Pre-Body Snatchers Kevin McCarthy and his cheesehead buddy Jack Kelly (Forbidden Planet) scout Mickey Rooney at an auto race, clocking him as a capable driver without a big ego, and schmooze him for half the movie before even revealing that they’re planning a heist and need a driver. They hook him up with lovely Dianne Foster and he falls hard, while in private the beautiful people call him “a little ugly guy.” She has the decency(?) to tell Mickey they used him at the end, and cornered, he kills both of the heist guys. My first Richard Quine movie, and I have to keep reminding myself he’s the guy from television, not from the Voidoids (or Television).

Part of Shadowplay‘s Project Fear. The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004, and has no immediate plans to leave (or “czexit”). I’m seeing no Britain connection, though Škoda Motorsports’s website says one of their cars won a British rally the year this was filmed, so it’s probable that some British racers were present at the 8th International Škoda Rally, where this film’s climax was shot. Also, our hero Jirí Menzel would later shoot an award-winning adaptation of I Served the King of England.

The titles appear in a black void revealed behind a canvas being pulled away by hooks – then illustrations of a car getting progressively evil via crossfades, sparking brief hope that the design of this movie would live up to the high standards of Polish film posters. No such luck, it’s mostly guys in drab clothes having conversations… though a sinister low-angle camera and atonal doom music introduce the Vampire: a prototype Škoda Super Sport which runs on blood drawn from the driver’s pedal foot. “With today’s energy crisis, blood is the cheapest fuel I know.”

Mouseover to see the car become More Evil:
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Two flirty ambulance drivers chase down the Vampire after it causes an apple-truck accident, and they chat briefly with Luisa, Ferat’s hired racer who complains of foot pains then drives off and dies immediately. Ambulance medic Merak follows up, an amiable morgue attendant telling him it looks like someone bit the racer’s foot off.

“She wants to be bitten again. It’s like a drug.” Professional conspiracy theorist Kaplan pins down Merak and explains the vampire car principle by showing scenes from Nosferatu (source of the Ferat name), but a fake version of that film starring our director Herz(e) in the title role. Meanwhile, Merak’s ambulance-driving sweetie Mima is applying for the vacant position of Ferat racecar driver. Kaplan: “It might be circling around Prague now, and during every push on the accelerator pedal your loved one’s blood is travelling through its internals.” The movie is still mostly drab-looking dialogue scenes, but Herz is trying to keep things visually engaging – his mobile camera runs up and down hallways, and he opens one scene with Mima blasting the camera with a hose.

conspiracy theorist:

“I haven’t been myself lately” says Luisa’s identical-twin sister Klara, right after blaming Team Ferat boss Cross for the auto death, and right before seducing Merak. They discover bottles of blood at the sister’s place, and Merak dreams of the car as a Cronenbergian flesh machine. I can’t tell whether the repeated images of Merak being chased by cars are part of the dreams, or if he keeps running into traffic like an idiot. After a major rally race, Mima is rushed to the hospital for blood loss

“We’ll start from where the truck opens. Play it again from there.” It’s increasingly clear that doctor Merak is being played, and Madame Ferat has been encouraging his investigation and filming events – the phantom director of the very film we’re watching – cutting them into promotional materials for the commercial release of the car, driving huge pre-sales. I thought the “vampire car possessing its drivers” concept might be a metaphor for how perfectly nice people like Mima become huge assholes when they get behind the wheel of a car, but the movie ends on a more cynically anti-capitalist message: “Hundreds of people can’t wait to feel the thrill of dying in a Ferat.”

Herz was a prolific director, working almost up until his death last year. Ferat Vampire came a decade after his Cremator and a few years after his acclaimed Beauty and the Beast. Story by Josef Nesvadba, writer of both my favorite 1970’s Czech time-travel comedies, Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea and I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen.

Lead medic Merak is played by Closely Watched Trains director Jirí Menzel. Ambulance-turned-racecar driver Mima is Dagmar Havlová of time-traveling sci-fi miniseries The Visitors, Věra Chytilová’s The Inheritance, and at least a couple movies with exceptional posters – also, she would later marry the President. Luisa/Klara is Jana Brezková of Chytilová’s Panelstory, and conspiracy theorist/participant Kaplan is Jan Schmid of Chytilová’s Fruit of Paradise.

As far as vampire/zombie/possession movies go, this falls chronologically between 1981’s semi-comic zombie-town Dead & Buried and 1983’s possessed-car movie Christine. Thematically, it’s got the auto-executive intrigue of Black Test Car mixed with the car-crash penetration-fetish of Ballard & Cronenberg’s Crash mixed with… I dunno, Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Something where our investigative lead finds out the horrible truth at the end, but nobody cares and capitalism triumphs. The fact that the car was German seems significant, since most of the Czech movies I came across while researching actors were WWII-related – and this movie had a cool German title (Der Autovampir). Maybe the time is right for Tarantino to film a remake – a fast car that sucks on women’s feet seems right up his alley.

I should’ve watched an actual Johnnie To movie, but instead I watched this generic cops & robbers flick from his production company. A super-hot getaway driver breaks a jewel thief out of prison in time for their big heist… meanwhile, fiery young cop learns a special automotive technique from his about-to-retire partner, who is killed by the baddies post-heist, provoking a cathartic faceoff finale. It couldn’t sound more generic, but fortunately the movie is full of delicate character details which really… haha no I’m kidding, it is totally generic. I bought Heat last week on blu-ray, and should’ve rewatched that instead.

I guess I’m not enough of a gearhead to be excited about the film’s magic getaway technique (which I’m calling the Hong Kong Drift), in which the driver makes the wheels spin awfully fast, squealing without the car driving forward, then turns the wheel in order to rotate in place. So, in a week when I’m watching trailers for this summer’s fast-driving heist movies, Baby Driver and Logan Lucky, this movie’s showcase is… making the cars barely move.

Noble Cops:

Cheang went on to make The Monkey King and Kill Zone 2. Our hotheaded hero is Shawn Yue (Young Tony Leung in Infernal Affairs and its prequel), his mentor is Anthony Wong (also Infernal Affairs, and star of Exiled), and enemy driver is Xiaodong Guo (Tsui Hark’s Missing). In true Johnnie To fashion, there is a minor character named Fatso, but distressingly he is not played by Suet Lam. Oh and hey, there’s even a lady in the film: a doctor whose name I didn’t catch, but was probably Barbie Hsu of Future X-Cops and Croczilla.

They record their chases on in-car VCRs. I’m watching a bunch of 2012 movies this week – this one has VHS tapes, and both Ape and Jack & Diane have audio cassettes – what’s the deal?

Bad Dude in Killer Car:

“Cheang’s background as an horror director serves him very well as every chase becomes a slasher film cat and mouse game full of menace and the white Nissan that serves as the film real villain and one true memorable character gains an almost serial killer status.” Of course Furtado loved it – he likes Alien vs. Predator.

60’s-style cool in a cinemascope stripe, more Seijun Suzuki than Red Angel. The upstart Tiger motor company tries to release a new sports car but the larger Yamoto company is trying to steal their ideas and sabotage their success. Asahina is a young Tiger engineer expected to become department head after the new car’s launch, but after going along with his bosses in the spy game – including selling out his girl to get trade secrets – he walks out at the end, saying Tiger has become as dirty as their competitors.

A test car crashes dramatically. Asahina’s girl Masako works at a bar, tries to get the competitors to talk. Tiger employees attempt to sell fake designs to Yamoto, but Yamoto has already stolen the real plans. A designer is kidnapped. A triple-crossing reporter gets payment from all sides. A board meeting is filmed through the window and a lip-reader employed to translate. A collector buys the first car off the line, rigs its destruction on train tracks and says the car was a lemon, drawing big publicity. The Tiger employee responsible for the leaks is discovered and kills himself. It’s all pretty action-packed for a movie populated by motor engineers.

The IMDB only feels like listing a few of the actors. Our moral hero was Jiro Tamiya, who costarred in a popular series of films known as Bad Reputation or Tough Guy. His girl was Junko Kano – didn’t act for long, not in anything else I’ve heard of. Bald Tiger unit boss Onada was Hideo Takamatsu of A Wife Confesses. Hiraki, fresh-faced son-in-law of the hospitalized company head, was Eiji Funakoshi, star of Fires on the Plain and Blind Beast.

AV Club:

Throughout his career, Masumura displayed a flair for the ludicrous, and frequently skewered his countrymen’s Westernizing pretensions by mocking the ways in which the new religion of business was costing them their souls. Black Test Car is largely effective because Masumura plays the story relatively straight. Shooting in stark black and white, in crowded rooms framed at cramped angles, Masumura keeps the mood tense and coaxes performances that are earnest without becoming campy. The boardroom chatter—along the lines of, “People want speed and luxury!”—coupled with the fast-paced editing make Black Test Car play like a darkly sophisticated live-action episode of Speed Racer.