Saturday, April 6, 2013

Race With the Devil (1975)



With its enjoyably ludicrous premise and its tasty combination of leading players, Race With the Devil should be a winner—I mean, come on, it’s a drive-in thriller starring Peter Fonda and Warren Oates as a couple of everydudes who witness a murder committed by Satanists, escape in their Winnebago, and suffer through a frightening chase across the Lone Star state. What’s not to like? Well, there’s a whole lot of dead space between the kicky opening act and the wild finale, and the middle of the movie is surprisingly turgid. Director Jack Starrett, whose career started with a couple of lively biker movies, had a bad habit of landing on projects with wobbly scripts—just like Race With the Devil, his movies Cleopatra Jones (1973), The Gravy Train (1974), and A Small Town in Texas (1976) sound great in concept, but end up being tough sits in reality. Part of the problem, obviously, is that Starrett concentrates on generating pulpy sensations instead of building credible characters. Individual scenes in his ’70s movies are exciting, but there’s very little emotional momentum to keep people watching during quiet sequences. Which brings up a major issue with this particular picture—just how many quiet sequences does a movie called Race With the Devil actually need? During the picture’s spongy middle stretch, Fonda and Oates sit around and chat a whole lot. They also fall into the classic Satanist-movie trap—relying on third parties who turn out to be in cahoots with the devil worshippers. Still, Fonda and Oates share an easy chemistry, so some scenes are mildly pleasurable just for the fun of watching two interesting personalities share the same space. The supporting cast isn’t of much note, with Loretta Swit of M*A*S*H fame and the lovely Lara Parker playing the heroes’ wives—both actresses do a lot of screaming—and reliable screen heavy R.G. Armstrong snarling his way through a trite role as a redneck sheriff. Considering how sluggish this movie gets, there’s some irony to the tagline in the flick’s whiz-bang trailer: “When you race with the devil, you’d better be faster than hell!” Had the filmmakers heeded that advice, Race With the Devil could have realized its considerable potential.

Race With the Devil: FUNKY

6 comments:

Tommy Ross said...

this looks, no pun intended, too "tempting" to pass up. But after reading your review, I'm a little hesitant. Going to check out some other comments on Amazon, see how much it's going for and then decide whether or not to pull the trigger. Warren Oates is a fav actor of mine!

Tommy Ross said...

I just can't resist the plot or list of actors, ordered on AMZ, will post again in a week or two after I view.

Tommy Ross said...

Thumbs way up, loved it. This movie is so "drive-in 70's," there were times that I literally thought I was sitting in a car watching it. As to be expected, Warren Oates carried it, he had such great on-screen presence, the girls were great too, awesome to see Lara Parker and Loretta Swit together, and the little twist ending was unexpected, not too pretentious and actually quite funny. Thanks again Peter for your great blog.

Matthew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew said...

I watched this last night. It worked for me, if viewed as a good B movie. Remembered this one from my childhood which says something, I guess. Unfortunately, my wife dozed through it, even the car chase near the end, so you may be right Peter! Still, how often do we get neat little films like this, these days? 7/10

Unknown said...

I went to the drive in all the time in the 70s and never saw this. Read your review and almost skipped tracking it down. I'm glad I ignored you - BOY did you miss the mark on this one. Did you turn the volume down during that "spongy middle stretch" you refer to? I thought the movie did a remarkable job ratcheting up the tension the entire time, so that when the violent and wonderfully staged action/pre-Road Warrior finale kicks in it is twice as effective. Maybe the title is wrong - "Race With the Devil" apparently implies a non-stop action flick to some - but this film is something else and frankly something better. The two "wives" do get short shrift here, but I love how Lara Parker is the only one of the four who looks at everyone so suspiciously (during the spongy middle stretch - the library, the sheriff's office, the country and western bar, the service stations) and, frankly, turns out to be justified in her paranoia. She AND we the audience get more and more uneasy and wow, were we right. Not sure, but i may have just seen the most perfect drive-in movie ever made. And 40 years late.