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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 20%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 23.33%
Total Crap: 3.33%

2 reviews, 18 user ratings

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Race with the Devil
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Jack Sommersby

"Smokey and the Devil"
2 stars

Plenty of elaborate stunts and an ending directly lifted from "The Wicker Man," it's quite the schizophrenic cinematic endeaor that never makes up its mind what genre it's operating in.

Despite a fine beginning and some good performances, the Texas-set horror tale Race With the Devil eventually self-destructs due to scattershot writing and lackluster directing, which is a shame because its central story premise is initially frightening and could have provided the springboard for some truly nerve-frying entertainment. Peter Fonda and Warren Oates play a couple of hard-working blue-collar Everymen who gas up their new Winnebago and scoop up their wives for a vacation trip from San Antonio to Aspen, Colorado; having been cash-poor these last several years, they're looking forward to finally going to a genuine ski resort for once. With beds and a cooking range and plenty of food and liquor at their disposal, they decide to pull off on a rural road and cross a shallow creek to a secluded spot rather than at an RV park for the night. Later, while kicking back in lawn chairs and drinking, the men spot a large campfire across the creek about seventy-five yards away with an array of red-robed men and women dancing and stripping off their clothes. Walking up closer to get a better view out of their binoculars, they're at first fascinated, thinking they're witnessing the onset of a wild orgy, but one of the women is held up in the air and ritualistically stabbed through the stomach with a large dagger; it's at this unfortunate time when one of the wives comes outside and shouts out to the men, drawing the Satanists' attention who give chase, and the men scramble back to the RV and barely manage to get away. They make it to the nearest town and alert the sheriff, but by the time they bring him to the location of the sacrifice it's morning, and there are only remnants of a fire and what looks to be blood in the dirt, which the sheriff, dubious to their relating of events, reasons could be animal blood from some sort of half-assed ritual done by doped-up hippies. But it's obvious from the get-go the sheriff isn't on the up and up, and back at the police station the wives find a note left by the cultists on the RV's broken rear windshield warning them to keep quiet. The four are eager to get out of town, and mean to contact the police when they get to the nearest big city. But along the way the phone lines at all the gas stations along the way seem to be out; and when they presume to have found safe refuge at a huge RV park in a larger town, sinister looks from everybody and the hanging of their family pet occurs while they're away. Eventually, they find themselves racing not with the devil, but away from a horde of cultists constantly coming after them every step of the way.

It's a good thing Fonda and Oates, along with Loretta Swit and Lara Parker as the wives, do solid work, etching lived-in characterizations out of practically thin air and giving us protagonists we have some emotional stake in. But they're at the service of a story that strains plausibility to the breaking point and plays by no set of rules. The villains are practically omnipresent, and the treatment of them is so vague we've no idea how they extensively and flawlessly coordinate with their different sects over hundreds of miles or what binds them together except for a distaste for, well, non-Satanists, so the movie isn't really grounded in anything. (If it were a supernatural tale, we could forgive some of this.) And since we're led to assume everybody the heroes come across are cultists, we can't figure why the auto mechanic doesn't sabotage the RV when he has the opportunity, or why a merchant sells them a perfectly working shotgun later on, or why they're not attacked in a crowded country bar where even the band members seem to be malevolent. Race With the Devil lacks atmosphere and compression (not to mention common sense), and might have worked better had it stayed in the first isolated town with the heroes saddled with an inoperable RV and made to survive against an encompassing threat comprised of Norman Rockwell facades and Beelzebub-ish underpinnings. The director, Jack Starret, isn't particularly adept at sustaining tension, and he hasn't any style or visual imagination to help camouflage the holes in the script -- you have to take everything at face value, which the wobbly plot simply can't withstand. And because of the slack editing and zero narrative drive, the talking-heads scenes, where the heroes spend an absurd amount of time talking about what they're going to do to survive instead of just going ahead and doing it, are made even more enervating. (When Dennis Weaver pulled off the road in Spielberg's Duel, the suspense was still palpable.) Indicative of its creative bankruptcy, the picture degenerates into an absurd series of action sequences with enough car chases, crashes and explosions for a dozen Roger Corman road-race productions. (The last twenty minutes play out like B-roll from Smokey and the Bandit.) On one level, this PG-rated movie doesn't go in for a lot of sensationalism and gore, opting instead for a reasonable amount of insinuation, yet the endless inconsistencies all but neutralizes this, and we're left hungering for the visceral just to have something to respond to -- that is, besides banality at every mile marker.

For fans, the DVD from the good folks at Anchor Bay Entertainment offers up an informative audio commentary and lots of sights in the poster-and-still gallery.

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originally posted: 09/09/12 22:08:40
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User Comments

5/20/10 dr.evil Love this movie. Lara Parkeer aka Angelique, witch from Dark Shadows sinister 60s soap 5 stars
3/29/10 mr.mike Holds up very well 4 stars
3/28/10 David A. campy but delightful horror classic! 4 stars
10/28/07 bronson Mejia Lara Parker,aka Angelique, is afine woman in a fine 70s classic 5 stars
7/22/07 ben dover brilliant 70's classic 5 stars
11/25/06 David Pollastrini brilliant, frightening 5 stars
8/03/05 Danny Compared with the typical "horror" fare of today, this is a classic! 5 stars
8/04/04 Kyle Just overlook the cheesy 70's outfits! This is scary stuff. A classic! 5 stars
1/25/04 scott legg the movie is great but dont let kids under 12 watch it. there are parts that are very scary 4 stars
12/13/03 David Johnson A horror /action movie 4 stars
11/22/03 Charles Tatum Creepy stuff, satan 5 stars
8/02/03 Geanene love it 5 stars
7/02/03 Ken Karpinski E-Film Critic Reviewer should use a capital "S" in "Satanic" as should all name-based. 4 stars
4/15/03 Dr. Zinn Action packed, entertaining and creepy all at the same time! Great stuff!! 5 stars
3/24/03 David G. Hall Scariest move I have ever seen. Killer movie. 5 stars
3/18/03 Jack Sommersby Wobbly directing and dumb scripting. A few good moments. 2 stars
3/16/03 dionwr It's okay entertainment 4 stars
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  02-Feb-1975 (PG)
  DVD: 12-Apr-2011


  02-Feb-1975 (M)

Directed by
  Jack Starrett

Written by
  Wes Bishop
  Lee Frost

  Peter Fonda
  Warren Oates
  Loretta Swit
  Lara Parker
  R.G. Armstrong
  Clay Tanner

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