Race With the Devil

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Race With the Devil

D: Jack Starrett (1975); with Warren Oates, Peter Fonda, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker.

This prime slice of Seventies drive-in cheese might as well be called RV to Hell. Two couples (the four above-named stars) are on their way to Colorado for a little vacation in their brand-spankin'-new motor home. The two men are motorcycle racers and bring their dirt bikes along, bolted onto the back of the RV. They make it as far as Texas, where they find a comfortable spot to camp for the night. While the two men are outside enjoying a bottle of scotch, they notice some activity a few hundred yards away. They steal a bit closer, get out the binoculars, and discover that it's a Satanic rite culminating in a human sacrifice. Somehow the Satanists don't see their convenience-store-sized motor home until the last minute, but then the chase is on. The couples make good their escape (though there's a tense moment when they high-center the gargantuan vehicle in a stream), but the devil worshippers are a determined bunch. Not only are they persistent and numerous, but they're also well-organized; the local sheriff is on the side of Satan, and the residents of every town they come to are out to get them as well. Anything with Warren Oates is a sure bet, and Peter Fonda is always Peter Fonda (complete with Easy Rider amber sunglasses). The two women (Parker is recognizable from Dark Shadows and tons of TV work) are mostly wasted in their roles, which consist mainly of ineffectual screaming, cooking, making coffee, and cleaning the earth-toned RV. The two men, however, are resourceful if nothing else; when two Satanists cling to the back of the motor home like barnacles, Fonda grabs a curved aluminum vacuum-cleaner wand (complete with carpet attachment) and pokes at them until they leave. Fonda and Oates fight off rattlesnakes with ski poles and finally buy a shotgun for the finale. Oddly, the movie turns from run-of-the-mill horror to a Ron Howard-style car chase movie for the last 30 minutes, with the motor home being chased and battered by pickup trucks until huge chunks of it start to fall off. There are huge continuity glitches in this movie as well, most notably the fact that it takes place in January, but the two women go for a swim in a public pool! Heated, I guess. More interestingly, Race With the Devil was filmed in Texas, in San Antonio, Leakey, and Bandera. Every outdoor scene features dead grass, live oaks, prickly pear, and yucca; the river where they decide to camp looks like it could easily be the Frio or Guadalupe. The clincher, though, is when the foursome teams up with another couple from the RV ghetto and goes to a honky-tonk for some Lone Stars and live music. The bar is none other than Bandera's Silver Dollar Saloon; the band is Arkie Blue and the Blue Cowboys, the group that still holds down the house band slot at the Silver Dollar to this day (and even wears the same outfits). Central Texans should like this line:

"How far to Amarillo?"

"Oh, 75 miles or so."

This is some dumb, thoroughly predictable, drive-in flotsam, but between the cast and the nonstop action, it's fun nonetheless. Director Jack Starrett was a veteran character actor and puts in an appearance in a bit part.

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