Elliot Silverstein’s THE CAR

A sharp and witty script along with cracking performances is what keeps Elliot Silverstein’s THE CAR above the fray of the below-the-line grindhouse inspired cult films of the 70s. James Brolin, who in his younger days is a dead ringer for Christian Bale and sounds like Matthew McConaughey, is the lone sheriff in Santa Ynez who must stop a demonic car from killing people. Whilst not a direct inspiration,  there are elements and similarities to Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF, and would be near impossible for this film to not be an influence. This flick is a lot of fun. 

The supporting cast populated by a wickedly fun R.G. Armstrong, a playful Kathleen Lloyd, stoic John Marley, and a vulnerable turn from Ronny Cox. The principle characters are given a bit more to do than they normally would in a film like this. Brolin is raising two daughters on his own while courting a local school teacher; Marley’s first love is in an abusive relationship with Armstrong, and Cox is the closet alcoholic who puts the pieces together about the demonic car.

The Car itself is a lot fun. It is matte black, indestructible, and terrifying. One of the many highlights of the film is the point of view of The Car, which is cut to during key moments of the film and adds a heightened sense of reality to the situation this dusty California town finds itself in.  The practicality of the effects is another aspect to not only admire but respect about the film. The stunts are wonderful, and the Car brings the action, especially in the third act where the Car literally gets airborne and drives through a house to take someone out. It is rather awesome.

The strengths of this film surely out way any slight aspects that potentially hinder the film’s enjoyment factor. James Brolin is quintessentially cool in this film, and carries the weight of the lead perfectly – if this film had been made in the 40s, Gary Cooper most certainly would have played the role. The menacing score, the remarkable set pieces and expansive cinematography are all factors that showcase what a wonderfully fun picture this is. A minimalist approach is very effect in horror, and THE CAR is a prime example.


One look at David E. Durston and one might guess that he would be the least likely person to have directed one of the most genuinely shocking horror films of the 1970’s, and one brief glance at the truly ridiculous synopsis for his crowning cinematic achievement, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, might cause one to anticipate that the sum will not indeed be greater than its parts. Billed during its time alongside I EAT YOUR SKIN, a voodoo cheapie straight out of the 60’s, this is the sort of film that we only think we know going in, although most viewers will soon discover that this is not the case. This is a curio and a half, an invigorating subversion of genre filmmaking that is as delightfully demented as it is thoroughly engaging. It wears its sleaze on its sleeves, devoid of any real pretentions; all thrills and chills with little time for filler.


We open on a naked fireside ritual being held somewhere in the woods amongst a group of hippies with a penchant for the dark arts, led by the exotic Horace Bones (Bhaskar, an Indian performance artist). They kill a chicken and drain its blood into a goblet before spotting a local girl (Iris Brooks) sneaking a peek at the action from between some trees, who is then chased down and raped by a couple of their men. Devastated, she drags herself back into the sleepy town of Sally Hills the next morning, where she’s taken into the care of her kid brother Pete (Riley Mills) and the owner of the town bakery, Mildred (Elizabeth Marner-Brooks).  Her grandfather comes over to check on the poor girl and decides that these rowdy characters must be dealt with immediately.

Meanwhile, the Manson-esque cult makes themselves at home in one of the town’s many abandoned hotels, where they run rampant hunting rats and destroying what’s left of the furniture. The grandfather grabs his shotgun and heads out the door in search of the group, but when he finds them, they take him down and he is force-fed LSD before returning home. Unable to stand by whilst his grandpa is in the throes of a bad trip, Pete takes the gun and goes out into the woods to do some snooping of his own. While exploring the woodland, Pete spots a rabid dog that charges at him, but he’s quick to shoot and after killing the wild animal, he takes some of its blood in a syringe. And what, do you imagine, he does with it? Why, what any other reasonable young fellow would – meaning that he injects the blood into some meat pies back at the bakery, which are then sold to the hippies.


Everyone but Andy (Tyde Kierney), the suspicious and insecure local kid who somehow got mixed up in the group’s nasty business, digs in to the pies and you can probably – emphasis on PROBABLY – imagine where it’s going from there. What ensues is nothing short of sheer lunacy. Psychopathic – not to mention hydrophobic – hippies running rabid around a US ghost town, foaming at the mouth and spreading their disease far and wide. Durston goes all the way, trying his damned hardest to offend as many parties as he possibly can – religious folks, animal lovers, anyone with the tiniest glimmer of hope in the Good Old American Way – and he gets the job done with a more genuine style and class than one might expect.

Jacques Demarecaux’s work here (as cinematographer) should be commended, certainly more than it has been in the past, with his ethereal and startlingly naturalistic compositions complementing the film’s shamelessly nasty contents. Sometimes, filthy movies are shot beautifully, and this is one of them. However, it’s Durston’s willingness to manipulate tone and audience expectations that makes this a significant cut above the rest and it’s interesting to note that it doesn’t immediately register as a dark comedy for most viewers. This nevertheless appears to be the intention, or so the unforgettably over-the-top dialogue (“Let it be known, sons and daughters, that Satan was an acid head!”) and performances, totally psyched-out self-aware soundtrack (credited to Clay Pitts, who has yet to be found), blatant disregard for scientific fact and frequently amusing editing would suggest.


Sure, it all seems quite mean-spirited, but deep down it is the work of a man whose roots and interests were not necessarily in the macabre, and whose sole desire is to entertain. The tonal shifts may prove to be a bit much for some, alternating between hysterical hippie hangout and sad, disturbing body horror once the pies have been consumed, but they are undoubtedly what make up the film’s distinctive identity. For all their inherent crassness, one feels something akin to sympathy for the deadly deadbeats by the end of their separate ordeals, although it’s understood that they’ve made their own problems up to this point. As hard as it is to watch them destroy one-another, it does make for some spectacular set pieces, such as a sequence which has a mute Lynn Lowry wielding an electric meat carver, and another where Horace squares off against a fellow rabid Satanist, Rollo (George Patterson) in an axe-sword fight. There are many others, but one should embrace all the secrets and ask questions later.

The residents of Sally Hills are like lost souls occupying a space where time does not apply. Mildred looks as if she’s just walked off the set of a porno film, Pete’s an overly moralistic little shit who is most likely based on Durston himself, and the construction workers are an ugly bunch who show their true colors once the epidemic is well underway. A kind of hazy ambience hangs over the film, infusing it with a surreal sense of danger which in turn ensures that it never feels too relaxed. There is authentic tension here, and the pacing could not be more perfect; as mentioned before, there’s little time left for wandering around aimlessly. This is a spectacular entertainment as well as a surprisingly transcendent one and there even seems to be a running commentary about the deconstruction of the American Dream, but perhaps that’s all just as a result of context. It’s nothing that is explored in great detail, but these are the kinds of themes that can make or break a movie like this just by showing up (or not).


We feel as if we’re seeing something we shouldn’t, and the emotions that such an experience arouses from deep within are conflicting to say the least, but healthy nevertheless. The grime oozes consistently from this one – reach out and touch it and you might just learn something. I DRINK YOUR BLOOD revels in its absurdism and artifice, playing more like a perverted piece of performance art than a silver screen serenade, and also works well as an invaluable time capsule. Some films skate by on that alone, but luckily Durston’s opus has plenty more going for it. This is quintessential viewing for the insane, the unstable, and the amoral; it may be the closest some come to sheer filth without actually involving themselves directly. The title may be misleading, as there is no drinking of the liquid red at any point and this is certainly no vampire tale, but make no mistake – this is a groovy good time, an important entry in the unofficial “psych” horror sub-genre that is less about mind-melting visuals and more about the essence of psychedelia.  Exploitation cinema doesn’t get much better. “Drink from his cup, pledge yourselves. And together we’ll all freak out!”



George A. Romero is – or at the very least once was – the kind of socially conscious filmmaker the horror genre is in dire need of these days. His early films are the most blunt, angry, and effective in his oeuvre; though few would deny they are rough around the edges, their energy and ambition is nonetheless infectious. Sandwiched between NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Romero’s little-seen sophomore effort (1971’s THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA, a romantic comedy), and 1973’s THE CRAZIES is SEASON OF THE WITCH (known as JACK’S WIFE when it was in production, and before the distributor excised half an hour from its run-time), a surprisingly thoughtful musing on contemporary witchcraft, repressed sexuality and the patriarchy; an endlessly fascinating, mostly successful marriage of talky, sleazy soap opera aesthetics and surreal psych-out horror.

Joan Mitchell is a bored housewife facing a mid-life crisis. Her husband Jack has little time for intimacy, there’s a considerable distance she feels between herself and their daughter Nikki, and she has recurring nightmares in which Jack aggressively pays her no mind and she envisions herself as a pale-faced old hag. The psychotherapist she’s been regularly seeing feeds her the same old crap in response to her attempts to understand these dreams (“The only one imprisoning Joanie…is Joanie.”), Nikki’s seeing more action in her week than Joan surely has in years, and things are just overall rather drab.


If nothing else, Joan’s got her circle of friends – a tightly knit community of fellow housewives who seem to share many of her anxieties. One evening at a dinner party, there’s talk of a new woman on the block that practices witchcraft. Joan, along with her closest friend Shirley, seeks her out and gets a Tarot reading, which surely opens up a couple of doors for them both. As Jack goes away on business, leaving her to her own devices, and terrible nightmares – in which a masked assailant breaks into the house and rapes her – continue to plague Joan’s mind, she dabbles in the occult as a way of reclaiming her sanity.

It wouldn’t be revealing too much to say that this is a film about – many things, but most importantly – a woman transcending her role in the household and discovering a new identity that has, in fact, been with her all along. Sexual identity, as is the case when Joan starts an affair with a teacher at Nikki’s school who had previously seduced her daughter as well and finds solace in the young man’s spirit, and personal identity go hand-in-hand. There’s also an emphasis on the pointlessness of the so-called “necessities” of life when one doesn’t truly believe in them, and at the beginning of this tale, Joan doesn’t believe in much of anything.


As evidenced in the opening dream sequence, Romero gives it you straight in regards to what the themes are here – to a fault, it could be argued, as Joan wearing a leash and collar, led on by Jack, and being locked inside a cage is a bit much – but regardless of how obvious they may be, they remain as relevant now as they were then. There’s a lot more dialogue than action, to be sure, but this is the kind of film where all the talking somehow manages to get us somewhere in the end, somewhere that feels on a whole satisfying and even intellectually stimulating. Audiences didn’t embrace the film upon its initial release, though Romero can hardly be faulted; marketed as some of kind of softcore porno in its severely cut form as HUNGRY WIVES, it would be difficult to make something this smart and genuinely challenging seem exciting to purveyors of provocation. Romero’s original 120-minute version may have been left on the cutting room floor but what resurfaced in 2005 with the help of the good folks at Anchor Bay seems like a damn fine representation of his intentions in its own right. We’ve changed with the times, and the time for SEASON OF THE WITCH is now. Better late than never, as they say.

At the very least, this is an ambitious cinematic cocktail, and for the most part it works. No doubt most people won’t find it to be all that visually stimulating, but if it really is about what you do with what you’ve got, Romero is a miracle worker. As cinematographer and editor as well as writer/director, he establishes an intoxicating rhythm early on that luckily remains consistent throughout – there are some really neat tricks employed during the post-production stage, as well as some creative camera movements which keep the proceedings from becoming mundane, even when the story doesn’t seem to be moving forward. This is a chilly film, perfect for viewing during the Fall season, and once Donavan’s titular song blares over an occult shopping spree, Romero’s unique alchemy has all but won you over. It’s very much of its time – the fashion, the unquestionably ugly décor, the hep terminology – and appreciation may vary based on one’s tolerance of this kind of stuff, but a thoughtful viewer will surely find plenty to chew on here, if not even more to swallow.