Last year, I had the privilege of visiting the North Hollywood shop of custom car builder George Barris. Barris created the ‘60’s Batmobile, the Munsters coach, the jalopy from the Beverly Hillbillies, and many other legendary vehicles. He also was very proud of the black Lincoln Continental he created for The Car.
For many years, The Car was a long forgotten horror film from the ‘70’s that was roasted by the critics, and it quickly came and went in the theaters. But many fans like myself grew up enjoying it on television, and Guillermo Del Toro is known to drive a replica of the Lincoln from the film. When Del Toro produced last year’s Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode, he even had The Car chasing down Millhouse in the opening couch gag (driven by Maggie, natch).
John Landis saw The Car when it first came out in 1977, and in an episode of Trailers From Hell, he said, “This is a picture that is truly dumb, and I really enjoy it, but I enjoy it because I think it’s bad…I enjoyed it tremendously in the theater. Some people quite like it. It’s well photographed by Gerald Hirschfeld in Panavision.” (Hirschfeld was also the cinematographer for Young Frankenstein.) Ultimately Landis concluded, “The Car…dumb, but fun.”
The seventies were a big time for rip-off films. There were tons of movies that ripped off The Exorcist, Jaws and Star Wars, and The Car was essentially Jaws on wheels. The eponymous sedan is all black, and it’s possessed by something evil because there’s no driver. James Brolin took on the Chief Brody role as a sheriff in New Mexico, looking like Burt Reynolds when he was at his sex symbol peak, and had to destroy the car before it claimed too many victims. Classic B-movie stuff.
Screenwriter Michael Butler came up with the idea when Jaws was all the rage at America’s theaters. One day in his study he thought, Why not do a movie that treats and automobile the way Jaws treats a great white shark? Butler called his writing partner, Dennis Shryack, who loved the idea, but he had an ethical problem with it because he didn’t want to make a movie that showed people how to kill other human beings with their car. Butler and Shryack discussed their idea with their agent, and the moral quandary they had with the story. Then their agent gave them a great idea: “Why does there have to be a driver in the car?”