, and Death Proof.
Some interesting tidbits:
• Kevin Smith has said that this film is a huge influence on one of his (possible) upcoming films titled Red State, which is inspired by a Fred Phelps-like figure. (SCARY!)
• The film is set for a 2011 remake, which will undoubtedly be total crap – unless it’s an indie production.
Here’s the trailer – if you love 70s films, horror, suspense, and/or B-movies, I highly recommend this one.