DOWSE guide to the movies                                                                                         

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DOWSE Guide to the Movies
by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press

Wheels & Reels:
A Top 10 Road Movies

(in chronological order)

Two Lane Blacktop (1971)
Seminal cult USA tour trip, with driver James Taylor and mechanic buddy, who built their own motor from scratch, challenging the owner (Warren Oates) of a flashy GTO to race for a 'pink slip' swap. Tightly reined action by director Monte Hellman shows us much about the character of going-nowhere subculture, and poignantly reveals the fatalist downside of the American dream. Produced by Michael Laughlin, later the maker of Strange Invaders (1983).
Vanishing Point (1971)
Barry Newman (who recently died -Ed) takes a Dodge Charger on a runaway drive to California freedom - but what's he running from? Richard Sarafian's choice sudden death ending (a headlong crash into a bulldozer roadblock) comes as no surprise at all, but the mystery of 'why' is effective nonetheless. See, if you can, the longer - 107 minutes version, to catch a rare appearance of Charlotte Rampling.
Race With The Devil (1975)
One of the few pictures to effectively cross the 'road movie' with the supernatural horror genre (another example is The Car -Ed), this stars Peter Fonda, Warren Oates and Loretta Swit as vexed vacationers stumbling onto a Satanist movement in America's dark midwest. Threatened with human sacrifice and bedevilment, they cannot escape from the vengeance of the baddies. The inevitable denouement has a truly apocalyptic frisson. Directed by Jack Starrett.
Gumball Rally (1976)
Vastly superior to the overly commercial Cannonball Run, this across-the-USA race adventure from director Chuck Bail boasts many witty lines and undervalued motor stunts. The drivers in this movie aren't in racing for anything so vulgar as cash prizes; they're part of a joyriding elite happy to risk necks and licences for thrills and bubblegum. Some almost convincing characters enhance the credibility of a quite ludicrous storyline.
Thunder And Lightning (1978)
Though largely ignored by all and sundry, I have always admired this one. David Carradine is in roguish mode, with Kate Jackson as his reluctant passenger, in a humdinger, chase-a-minute feud between rival moonshine runners in the Florida everglades. You get lots of lighthearted action using cars, boats, mini- hovercraft and whatever else moves swiftly and can carry people, all winningly put together by director Corey Allen. It's a cut above the thuddingly bad Burt Reynolds 'Gator' flicks, on a similar theme.
Mad Max (1979)
The original and best. Supercharged chases as the king of highway patrolmen Mel Gibson hunts down and mercilessly offs the biker gang murderers of his wife and sprog. Chills, thrills, and most likely the finest car action ever put on the screen. I would recommend the widescreen format version with proper Australian accents on the soundtrack.
Road Games (1980)
Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis as truck driver and hitch-hiker, respectively, are embroiled in the search for the 'highway strangler' leaving a trail of blood across roads downunder. Fine performances from all concerned, and a terrific script by Everett De Roche is well developed by director Rochard Franklin (who went on to helm Psycho 2). This is certainly nothing at all like the sad wallpaper-on-wheels of the dire Convoy or most feeble Smokey And The Bandit series.
Death Valley (1982)
A family pursued by sinister driver of a golden car, while on vacation out west, force the hand of a loony but methodical killer, putting the young son in grave danger. Disneyish sentimentality flaws an otherwise enjoyably grisly tale making this seem unintentionally funny at times, like a "National Lampoon's The Hills Have Eyes". Still, the brief appearance of that great character actor A. Wilford Brimley, and a few suspenseful set-pieces wholly redeem it.
The Hitcher (1986)
Stunning debut for director Robert Harmon from Eric Red's script, this showcase for the menacing talents of Rutger Hauer as lone but psychopathic highwayman, strains credibility at times, and pitches the viewer into a nightmare of allegedly allegorical conflict between the forces of Good and Evil. It should have made former brat-packer C. Thomas Howell a major star, buy apart from Hauer, only supporting actress Jannifer Jason Leigh went on to have a grander career.
Roadkill (1989)
For all those who thought they don't make such good old fashioned generic pictures anymore, comes this wonder; a low-budget Canadian entry, telling of how rock chick, Ramona, tracks down a lost band and drags them back to reality. Not that the film's worldview is anything like normal, of course. It takes swipes at the music business in the manner of This Is Spinal Tap,offers up a parade of weirdoes rented out from Lynch's Twin Peaks, and the monochrome photography adds to the film's otherworldliness. On the strength of this, director Bruce McDonald is definitely one to watch for.

Ian Shutter
(previously published in Strange Adventures 45, February 1992)

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