The Car Blu-ray Review
Is it a phantom, a demon, or the Devil, himself?
It’s funny how two of the great 70’s road-chillers – The Car and Race With The Devil – have arrived on Blu almost at the same time. Race With The Devil is on a double-bill with Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry from Shout Factory on US region A, whilst The Car thunders down the highway from hell from the UK ’s Arrow Video on region B.
At the time of writing, I only have a PR copy of the film and do not know of the extent of the restoration that the film has undergone, although it is my understanding that some care and attention has been lavished upon it. And I can certainly testify that it looks amazing.
The film was remastered by Universal and given a hi-def encode via AVC.
Grain is intact and looks authentically textured to me. It neither encroaches too much, nor fails to maintain its cinematic veil.
Silverstein may be a little blasé about his techniques and intentions with the look of the film (as well as many other elements, as his blank canvas, yet painfully honest commentary makes evident), but his film was shot 2.35:1 for a bloody good reason. They evoked the terrain equivalent of the rolling ocean that dwarfed the humans in Jaws, as well as providing that enduringly iconic imagery the frontier that Man seems hell-bent on taming. The desert landscapes of Utah look absolutely jaw-dropping in themselves, but combined with the ominous imagery of the Car appearing miles into the distance off to the extreme right of the frame (it happens at least three times) and gradually drawing nearer, and the fantastic compositions from Gerald Hirschfield, the film becomes a thing of impressively memorable widescreen beauty. So many shots look supremely evocative.
The depth of field is astonishing. Now, we can really discern the distances between foreground and background, really become excited and agitated when we see a little shining speck miles and miles away, followed by a satanic dust trail. And we can observe this tiny speck make its hellish approach with far more detail and clarity than ever before. Look at the scene when Wade first confronts the Car. He skids to a halt on his motorcycle and the Car just growls to a cunning standstill awaiting his next move …and, behind it, down the road, we can see the smoking hulks of the two police cruisers that it has just wiped out. This is off to the left of the frame, and I doubt that viewers of the DVD and TV broadcasts will have ever noticed this before. Many shots that look down roads reveal such amazing depth and three-dimensionality.
Silverstein rues the fact that he couldn’t do more atmospheric night-time stuff. Well, to be fair, the film is special because it utilises the splendid, sun-drenched and epic vistas of canyons, gorges, mesas and ridges, and huge, wide-open spaces in place of the more claustrophobic confines of a haunted house, and his direction certainly does not suffer for it. But when it comes to the more conventionally mean and menacing imagery, the few darker scenes look terrific, benefitting from a fine blend of blacks and midnight blues. Shadow definition looks accurate and is neither diluted nor exaggerated. There is no crushing going on, which could have played havoc with the opening shot, the infamous attack on the house, and the pre-dawn desperation of the finale. There is a modicum of poor day-for-night footage and the altering light conditions can be quite apparent during a couple of sequences, but contrast is top notch. I’ll just mention the most apparent examples – the headlights of the Car appearing in the dark distance down the road as seen through an ominous window at night; when it suddenly comes to life from within the shadowy lair of a lay-by; and we and Everett just about notice it squatting at the end of the main street, poised to attack like a great black spider. The image preserves the integrity of lens-flares, metallic gleams and shafts of sunlight, as well as maintaining a roiling demonic conflagration that places all sorts of molten shades of billowing flame against the blue-black background.
There’s no way that you don’t want to see R.G. Armstrong’s grizzled angry face and intensely googly, hard-boiled egg eyes in hi-definition. Yep, Kathleen Lloyd and Elizabeth Thompson look absolutely delectable in such clarity (they really do), but it is the hard-bitten character visages such as Armstrong’s that really make the image come to life in the department labelled as vivid close-up. Eyes have a gleaming finite sharpness, and crags and whiskers look as well defined and weathered as the barren landscape. John Rubenstein’s hippy appearance boasts good definition in his shaggy hair, and scintillating dazzle and clarity on his big, beaming (and doomed) smile. Detail, as you can gather, is excellent throughout, with strict adherence to rocky striations, clothing, insignia and vehicles, and bric-a-brac in the sheriff’s office, Lauren’s house (that bloody portrait of Brolin!) and Wade’s garage. We can easily read Utah on some of the signs. Given the anamorphic photography that the film so keenly enjoys, there can be moments when mid-to-rear peripheral imagery becomes softened and slightly blurred, but this is definitely a transfer that exploits the excellent compositions to their best.
There are no errors with the colour of the film, either. Beautifully saturated and often bright and resplendent, this is a gorgeous print that only betrays the most minor of fluctuation or fade. The blue skies are fantastic, the yellows and ochre of the desert are burned and dry but totally picturesque, the amber sheen from inside the Car weird and menacing, the tufts of greenery from sage and the school garden lush (and a marked contrast to the arid setting), the blazing inferno and cataclysmic fireball imagery dynamically vivid and bold. The dusty black of the Car looks perfectly real and, despite the production team’s attempts to keep it shiny and clean, its appearance remains un-enhanced and far less comic-book than it could have appeared. Its shape and demeanour make it incongruous, but its practical tangibility is never in question. No opticals or CG here. On the human side, skin-tones are natural, with some suitably ruddy complexions, and the odd smear of blood is nice and bold.
Digital gremlins have been kept out of the engine. There is no undue noise reduction, no aliasing and no edge enhancement to spoil the view. The print is in very good shape, with only the most minimal of damage in evidence – a tiny pop or speckle here and there. The image is bright and clear and very detailed. This is an excellent transfer from Arrow that looks rewardingly film-like and is sure to please fans and newcomers alike.
The Car is a film made explicitly to embrace the depth and width of those glorious Utah locations, and this Blu-ray really does do it, and them, justice. Impressive.
9 out of 10.
Arrow present The Car in stereo PCM. And it sounds pretty good, road-ragers.
Part of me yearned for a surround makeover for this one, although that would have meant taking a lot of inventive liberty with the original source. But The Car is a ferocious sounding movie that not only boasts a lot of vehicular mayhem, but contains a tremendously bravura score from Leonard Rosenman that really ratchets up the tension and the excitement. Recognising its primal occult potency, the track gives it plenty of space to spread its infernal wings. The Dies Irae motif of Rosenman’s score gets a truly skin-prickling reproduction here – deep, dark and demonic, full of the sort of vintage reverb that could have gone fuzzy and brittle but manages to stay eerily low and gravely portentous. The music, on the whole, comes across with reasonably fine instrumental separation and a good degree of depth and placement within the mix. The more raucous and bombastic elements may sound comparatively tame by today’s standards, but they never sound restrained or submerged here.
When harassing a trapped victim, the Car taunts them with ear-shattering horn hoots that genuinely provoke an agitated response from you, the viewer. None of us like that furiously impatient sound and to hear it from this thing is truly infernal. The track allows these to get right under your skin. A wide stereo spread enables elements to move about with natural-sounding freedom. When the Car is circling the cemetery, its bellicose passage moves smoothly from side to side, the panning fluid and engaging. Dialogue is always very clear, and very crisp.
Bass levels kick in with gusto when the Car revs up, growls and smashes things. Impacts do have some clout – like a victim dragged along a wall, the Car hurtling through a house or a garage. Explosions have presence, meaty and deep. This isn’t a film that particularly favours gunshots, though. It’s not that the mix drops the ball, or anything like that, you understand. It’s just that they tend to be heard from inside the Car – so they are muffled and deliberately squashed and made to sound somewhat inconsequential. This "cushioned" effect actually sounds quite good too.
More subtle things, like the creaking of a leather gun-belt, the chirping of birds, the rattle of keys, the sizzling of a sheared electrical cable in the debris of a ruined house, and, best of all, the slow gathering of the hellish wind that heralds the arrival of the Car, are also keenly delineated within a mix that is not too ambitious but certainly delivers everything that it sets out to.
Solid and exciting, The Car gets a strong 7 out of 10 for its audio track.
“It is what it is ...”
Elliot Silverstein, director of The Car.
WOW! After all these many, many years of loving this film and not really knowing much about its genesis and its production, we finally get to lift the hood on The Car and have a gander at its workings.
We hear from director Silverstein and moderator Calum Waddell in what I’d hoped would be a wonderful commentary track. Sadly, it is nothing of the sort. Calum, you deserve a medal for your patience and your tenacity, and your persistence, sir. This could not have been easy. Imagine sitting there, beside the man who made a cult cherished movie, in his own home and watching that cult cherished movie with him there to discuss it. Now imagine how gutted you might feel if that commentary became derailed and marginalised by that man. There are some hugely embarrassing and cringe-worthy moments during this stuttering, and clearly difficult yak-track when Silverstein, who does still come across as a very nice and genuine guy, really won’t play ball and Calum Waddell struggles to remind him just what is expected of him during a commentary. Now, okay, the man hasn’t seen his film since it opened and is very firmly of the opinion that “it is what it is”, but even if he doesn’t quite understand the validity and value of a filmmaker’s thoughts about his creation, the High Rising team behind the special features must have prepped him for what was ahead with the recording. This feels horribly awkward at times, and you feel Waddell wincing as he tries to get blood out of a stone.
He tries incredibly hard. Laughing a tad too much at whatever meagre joke Silverstein makes, and ladling-on the praise in the vain hopes of getting something of substance from the director. But there is no need to get Kathleen Lloyd’s name wrong (they both call her Susan Lloyd) and absolutely no need to shoehorn-in the boob-spikage of Cannibal Ferox, the idea of a Car ride at Universal Studios and a plea for the person who bagged the (naff) James Brolin portrait to come forward. Well, he gets thanked for his copious praise, at least. Silverstein would have benefitted from watching the film just previously and getting some thoughts fixed in his mind, although there will be some listeners who will like his honesty and total lack of self-grandeur. This is such a shame, though, overall. The Car is a cult treasure, which Silverstein acknowledges and sounds very grateful for, and I just wish he could have been more forthcoming, more informative and just more comfortable and easygoing. God, I’d looked forward to this … and, bloody hell, it is such a missed opportunity.
Much, much better and far more enjoyable is Hitchhike to Hell, a ten-minute interview with John Rubenstein, who plays the doomed hiker, Johnny Norris. Although only in the production for a day’s shooting, he has great memories about the gig, and is incredibly entertaining and jolly. Plus, he gives a splendid overview of the concept of the “summer blockbuster” and what Hollywood thinks its public wants, as well as delivering a fantastic rendition of what it took to provide looped death-sounds! Excellent stuff.
There’s a great 27-minute feature that interviews The Car’s special effects technician William Aldridge in Making a Mechanical Monster. Being as the majority of the film’s effects and gags were practical, he was a busy boy indeed. When he wasn’t welding metal and applying explosive charges, he was shaving his beard off and standing-in for James Brolin during some cliffhanging moments. He describes how some of the meatier stunts were achieved, notably the barrel-roll that takes out two cop cars in one fell-sweep, and the sphincter-clenching high-rise plummet from the Hurricane Bridge. This is really enjoyable and very detailed. Aldridge sounds like Jimmy Stewart and has the strange look of an old Pierce Brosnan. Excellent again.
We get the film’s original theatrical trailer and also get the chance to see it with a commentary and introduction from John Landis, who actually slates the movie. This is part of the trailers from hell series, so you can see why his opinions are so skewed. Don’t go thinking that this will be a favourable extra.John, you’ve made two enjoyably messy cult movies – Animal House and The Blues Brothers – and one bonafide classic in American Werewolf. The Car grinds over most of your stuff, hands-down. Just my opinion, of course.
There is an Easter Egg on here too ... which is simply a two minute snippet from Elliot Silverstein, in which he talks about his reaction to a film about evil inCARrnate - my gag, not his - being filmed in the sunshine of the desert, as opposed to the more atmospheric night-time that he would have preferred. I love this movie to bits and I love what he did with it, but he seems to be missing the point of the story again. It is precisely this slant that makes the film so unusual, striking and memorable.
The release also sports a reversible sleeve and a collector’s booklet that contains new writing on the film in a cool essay by Cullen Gallagher that gives a lot of info out about the original script, which was cunningly entitled Wheels in a distinct riff on Jaws, and an interview with its co-writer Michael Butler conducted by Calum Waddell.
A very respectable 6 out of 10.
Give it whatever you tag you like – Jaws on Wheels, The Devil Drives Out – The Car is both a product of its time, what with its occult overtones and high-concept stylings, and a rollicking, surrealist nightmare. Man’s obsession with cars takes on satanic proportions in a film that enjoys its Western overtones as well as its firm conviction that a small town can overcome outside aggression if it bands together.
A fine ensemble cast revel in the B-movie hokum of a motorised monster on the rampage, with James Brolin, John Marley and R.G Armstrong performing with honours. But it is the demonic Car, itself, that continually steals the show. Acrobatic, malevolent and full of evil, it is like one of those Terry Gilliam animated vehicles that used to leap out and flatten unsuspecting pedestrians in Monty Python’s Flying Circus ... only truly scary.
Elliot Silverstein’s movie is also one of the most cinematic genre outings of the 70’s and a constant visual delight. Its arrival on Blu-ray is, therefore, something special.
And what can I say about its transfer? Well, Arrow have come up trumps and given The Car the servicing and the valeting that we knew it deserved. Great AV quality ensures that the sun-drenched and dusty vistas of this hellish battleground are detailed and full of astonishing depth, and that the four-wheeled leviathan roars with bestial fire and brimstone. The ominous score from Leonard Rosenman receives great clarity and distinction, too. And the polish on the bodywork is the superb, though small selection of supplements. The commentary is a misstep that could, perhaps, have done with more preparation, or even a re-recording, but the two interviews are excellent value.
Take The Car for a Blu-ray trip to Hell and back. It’s a ride full of chills, thrills and spills.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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