Welcome to Monsoon-a-day
Where I watch and review a movie a day. Or whenever I fucking feel like it.
While the Satanic Panic that gripped America for more than a decade is generally defined as starting with either the McMartin Preschool case or the novel Michelle Remembers, I would argue it started in 1968 with the one-two punch of Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil Rides Out. Much like how Psycho changed audiences perceptions on what a crazy person looks like (spoiler alert: they look like people), Rosemary’s Baby changed the definition of what a cult could be. Gone are brown robes and twisted daggers and in their place are nice elderly people that think Satan is just swell. On the opposite side of that coin is The Devil Rides Out, which relishes the old cliches. Ceremonies, robes, daggers, goat headed demons, it has them all. There were obviously devils and cults in cinema before these films but I believe these were the catalyst for everything that would follow.
They opened the doors for films like The Devil’s, Blood On Satan’s Claw, The Exorcist, To The Daughter A Devil, The Devil’s Rain, Suspiria and most importantly The Wicker Man.
The Wicker Man is a film about a cult and while they’re not into the devil per say, they are however, into human sacrifice. This’ll be important later.
Whether or not Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil Rides Out started America’s fascination with the occult is debatable, as is whether The Wicker Man was born from their success, but what is not debatable, is whether or not the film Race With The Devil would exist without The Wicker Man.
A schizophrenic hybrid of genres, Race With The Devil is trying desperately to ride that sweet Satan wave while also trying to throw it’s hat into the car chase genre made popular in the late 60’s and early 70’s and the results are mixed at best.
Best friends Roger and Frank (Peter Fonda and Warren Oates), along with their wives Kelly and Alice (Loretta Swit and Lara Parker) are driving their RV from San Antonio to Aspen, Colorado for a much needed ski vacation. Along the way, they set up camp in remote part of a desert meadow somewhere in bum fuck Texas. During the day, the men race around on dirt bikes and at night, while the lady folk are getting ready for bed, the guys are outside drinking.
While out there, the men witness what turns out to be a ritualistic human sacrifice a short distance from their campsite across the river. Hunted by a cult of Satanists and out in the middle of nowhere, will the couples survive the night?
Like an insane Venice beach juggler who’s catching flaming chainsaws while balancing a plate on his nose, the film is too busy. It has too many balls in the air and never manages to catch them all.
The horror is never scary and the action, while great, only lasts for about ten minutes. The film tries to cultivate a sense of dread by making you suspicious of everyone in the town but fails miserably because instead of being on edge, you’re getting increasingly irritated by the lead characters who won’t leave the goddamn town.
They saw a woman get killed, they got attacked by a cult, they entertain the idea that the sheriff may be involved and yet they’re still dead set on going to Colorado. Not even the threat of death is deterring these people from going fucking skiing. They introduce the fact that the two leads are really great dirt bike racers but that bit of information goes nowhere. A movie that turns into a chase film in the last 15 minutes does not include a scene where the two leads ride the dirt bikes they’ve been driving throughout the film.
The characters are well acted but the female roles are nothing more than emotional sirens to remind the audience that this shit be scary. Since Fonda and Oates are unflappable, their entire job is to scream. You never believe that the two leads are in any danger whatsoever. You don’t believe that they can take on all these cultists Charles Bronson style but you’re also not afraid for their safety either.
At the end of the day, it has an identity crisis and a wonky script but like watching a man with hooks for hands try to make a burrito, it’s entertaining for short periods of time but my god is it messy.