Race with the Devil DVD Review
Written by Neon Maniac
DVD released by Anchor Bay Entertainement
If you're going to race with the devil, you've got to be as fast as Hell!
Directed by Jack Starrett
Written by Wes Bishop & Lee Frost
1975, Region 1 (NTSC), 88 minutes, Rated PG
Frank and Roger have planned the best vacation ever. They get their wives, pile into Frank's new Winnebago, and plan to do some sight seeing across Texas, and then spend a week skiing in Colorado. The first day is just great. They camp along a secluded river and do a little dirt bike riding; everything is perfect. Then night falls.
Frank and Roger accidentally witness a satanic cult's ritual human sacrifice taking place across the river from their camp Going down to get a closer look, they are soon discovered by the cultists, who do not like to have witnesses to their secret and deadly rites. A game of cat and mouse begins as the cult tries to stop the four vacationers before they can tell anyone about what they have seen.
Race is one of those movies from the 70's that can be remade, but will never be duplicated. There are many aspects of this film that are, to be honest, quite cheesy and contrived. There are also a handful of scenes that rely entirely on the bad decision making skills of the characters to provide tension or to further the plot. Taken apart and dissected, Race could be considered one of the worst movies ever made.
But it's not.
Race is one of the best examples of early '70s horror/thriller. It was underappreciated when it came out, languished in the '80s as a common feature on late night movie shows, only to disappear entirely during the '90s. Now, 30 years later, the movie is a great example of not only the genre, but of the film style from that time. It's also highly entertaining.
While some of the scenes and dialogue will seem funny to a modern audience, instead of ruining the film, it just adds to the charm. The now unintentional humor enhances the flavor of the movie in a way that could not have been imaginable when Race was made. This keeps it from becoming one of those, "so bad it's good" movies, and instead just adds to the context of the film. It also features some of the best choreographed car chases ever put onto celluloid. If some of the chase scenes seem familiar, or even redundant, it's because they are. Only, Race invented it. Films like Mad Max, Phantasm, and many others copied it; often frame by frame.
When it came out, one of the biggest beefs with Race was the ending. Without ruining anything, director Starrett admits that he gave it that ending because he really did not know how to end the movie satisfactorily. I can appreciate the outcry that must have caused when the film was released. However, all this time later, I think the ending is exactly what keeps this film relevant to the genre and makes it a modern classic. Starret was right, there could be no satisfactory ending to this film. Like many other films of the late '60s to mid '70s; it just ends. Not happily, not sadly, the ending just is.
Peter Fonda and Peckinpah veteran Warren Oates carry this film, with Loretta Swit and Lara Parker playing their wives. Oates and Fonda are a terrific match, and have a great chemistry together as best friends, despite their age difference. In particular, Oates sets the tone of the film, with his hardboiled, straight lipped expression as he growls and spits out his lines. Swit and Parker play the helpless wives well, often becoming overly annoying with their misplaced panic and over the edge screaming. Fonda plays the same type of character he often did back then, but it works. After all, he is Peter Fonda.
Don't wait for Race with the Devil to show up on the late night double feature picture show; buy or rent it tonight.
Video and Audio:
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Anchor Bay is always hit or miss when it comes to video quality, especially when it comes to their restoration of old horror flicks. In the case of Race, they score a hit! The pic looks fantastic. Blacks are truly black, without any sign of macroblocking. The colors of the Texas landscape are subtle, but well defined. For a 30 year old movie, the video quality rivals that of a new release.
Race features a dynamic Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. Even though it's mono, the film sounds great. There are no audio artifacts such as pops or hisses, which are often found in movies this old. At times, there is so much action happening on and off the screen at the same time, it makes me wonder why they did not go for a newly remastered 5.1 soundtrack. This is one of the few movies that really could have benefited from it. That said, the 2.0 mono track does a nice job of conveying what it needs to and you won't find yourself riding the volume control on the remote.
Race features the regular rogue's gallery of AB Special Features: Radio spots, original trailer, behind the scenes photos, posters and lobby cards, a commentary with the film producer, DVD producer, and Lara Parker, and 'Hell on Wheels,' a brand new featurette with Peter Fonda. The radio spots and posters are always interesting, it tells a lot about a movie was originally marketed. The commentary is average, and one wishes it involved Fonda and Swit, instead of the guy who produced the DVD. The best feature is "Hell on Wheels,' and it's definitely a must see. It contains spoilers, so save it for after the film.