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Black October 24: Race With The Devil

October 24, 2009

Hollywood’s obsession with satanic horror revved up with 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby and kicked into high gear with 1973’s The Exorcist. And with two high points like that, you know there have to be some stinkers. Race With The Devil, from 1975, is often lumped in with the luciferian knockoffs of the era, but it holds a special place in my black little heart.

Like a lot of other movies I’m talking about this month, I first saw it on late-night TV when I was young. It might even have been the first time I really understood what “devil worship” was all about. I know I had recurring nightmares about hooded cult members laying siege to my isolated northern home even into my teens. I held onto that fear even after I learned the real cults in the neighbourhood didn’t wear hoods and robes.

  • Plot: Peter Fonda and Warren Oates are buddies who take their dirt bikes and wives, in that order, on an RV trip through rural Texas, late in the year when you can still swim in pools during the day but need parkas at night. One night, camping down a dirt road, they see robed people dancing around a bonfire, and they see something awful happen. (The wives are Loretta Swit and Lara Parker). Nobody believes them as they are pursued across the state by a neverending army of evil … dressed in jeans and boots. It’s small-town terror, redneck revenge, and it’s presented fast and hard and brutal over the course of a few nasty days.

When I saw Race with the Devil again as an adult, I was impressed by how smart it is. It comes off as a cheapie, and it is, and you can just imagine the pitch that went into its creation:

  • “What’s hot this year?”
  • “Devil worship, dirt bikes and Hot Lips Houlihan!”
  • “All right, mix that shit up into a movie for me! I need it in six weeks!”

Director Jack Starrett could have taken the easy route and knocked off a grindhouser. But he didn’t, and relied on the excellent acting of his stars — Oates, in particular, is a grumpy, Bogarty everyman who steps up as a capable field leader against the devil — to create a good example of 70s horror. With car chases. And country music.

“I don’t believe in a school bus on a Sunday!”

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