The Cleveland Auto Show is in full swing, and what better way to celebrate all things vehicular than to pay respect to some of the best (and worst) that cinema has to offer in the way of motor-driven mayhem. And, more specifically, the machines that rise up and try to destroy their masters.
Duel(1971, Netflix DVD) Steven Spielberg's first foray into feature length filmmaking was this made-for-TV movie starring Dennis Weaver. Weaver's character, named David Mann, gets stuck behind a going-too-slow semi in the California desert and promptly passes it by without a second thought. This turns out to be a horrible idea, as the rest of the movie has Mr. Mann being relentlessly chased by the semi. Now, I may be cheating right off the bat, because most likely there is a driver behind the wheel of the semi that is chasing Mann, and this was supposed to be a series about inanimate objects coming to life, but we never see the driver of the truck in Duel, and Spielberg really seems to be doing his best to impart a kind of demonic life into the personality of the semi itself, so I call fair game. Even if you disagree with me on my reasoning, it is hard to disagree that Spielberg, even this early in his career, shows amazing ability as a director. Duel is fueled by very uneasy tension that, in true Spielberg fashion, builds and builds, really pulling the viewer into the plight of this hapless driver that is being terrorized by a monstrous vehicle.
The Car (1977, Netflix Streaming) What do you get when you pair up James Brolin (looking like a well-quaffed, impeccably dressed caveman) against a customized Lincoln Continental? You get a very fun movie about a local police chief that is out to stop a demonically possessed land yacht that is running down citizens of a small desert community. This is a ham-handed affair all around, and I can't help but think that everyone from the top down had their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks while they were making it. Heavily derivative of Spielberg's superior film Duel, The Car motors along more like Jaws on the blacktop, as the car hides in plain sight, picking off of victims with amazing stealthiness for a big, seventies gas-guzzlin' Ford. It even stalks a woman back to her house and attempts a vehicular break in. Why are you still reading this? Get that Netflix Streaming player cranked up and take The Car for a test drive (see what I did there?).
Rubber (2010, Amazon Prime VOD, Netflix Streaming) Rubber is the story of Robert, who wakes up one day in the desert to find he has psychic powers. Not the kind that helps one read minds or anything -- the kind that can make things like bunnies and birds explode just by thinking about it. Robert seems happy enough to roam the desert making little fauna combust with his powers until he decides that blowing up humans is more fun...for a little while at least. Robert's murderous activities suddenly get put on the back burner when he spots a woman that tickles his fancy. Without delay Robert begins following this woman in hopes of finding love, but his penchant for killing has tipped off the local police and they are hot on his tail. Oh, wait...I forgot to mention something: Robert is a radial tire. You read that right: it's the story of a maniacal tire that is looking for love. Rubber isn't a movie for everyone, but luckily, those who will hate it will know in the first five minutes, so no loss of your time.
Maximum Overdrive (1987, good luck finding it cheap somewhere) Do me a favor please: never listen to critics. I take some of that back: listen to critics, but never take us too seriously. If you take them too seriously you may miss a gem like Maximum Overdrive. Critics called it the worst adaption of a Stephen King novel to date, which is ironic because it was directed by a guy who should really have known how to handle the horror master's work best: Stephen King himself. Here, King is directing an adaptation of his novella "Trucks", which is about all the vehicles in the world coming to life to exterminate humans. I would harbor a guess that Mr. King really thought he was making something terrifying here, but what made it onto film is an absolutely glorious mess that, while almost hitting Ed Wood-moments of ineptitude, still manages to be incredibly entertaining (to me anyway, people really, really hate this movie). Kudos to Emilio Estevez for doing his best to keep a straight face while delivering dialogue to the grill of a truck! I'll give him and some others credit -- the acting is the least of this movie's problems. Bad dialogue, hoaky set pieces, and a nearly directionless plot aside, you have to give at least a little credit to a picture that has a killer soda vending machine in it and a lead villain that's a semi with the Green Goblin's face attached to the front. There's even a rocking score by AC/DC that keeps the whole thing held together like a fresh schmear of Bondo over a rusted out hole.
Killdozer (1974, Amazon DVD) A meteorite falls to earth and lands smack dab in the middle of a construction project on a small island off the coast of Africa, and after the workers on the site try to dislodge the space rock with a bulldozer, all hell breaks loose. Yes folks, the bulldozer becomes possessed by the meteorite and begins a kill rampage. This made-for-television gem, directed by Jerry London (hot off filming episodes of Brady Bunch and Love, American Style), is kind of an amazing movie. Nothing that the workers on site do can stop this hulking yellow monster from murder. Not setting it on fire, or throwing tools at it, or climbing up any of the many of rocky outcrops that they are always standing in front of, and that the dozer could never manage to get to. There's just something inherently silly in watching grown men pretend to be terrified by something that moves about four miles an hour. It gets even better when the workers are "surprised" by the sudden appearance of a machine that emits huge clouds of smoke and is as loud as you would figure a killer bulldozer to be. All in all, Killdozer is great entertainment.