Essays · Movies

31 Days of Horror: The Car (1977)

By  · Published on October 10th, 2012

They said it couldn’t be done. A fifth year of 31 Days of Horror? 31 more terror, gore and shower scene-filled movies worth highlighting? But Rejects always say die and never back away from a challenge (unless you count that time Luke Mullen was challenged to shave off part of his beard), so we’ve rounded up the horror fans among us and put together another month’s worth of genre fun. Enjoy!


The small mountain town of Santa Ynez has got a bit of a problem with road rage. More specifically some raging lunatic in a Lincoln Continental Mark III is mowing down pedestrians left and right. The local police department, led by debonairly mustachioed James Brolin, is doing everything they can to identify the psychotic driver of this death machine and put an end to his maniacal joy ride. As the roadkill count rises, a horrifying revelation comes to light: there is no driver.

Killer Scene:

Near the end of the film, the diabolical auto decides to make things personal by knocking off Brolin’s charming lady friend. While most of the other kills in the movie are wild, panicked chases, the death of Kathleen Lloyd’s character is a slow, torturous affair for the audience and she isn’t even made aware of her impending doom until it’s too late. She stands in her living room, the window open over her shoulder. As she frantically talks on the phone, we see the faint glare of distant headlights. The faint roar of the engine is heard as the lights, still unseen by our heroine, grow closer and closer. Finally she hears the engine and relays that perception to the person on the other end of the phone, but still doesn’t turn around. When she finally faces the window, she’s already bathed in the hideous glow of the headlights as the car rips through her home; leaving a massive hole where she once stood. The lingering shot of the aftermath is what really sells the scene.

Kill Sheet


Though sex is playfully discussed during the film, it is done so with the goodhearted vagueness of a PG teen comedy. Sex factors so little into the proceedings that the only nudity we see is the side-boob of a naked caricature of the female lead drawn by a thirteen-year-old kid. Hardly titillating.


There are plenty of vehicular homicides in The Car that more than earn the film its distinction within the genre, but never are people transported off the mortal coil with an abundance of gore. In fact, though the deaths are plenty effective, there’s hardly any of the red stuff to speak of. It actually keeps the movie from feeling at all exploitative and anchors the seemingly absurd central conceit.


There are plenty of legitimate scares in The Car. The way the filmmakers anthropomorphize the killer car establishes it as an imposing boogeyman and creates more than a few scenarios in which it is able to, despite its size and the holler of its engine, surprise its victims. Apart from the aforementioned killer scene, there is also a great moment in which Brolin goes out to his garage and finds the antagonistic means of conveyance sitting there. The editing is perfect here; a quick, but elegantly silent reveal.

Final Thoughts

The Car is one of the absolute best Jaws rip-offs ever conceived, if not the most obviously beholden to Spielberg’s classic. This infernal car, this Anton LeSabre, this Cadillac deVil, is in many ways an affectation of the shark that plagued Amity Island. The way it cruises through the wide open desert, the way it somewhat swims through its expansive and unsettling environment is a nod to the reigning king of creature features. There is also the car’s signature horn that works in a similar heralding capacity as does John Williams’ cello-heavy Jaws theme.

As you watch The Car, pay attention to how the cinematography and the music propel the film to something far more artistically adept than it has any right to be. The use of sweeping vistas, and the gorgeous framing of specific sequences, make The Car as beautiful as it is entertaining. The music may sound familiar to horrorphiles; harboring tinges of the eerie French horn arrangement from the beginning of The Shining, which would be released three years later. They both seem to be formidable iterations of the Gregorian chant “Dies Irae.” Despite its b-movie trappings, The Car is high-quality horror from start to finish and film deserving of far more attention and accolades than its unfortunate obscurity affords.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.