Race With The Devil

Director: Jack Starrett   
Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit

It's been going on for some time now. So far I have been able to keep up, but I wonder about the future. I need a pause, something that will help me charge up the old batteries. In other words, I need a vacation. I haven't had a real vacation in years. One reason why I need a vacation is the job that I have. I know I am lucky to have a job when many people in these tough times are unemployed or have a job that doesn't give them a living wage. But on the other hand, it gets exhausting after a while to have to flatten the cardboard of the many boxes my store empties each week and put them in the recycling bin, and have to put back all the stuff customers take off the shelves and subsequently dump in other parts of the store. Another reason why I need a vacation is all the work I do on this web site. Don't get me wrong, the work I do on this web site has its many rewards, but on the other hand it takes hours to find appropriate movies, research them, and write reviews about them. Also, I am exhausted by the many readers who, for some reason, refuse to read the e-mail guidelines of this web site and still send me e-mails that demand I do their research and work for them, with e-mails such as, "Where can I get a copy of Ilsa Meets Bruce Lee In The Devil's Triangle?" or "I saw this movie a long time ago, what's the title?" As you can see, I definitely need a rest after being subjected to all of the above. In fact, for years I have been thinking of taking a trip across the strait and have nothing but fun in Vancouver for several days. But right now, that is impossible. My job doesn't give me enough time off to make even a few days off possible, and I don't want to put this web site on hold again.

Since my duties at my job and this web site make it impossible right now to take a vacation, I have had to take several steps in order to lessen this disappointed feeling I have as a result. One of the steps I have taken is to keep thinking of all the vacations I have experienced in my past. When I was much younger, I remember that my parents would take me and my siblings on a trip every summer. I am somewhat disappointed to this day that my parents never took my to Expo 86 in Vancouver or to Disneyland or Disneyworld (it seems everyone in my grade school class experienced one of Disney's parks except me!), but we did travel to some impressive places. One summer we took a long trip to Yellowstone Park. That was a good trip, even though we never once saw a bear there despite all the bear stories we had heard about the place (though we did see a bear on our return trip through Montana.) Then there was the time we traveled to Saskatchewan to visit a small town's salt lake. The thing I remember most vividly about that trip was that on the morning we were leaving, we passed an elaborate playground that I had just missed by a few feet from one of our evening walks. So there are some sour things about my memories of vacations, which brings up another technique I use to comfort the fact I can't go on a vacation right now: Things can go wrong on a vacation, and these problems can be worse than typical problems because you are not at home and with your resources there. You can be stranded in the wilderness with no phone or no emergency services nearby, or have your money lost or stolen and not be near your bank. Potential problems seem to be just around the corner.

The "problems" I had on my vacations may not seem to have been that big of a deal, but we did get close to being in a bad situation. During all the vacations that my family went on, we suffered from the problem of a flat tire not once, but twice. Not twice during the same vacation, thank goodness - one flat tire during a vacation was enough of a problem. My dad on one of those occasions couldn't fix the flat where we were, so he had to hitch-hike back to a town that had a service station where he could get a mechanic. It actually took less time that you would think. But I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we had been deeper in the wilderness when one of our flat tires occurred. Thinking about how close we got to that situation makes the idea of a vacation in the wilderness less enticing. Then there is the fact that my family came close to a boat disaster. The ferry that we took on one vacation happened to hit a rock and sink more than twenty years later, drowning a couple of people that were on board. Hearing that on the news made the idea of staying home more appealing. But I don't just think of what could have been on one of my vacations, I rely on certain movies as well. Race With The Devil is one movie that argues the case of staying home with a potential problem that you have probably haven't thought could occur during one of your vacations. It concerns Roger (Fonda, The Wild Angels) and Frank (Oates, Cockfighter), two friends in Texas who decide to take a motor home vacation to Colorado with their wives (played by Loretta Swit and Lara Parker.) On their first day on the road, they decide to pull off the road to a secluded area to spend the night. That night, while Roger and Frank are taking a walk, the two friends hear a noise and investigate. They soon spot a group of people around a fire in some sort of Satanic ritual, which soon includes a human sacrifice. Roger and Frank are soon spotted by the worshipers, a chase ensues, and the two friends and their wives barely get out of there with their lives. They are safe... or are they?

Based on that plot description in the above paragraph, I think it is safe to say that many readers right now have in their heads some sort of idea as to what happens next. They will base this on the many movies they have previously seen that share certain elements with this plot. At this point of the movie, I certainly had some ideas as to what would happen, though I am happy to report that the movie gave me a few pleasant surprises. In a movie like this where someone witnesses something like Roger and Frank did, about 50% of the time the protagonists are too stupid to do the most logical thing: Head straight to the nearest police station. Well, this is one of those times when the protagonists do immediately head to the police. When this does happen in a movie, about 50% of the time the police are either too stupid or don't believe what the protagonists say happened. In this movie, the police do decide to make an investigation, and in the morning they head back to the scene of the crime with Roger and Frank. I know, you are probably thinking that the Satanists somehow managed to completely clean up the scene overnight so that there is no evidence at all in the area when Roger, Frank, and the cops arrive. That's what usually happens in movies like this. But in this movie, the cops do find some evidence left (circumstantial evidence, but evidence all the same.) Meanwhile, back in town, the two wives find a threatening note pinned onto their motor home, which includes some satanic symbols printed on it. They are creeped out, but they actually decide to do something about it; they head to the local library's occult section to see if they can decipher the cryptic writing.

When Roger, Frank, and the cops return, I was thinking that since the movie was shaping up to be a more smarter movie than usual, the next thing that would happen would be that the two wives would show the threatening note to not only their husbands, but to the police as well. But surprisingly, the police are not shown the note, and the two couples leave the police. At this point, you might think that the couples would head home after all that has happened to them - I certainly would head to a place where I felt comfortable and safe - but for some idiotic reason they decide to continue their vacation. Then when things start to get dangerous for the two couples (such as when their motor home is broken into when they are away, their dog is killed, and a rattlesnake is planted in a cupboard), they don't turn around and head back to the police on their familiar home turf, but instead decide to take a longer journey to see the authorities in another city! There are other stupid turns by the characters as the movie continues to progress, such as when the cupboard is opened and the snake flies out as the couples are driving down the road. It would seem the most logical thing the driver would do, even with all the screaming and thrashing around happening behind him, would be to jam on the brakes and stop within seconds. But the one of them that is driving instead chooses to accelerate and swerve all over the road for what seems to be a painfully long time until finally hitting a tree. Another disappointment concerning the characters is how the screenplay treats the two women characters. Though there is the promise they will be deeply involved with what happens with that library scene, not long afterwards they are mostly resigned to merely scream and cry as the movie progresses.

So far I have been kind of mixed about Race With The Devil, and I think I am going to be mixed about what else I bring up with the movie. I'll get back onto the good stuff about the movie for a moment. The acting by all the participants in the movie is uniformly good. Oates gives his character a casualness that doesn't jar with the rest of the movie, yet at the same time gives his character a leadership quality that believably makes his character the one that makes most of the decisions. Fonda is likeably casual as well, though wisely doesn't make him hippie-casual like one of his past roles. Towards the end of the movie there are two exciting car chases (separated by just a few seconds of pause) involving multiple vehicles racing and bashing each other in each chase that must have been a real pain for the movie's stunt team to successfully choreograph as they did. There are also some spectacular vehicular wipe-outs, though I did notice twice the stuntmen's roll cages clearly visible inside the interior of the vehicles. As you probably guessed by that last remark, here come more of the things I didn't like about the movie. There is the fact that the pursuing Satanists seem very inconsistent. First, they seem to be trying to scare the protagonists away. Then later, for no apparent reason, they make attempts to kill them. Related to this is the wrong tone for most of the movie. There should be a real sense of danger and terror for the two fleeing couples, but until the 72 minute mark (the car chases), there is for the most part a sedate feeling, like they are being chased by mischief-makers. The movie is never boring, but you'll be impatiently waiting for something big to happen. I don't regret watching the movie, but I feel it is unfinished and undercooked.

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See also: The Devil's Rain, Nightmare At Noon, Rituals