Wrapping up our countdown to Halloween it’s time for Speakeasy’s Kristina and myself to turn our attentions to a horror title that we consider to be among our personal favorites when we think of the genre. I for one love the great stars of horror so it may come as a surprise that this thrilling ride features Peter Fonda and Warren Oates.
You heard me right the first time. Peter Fonda and Warren Oates.
Devil worship or black mass themed films always seem to resonate with me and give the chills that should be experienced while watching a good thriller. Especially when your young and impressionable. That’s exactly when I saw this film for the first time years ago and have loved it ever since. Adding the Warren Oates factor only adds to my enjoyment.
With a screeching soundtrack over the rather cool opening credits we go from the highway to an eerie tree in silhouette while the names of our leading actors and film crew are splashed upon the screen.
Warren and Peter are a couple of good ole boys who along with their wives played by Loretta Swit and Lara Parker are embarking on a motor home vacation across the wide open spaces of Texas. Playing to the Peter Fonda image the two are into bikes and dirt racing. Paging Dennis Hopper……
The foursome find themselves pulled off the main highway for the evening and camping down a secluded dirt road in a sparse area of Texas. With the sun gone down our two boys see a burst of fire over the ridge across the river and the definite sounds of voices chanting. Out come the field glasses and the two settle in to enjoy what appears to be a drug induced party of men clad in robes and women stripped bare dancing around the huge blaze of fire. The fun and games end when the black mass turns to the blood sacrifice of a young woman.
Wrong time, wrong place when Swit calls out into the dark for the boys to call it a night. The cult of members became aware of intruders and the race is on.
“No Joke! No bulls–t! Murder!”
Oates pleads their story to the wives as he and Fonda take to the wheel of the motor home and fend off an attack from multiple members of the murderous cult. They make their way into the nearest town and local sheriff R.G. Armstrong who seems to think the boys have had a bit too much to drink and takes them back to the scene the following day. He urges them to be on their way and let his office handle the mystery which may involve drugged out hippies and the slaughter of a large dog, not the woman they claim to have seen butchered.
A sense of claustrophobia begins to encircle our two couples when everyone they seem to cross paths with along the highway and in a roadside trailer park appear to be leering at them. It’s all especially creepy to Parker who wants nothing better than to turn the truck around and head home. When her small dog is murdered the foursome know the cult has been following them. They just don’t know which faces in the crowd of onlookers at the trailer park are the ones responsible. Trust in your fellow man has gone out the door and the boys head to the nearest gun shop and arm themselves.
The time has come for some hellish adventure along the country roads of Texas as they are besieged by attackers in trucks, cars and fend off concealed rattlesnakes. Behind director Jack Starret the excitement and tempo picks up along the highways with some great film work, crashes and old fashioned stunts that we rarely see in films anymore (CGI cheapshot) where cars roll and explode as they fly off bridges.
Fonda and Oates were turning into a team by this time. Devil is their third film in short order after The Hired Hand and 92 in the Shade. For drive in fare this is their most enjoyable viewing experience of the three. Loretta Swit was well cast and added name value to the production due to her popularity as Hot Lips on MASH at the time and Lara Parker offers solid work as a woman coming unglued with each passing stranger and close call.
For those interested, the DVD release from Anchor Bay features a great segment with Peter Fonda recalling the production and his association with Oates. It’s obvious he lost a close friend when Oates passed away far too soon. He compliments both leading ladies and talks of working with one of those great character players in R.G. Armstrong.
Director Starrett was well suited to this road pic having already done some notable drive-in “B” flicks of the early seventies like Cleopatra Jones and Slaughter. He even takes on a role here as a nosy gas station attendant causing Parker’s nerves to escalate a little bit more.
This is one race worth checking out over and over.
Now it’s time to head over to Kristina’s and check out a film that I too number among my favorites. It stars a lovable actor in by far the best role from the latter part of his career as Peter Vincent. A name which in itself is a nod to the greats of horror cinema.
Race With the Devil was featured as the finale of the Why Horror? Why Not? fest.