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.

The producers tried to raise the evil factor by opening with an Anton LaVey quote, but this movie seems much scarier in retrospect if you think of Cars as its sequel. Watched on 35mm after Christine in an Alamo double-feature, not enthused about the long drive home, and almost walked out after the first twenty minutes: a couple cheesy teens are run off a mountain road, then a comic relief french horn player is killed outside the home of horrible asshole Amos who parks his dynamite truck on the roadside. The movie shows every sign of being very bad, but I waited until our man James Brolin showed up to see where it’s heading, and something interesting happens. The goofy horror stuff recedes and the movie shows the cops and other members of this small town in Utah mourning the deaths, being very stressed out over this rogue car (they don’t yet know it’s demonic and driverless). The acting maybe isn’t up to Christine‘s level, but the overall portrayal of town life is more real and sensitive.

The next victim is Sheriff Everett (John “Jacob” Marley, lead in Faces), which really shakes up the surviving police. James Brolin (between Westworld and The Amityville Horror) takes charge, with his relapsed-alcoholic sideman Luke (Ronny Cox, the guy who gets “fired” in the climax of RoboCop, also chief of Cop Rock) and his best girl Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd of It Lives Again), amongst rising rumors that the car has no driver.

The Car, a long, low, dark, anonymous thing (customized by the guy who made the Batmobile) returns in broad daylight to bust up a parade, running down a couple of dudes who try to rodeo clown it. Orange-tinted car’s-eye-view shows it hunting down the surviving cops. In the most impressive scene, Lauren drives home alone, calls Brolin when she’s safe, then The Car drives straight through the house to run her down – having killed the love interest, Brolin has nobody to hug at the end but a few dusty cops. It appears in Brolin’s garage, and flies off a cliff to its presumed death after a day-for-night chase. No real explanation in either movie for their possessed cars – things were just allowed to be supernatural back then without a ton of backstory.

I’ve either never seen Christine before, or like Carpenter’s Starman, I may have seen it on network television in the 1980’s. Watched at Alamo on 35mm with The Car, and the best part of the double-feature is that they pasted the two film descriptions onto one page without bothering to revise, the Christine blurb arguing that the film is “masterful” and “brutally underrated,” and the other writeup saying The Car is totally badass and that Christine is “a total puss.”

Arnie (Keith Gordon, director of Mother Night) is the very nerdy, bullied friend of sporty dude Dennis (John Stockwell, also a director now). We meet Christine in 1957 claiming two victims while still on the assembly line, and Arnie sees it all junked up in 1978 and gets obsessed, buys it and moves it into a garage to restore. Later the seller (named LeBay, not quite LaVey, played by the next-door neighbor in Home Alone) admits that his brother’s whole family died in the car, so Dennis gets suspicious – more so when Arnie’s enemies start dying in unexplained accidents. Meanwhile, Arnie is looking late-50’s slick, has stolen the girl (Alexandra Paul of the Dragnet movie) whom Dennis liked, and Dennis is injured in a football game, so the cool/lame friends get reversed.

Chief tormentor is the extremely Travolta-looking Buddy, who sneaks into the garage with his boys to murder the car. Arnie takes this badly, acting like a shitter (the movie’s insult of choice) to his girl and his parents. The movie has been a disappointing teen drama shot with too many closeups until Buddy’s overweight henchman Moochie (of video store horror section standbys Popcorn and The Curse) gets killed in retaliation. He’s chased by Christine into an alley where the car can’t fit, but it scrunches in, destroying itself to splatter Moochie. Next it hunts the others down, blows up a gas station killing a couple guys, then runs down Buddy while on fire. Finally it drives to the garage, implodes to crush the curious garage owner (and Arnie’s surrogate father who’s been giving him odd jobs: Robert Prosky, the big bad in Thief), then fixes itself good as new overnight. Eventually the friend and the girl show up to save Arnie, battle the car with a tractor and win, the final line: “God I hate rock and roll.”

Also featuring investigating officer Harry Dean Stanton (the year before becoming a legend with Repo Man and Paris, Texas), Arnie’s supercold superbitch mom Christine Belford (a nazi villain in the 1970’s Wonder Woman series) who I’m surprised didn’t get car-murdered, and as the school hottie, Kelly Preston (future wife of the real Travolta). I guess if you’re stuck with Stephen King’s Christine, you do what you can – at least Carpenter wasn’t assigned Cujo.

This would make a good double-feature with Dead Ringers, another 1980’s movie about twin doctors who fall for the same woman. In this one, Oliver and Oswald (twins, separated conjoined, I think Oliver is the blond one) are played by Eric and Brian Oswald (brothers, not twins) – zoologists studying animal behavior when their wives are killed in a car accident while being driven by Alba (Andréa Ferréol of La grande bouffe, The Last Metro, Street of No Return). They become increasingly obsessed with Alba, with each other, and with chaos and decay, freeing zoo animals and shooting time-lapse films of ever-larger dead ones.

These three are surrounded by some suspicious characters: a woman called Venus (Frances Barber of Secret Friends) and a mad surgeon named Van Meegeren, who amputated Alba’s leg after the car crash and now wants to amputate the other leg. She finally turns down the twins in favor of a new man who is also missing his legs – I think she dies at the end but not sure exactly why, and the brothers stage a suicide before the time-lapse camera to add their own decaying images to the collection.

It sounds like a bunch of weirdness from a plot description, but in practice it’s much weirder. Obsessed with Vermeer, decay, snails, symmetry, doubles, the alphabet, fakes and missing limbs – with the great pulsing Nyman music, and always more than one thing happening per shot, each splendidly composed frame full of motion.

Woof, this was bad, but I should’ve guessed from the trailer I saw in NYC with all the “you won’t BELIEVE what happens NEXT”-style quotes in huge print across the screen. A seemingly endless (but only 70 minutes!) string of car crashes and weird happenings captured by Russian dash-cams and ripped off youtube.

“Danger in 200 meters” says one car’s navigation system just before encountering a truck driving slowly in reverse, wiping out all the cars in its path. I rewound a couple times the exploding light poles leading to a blackout after a truck tumbles over. “Fucking asshole,” deadpans the driver witnessing this – there are a couple heroes, but mostly the drivers act annoyed but unsurprised by the damage on display.

Typical/hilarious subtitle:

Quick montages of smashes and explosions are used as buffer material between longer single-take segments. With every new edit, you brace yourself anew for something terrible to happen. Along with Caniba, the other True/False movie Katy wisely avoided, the movie gives us nothing and lets us draw our own conclusions – and at least one person probably died in the making of each. I don’t typically click around youtube looking for the best car-crash videos, so I appreciate that someone has spent the time to curate them for us (and some are incredible) but that’s all this is.

Someday I will be able to recognize Deborah Kerr from one movie to the next. Here she’s a singer who runs into celebrity playboy Cary Grant on a cruise ship. After they’re seen together a few times, everyone on the ship assumes they’re having an affair, so while they’re trying to cover up an affair they’re not even having, they fall for each other. Actually I suppose it happens at a shore stop when Cary takes Deborah to meet his granny (Cathleen Nesbitt of Family Plot, not as frail as she looked, lived another 25 years). It wasn’t enough to be attractive and in love in the 1950’s – you had to prove your family values by being nice to granny. Second half: painting, empire state building, secrets, and that awful reveal when he finds out she didn’t mean to stand him up, but was hit by a car on the way to their rendezvous. When I try typing up more story details, my eyes get strangely blurry until I can’t see the screen.

Remake of McCarey’s own Love Affair, and nominated for almost as many oscars, again with no wins (apparently Bridge on the River Kwai was really fucking good). I definitely preferred this version – Kerr is Irene Dunne’s equal, Grant blows away Charles Boyer, and the movie’s color/widescreen look is intensely appealing. Late McCarey, made a decade after Good Sam. Grant was between To Catch a Thief and Indiscreet (another love-scandal movie) and Kerr a few years after From Here to Eternity. As their fiancees: Creature with the Atom Brain star Richard Denning and Desk Set computer programmer Neva Patterson.