Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: Race with the Devil (1975)

Two of the most if not the most popular horror sub-genres of the 1970s were road movies and devil worship. In 1975 Twentieth Century Fox released a horror film that perfectly combined the two. Race with the Devil is a thrilling satanic road-trip that cleverly and very effectively uses paranoia and ambiguity to entice fear into it's viewers.

Our on road nightmare begins with joint owners of a successful San Antonio motorcycle dealership, Roger and Frank. (Peter Fonda, Warren Oates) For a much needed vacation they hit the open road together with their wives Kelly and Alice, (Lara Parker, Loretta Swit) destination; the ski slopes of Apsen Colorado. Travelling in style, that of a brand new top of line RV, price tag $36000; our four optimistic and care free vacationers along with a last minute passenger Kelly's small dog, have everything at their fingertips. They're completely self reliant and contained, no assistance require thank you kindly. Early into their journey they set up camp in a secluded area of the picturesque Texas country side. Later that night while enjoying the serenity of nature with a few drinks Roger and Frank witness the sacrifice of a young women as part of a satanic ritual a short distance across from their camp site. After being spotted by the group of Satanists they narrowing escape only to find themselves being terrorised no matter where they go unable to escape the lingering presence of evil.

I watched Race with the Devil during a quite Saturday afternoon. It was recommend to me by a close dear friend who's love for the 70s is beyond measure. As a big fan of the stylish decade myself as well as the two sub-genres I mentioned above I was instantly intrigued. What I was expecting to be a rather silly but an enjoyable B grade horror flick turned out to be so much more. I loves films, especially horror films that really allow the viewer to feel with intensity what out characters are feeling and that's where this particular film excels. If I had to describe it in just one word it would be, 'paranoid'. Like our four protagonists I found myself suspicious of almost everyone they encountered. Looking for that little hint that they might be "one of them" And as the incidents mount, each one more terrifying that the last, the conclusion of evil is everywhere begins to form in one's mind. 

Kelly (Lara Parker) feeing the sinister watchful eyes of onlookers. 
How would you react to witnessing what Roger and Frank witnessed? Probably the same way they did. No heroics, just get out of there fast! It's realistic reactions like that which is another reason why the film is so effective. Along with the characters themselves; Roger, Frank, Kelly and Alice are people you can relate to, they're very real. Working class folk who just simply took a turn literally down the wrong road to get away from it all. An example of how life has a way of being very random. There are moments of action and spectacle such an extensive car chase towards the climax of the film which is exciting with quite exceptional stunt work despite the films modest budget. And overall the film is shot very well adding to it's very creepy and chilling atmosphere; the ritual scene in particular which makes great use of night photography.

Race with the Devil was directed by Jack Starrett who I'm sure most movie fans will know as the overly excessive police deputy who unsuccessfully takes on Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo in First Blood. Starrett also makes a small appearance as a polite yet suspicious gas station attendant. He made a small number of films between the late 60s and early 80s as well as working steadily as an actor in film and television before his passing at only 52 years of age in 1989.

This hybrid horror takes a more psychological approach rather ran resorting to cheap scares that uses effective atmosphere an ambiguous tone and convincing performances from the leading cast to create an overwhelming sense of evil and pending doom. It's the not knowing that's more terrifying. If you come across this one in a bargain bin, pick it up!



  1. Time spent in the company of Warren Oates and Peter Fonda is never time wasted.
    I still find the ending of Race With the Devil absolutely chilling and between cars driving on two-wheels and satanists hanging onto the sides of moving RVs with no fear, the stunts in this movie really do deserve some recognition. Great review.

    1. Oh I agree! I'm very interested to see the other three films Warren Oates and Peter Fonda appeared in together. I loved the ending, that moment of realisation that there is no escape no matter how far they might have travelled. Thanks for reading!