Wednesday, June 11, 2014


"When You Race With The Devil...You'd Better Be Faster Then Hell !"

"God Help You When The Devil Wants You !"

    Combining two of the 1970's most beloved genres as in devil worshiping and the "road" movie (which in terms of 70's movie culture can both be traced back to the late 60's with ROSEMARY'S BABY and EASY RIDER from 1968 & 1969 respectively), RACE WITH THE DEVIL is almost the perfect example of what a 1970's drive-in movie should be. Everything comes together as you've got the leading man team of Peter Fonda & Warren Oates (in the second of three films they stared in together and who's real life friendship is evident here), a full speed ahead script by exploitation king Lee Frost along with his frequent collaborator Wes Bishop and direction by drive-in guru Jack Starrett. Plus you've got cinematography by Robert Jessup, a alternately buoyant/creepy score by Leonard Rosenman , AND Loretta Swit and Lara Parker (along with car & Winnebago chases along miles & miles of desolate highway, shotguns, motorcycles, R.G. Armstrong, rattlesnakes, devil worshiping, and Loretta & Lara in bathing suits !). Holy crap !
    During the 1970's the devil worshiping movie genre seems to have had a special affinity for the state of Texas (and the southwest in general with some being filmed in Mexico - particular Durango). Along with being a hotbed of low budget/exploitation film there was also the desolate eerie desert landscape along with miles & miles of lonely highway (both of which RACE WITH THE DEVIL takes full advantage of) that provided some ready made atomshere. These settings were also featured in THE DEVIL'S RAIN ("Heaven help us...when The Devil"s Rain" !), the low budget and eerie ENTER THE DEVIL from 1972 and the 1970 Dallas based MARK OF THE WITCH (which I want to do a post on someday).

    Buddies & motorcycle store co-owners Roger Marsh and Frank Stewart (Peter Fonda & Warren Oates) along with their wives Kelly and Alice (Lara Parker from DARK SHADOWS and Loretta Swit in the midst of MASH) head out from San Antonio in the Stewart's spankin' new RV (fully decked in 70's shag carpeting, wood paneling and plaid upholstery) for some skiing in Aspen. Along the way they stop at a secluded spot (with a creepy gnarly tree handily close by) for some overnight camping and later that night Roger and Frank secretly witness a satanic ritual and sacrifice under said gnarly tree which precipitates their pursuit by the satanic cult.
   Back in the local small town they look for help from the sheriff (played by R.G. Armstrong -most famous for playing religious characters of questionable sanity in Sam Peckinpah movies) and while the menfolk head out with sheriff R.G. to look for clues the wives find a note with runic symbols attached to the motor home. Continuing on their vacation the two couples are soon set upon by carloads and truckloads (along with RV parks & country/western bars !) full of belzebub followers - which seemingly comprise the entire state of Texas.
   The film beautifully sets up a premise of slowly encroaching evil combined with the growing (and justified) paranoia of the fleeing couples, such as with all the phones being out of order as the result of a "big wind up north". Although on afterthought the premise of literally everybody they come across as being part of the satanic horde seems a bit ludicrous the film moves at such a rapid pace and with such conviction that you can't help but get caught up in speeding 88 min. run time and forgive whatever shortcomings & plot holes there might be.

     The film features some pretty spectacular stunts with Peter Fonda even cambering atop the speeding RV to do battle with some pre Mad Max style highway destruction. Although the make and models of cars sometimes isn't consistent between chase & crash mode and dents seem to disappear and re-appear again these aren't notiched (unless you've seem the movie countless time like myself) as you are caught up in the gonzo crashing & burning vehicle mayhem (which comprise almost the entire last 1/3 of the film).
    Plot-wise Loretta and Lara as the wives aren't really given a whole lot to do as they only have a couple scenes together without the men such as when they discover the runic note and and later doing some research at a library, but for the most part they just attempt to cook meals in the constantly under attack RV (plus cleaning up the aftermath) and scream a whole bunch. Lara in particular really goes off the deep end after a rather gruesome scene involving a family pet and later when a couple of rattlesnakes are planted in the RV. In addition they both add some scenery for the publicity materials when they go swimming.

     Writers Frost and Bishop (who plays a deputy here) tone down their usual exploitation quota of sex (what no Uschi Digard cameo !) and violence as the pivotal sacrifice (and its attached nudity) is sorta obscured by fire and the while the violence later in the movie is startling for the most part is pretty much blood free. Available on a double feature from Shout Factory as both a DVD and bu-ray and paired with DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY, which also stars Peter Fonda (and Susan George !). I did a very short post on RACE WITH DEVIL earlier in this blog's history when the blu ray was announced but as I love this movie so much it felt like time to do an expanded one (and what the heck, it's my blog).




  1. I got to first see this one at the drive-in with my parents - it was the first feature - I think Vanishing Point was the second...I saw a TV airing of Race with the Devil probably 15 years after that - and now I have that DVD and will be unreeling it for my movie pal Ray sometime soon. I love that director Starrett made movies like this - and also acted in movies like First Blood (as Galt) and Blazing Saddles (as Gabby Johnson)! This is an excellent post about a small gem from the middle of one of my favorite decades in film!

  2. Wow - that's a great double feature. It's really sad that Starrett died so young as he had an amazing career and its shame he wasn't around to see his work newly appreciated and along with his now acknowledged influence.

  3. One of my favorites from the 'satanic' sub genre of horror and exploitation - there is real tension and suspense here, and the last third as you mentioned is truly nail-biting stuff. Excellent stunts too, and one of the odd times I might say that the PG rating didn't lessen the blow. I really wanted these characters to succeed! Great stuff, Dick, love the screen caps too.

    1. Thanks ! One of my all time favorites and your right, this works great as a PG. I love how the feeling of terror slowly escalates. A few weeks ago I saw Lara Parker at a convention and am still kicking myself for not bring my one sheet of this for her to sign.

    2. Damn! That would have been nice!