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.