A young couple are out cycling on the desert highway one sunny afternoon. A mysterious black car with greyed-out windows begins following them and eventually runs both of them off the road.

A short while later, the same car mercilessly runs over irrepressible hitchhiker Johnny (John Rubinstein) four times. All he did was raise his middle finger to it when it wouldn't initially stop for him.

Local lawman Wade (James Brolin) soon deduces that his sleepy Utah town of Santa Ynez is being terrorised by the killer vehicle. Disconcertingly, the only witness he has is wife-beating redneck Amos (R G Armstrong), who couldn't make out whether there was anyone behind the car's steering wheel.

Fearing for the safety of not only his two young daughters and his schoolteacher girlfriend Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd), but also his colleagues at the sheriff's office - most notably his buddy and recovering alcoholic Luke (Ronny Cox) - Wade vows to bring the phantom driver to justice before they take any more lives.

But, roadblocks and shoot-outs be damned, this car is a slippery customer and - thanks to Luke's ineptitude - school rehearsals for the town's upcoming annual parade are not cancelled as instructed by Wade. Which means lots more potential victims frolicking outdoors for the car to pick off!

Can Wade and his men group together to bring the car down once and for all, and possibly learn the secret of its sinister origins in the meantime...?

Conceived by Universal Pictures as a cash-in on their earlier success story JAWS, THE CAR follows pretty much the same plot machinations as Spielberg's blockbuster - only, on a much smaller scale. The desert town setting allows for lots of attractive cinematography but is hardly Amity Island or the vast ocean in scope. Brolin, a likeable and warm lead, was just breaking through in 1977: he was no match for the then-box office appeal of JAWS's Roy Scheider.

Still, journeyman director Elliot Silverstein does a decent job of taking an ostensibly daft script and helming a taut, consistently entertaining thriller-lite from it. Note the 12 rating: the titular monster may indeed be a killer, but the film's content is kept sedate presumably in a bid to match the mainstream appeal of its inspiration.

Whereas JAWS was scary, however, THE CAR is not. The mystery of the car is invited from the offset, though an opening line of text from Anton La Vey sort of gives away suggestions of supernatural origins.

What THE CAR is, then, is fun. Well-shot, occasionally exciting and endearingly sincere fun. The music is overblown, performances become hysterical during the final third and any pauses to contemplate the logistics of what's transpiring on screen are ill-advised. Just go with it, and enjoy.

Arrow's release of THE CAR marks the film's worldwide blu-ray premiere. The HD restoration in full 1080p resolution and is simply lovely, with vivid imagery and bold colours throughout. Light grain is evident throughout, while the amount of depth and detail to be found in both long and close shots is often remarkable. The widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio is respected and resultantly the film has never looked so cinematic on home video. Struck from a very clean print, THE CAR looks really excellent here.

English audio comes provided in a solid 2.0 lossless PCM mix. No quibbles here either: it makes for a good, consistent playback.

The disc opens with an animated main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 12 chapters.

Extras begin with an audio commentary from Silverstein. Moderated by Calum Waddell in the director's own home, this is at times a painful listen. Silverstein speaks slowly and deliberately for the most part, not really picking on any attempts at humour and seemingly unwilling to engage at any great length in any suppositions as to the film's themes, influences or recollections.

"Making a Mechanical Monster" is a 27-minute chat with FX man William Aldridge. He's a much easier interviewee than Silverstein, certainly.

The 10-minute "Hitchhike to Hell" finds Rubinstein speaking enthusiastically about his one day (or maybe two - he can't quite remember) on location for the film's shoot.

The film's original theatrical trailer is an enjoyably melodramatic 2-minute affair. It looks good, and even comes with the strange option of watching it with a wry John Landis commentary track. This latter feature is culled from a tacky homemade compilation from Landis called "Trailers from Hell": all he has to offer is the continued observation that the film is "really dumb".

Keen-eyed viewers should also look out for a 2-minute Easter Egg with Silverstein. This can be found on the main menu page.

Also forming part of this package but unavailable for review purposes, are reversible cover art and a collector's booklet with various writings on the film.

Cheap cash-in though it may have been, THE CAR is still an awful lot of fun. It looks fantastic on Arrow's region B blu-ray.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Video
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review