Monday, 23 May 2011

Race With the Devil (1975)

There are many things us Brits are good at, and there are quite a few of those things that we even mange to make look cool and sexy, like Italy based gold bullion heists and Mini Coppers, for example. One thing us Brits aren’t good at, and we definitely don’t’ make either sexy or cool, is caravanning. For one thing, British caravans are rather like badly decorated sardine tins, sardine tins who’s interior design sensibilities invariably ground somewhere around 1987, this is immediately a problem. Also, we don’t have the weather for it, when caravanning in the UK the average person is wearing three pairs of socks, stout Wellington boots and as many jumpers as they can fit under their cagoule. Non of these factors make for sexy or, indeed, cool.

When I was a child caravanning holidays were very much the done thing. I can’t even begin to recall the amount of time I must have spent as youngster in what we laughingly refer to as the height of British summer listening to the rain hammer against the tin lid of some ghastly, probably infested rented tin can on wheels whilst being forced to play family card games until the weather lets up enough that we can go back outside and visit some crumbling castle or a craft fair. British caravanning is monumentally dull. The only notable thing that ever happened to me whilst staying in a caravan was I fell off a small craggy outcrop whilst chasing a goat. I was warned repeatedly, this was entirely my own fault. But the point remains; again, neither sexy or cool.

But none of these problems are problems for Race With the Devil’s the Marshes and the Stewarts, they are both sexy and cool in their brand spanking new $36,000 R.V, although they do however, have minor issues with angry Satanists so I suppose things even out.

Roger and Kelly Marsh (Peter Fonda and Lara Parker) and Frank and Alice Stewart Warren Oates and Loretta Swit) haven’t had a vacation in years, they’ve been far too busy racing dirt bikes and making a ton of money. To rectify this all work situation they decide to pack up their bikes on the back of Frank’s fancy R.V. and head off to Colorado for a well earned holiday.

So, without a care in the world the two couples, and a small dog named Ginger, head out cross country for what should be splendid jaunt with all the luxuries the 70s had available. Now, this may come as a surprise to you, but the Untied States of America is massive! In Britain if you want to travel from one county to the next it takes about 5 minutes, but in the US you had just better settle in for the duration because it takes a small eternity on account of being so massive.(It may be obvious at this point that my temporal and spatial awareness skills aren’t the best). The Marshes and the Stewarts, however, fully aware that their country is a billion miles wide, are well prepared for the fact that soon they will have to settle for the night before continue on their merry way to Colorado (approximately 137 light-years away). Unfortunately, and to their later detriment, the group decide to stub the local trailer park with all its colourful charm and instead opt to park up in a secluded area and set up camp with their lovely awning.

We now come to another reason I love the 70s. In the 70s there was never not a reason to have cocktails; pre-dinner cocktails, after dinner cocktails, just got up in the morning cocktails, ‘it must be five minutes since we had cocktails’ cocktails, at any given moment in the 70s the cocktail shaker could be miraculously produced from nowhere and any variety of alcoholic beverages could be shaken about. I actually believe that there is a law somewhere that states you can not be in charge of a cocktail shaker unless the cuffs of your trousers measure in excess of 12inches. In testament to this phenomenon, before the R.V. even fully comes to a halt, Frank’s out of his luxuriously upholstered driving seat and mixing Martinis. Respect, Mr. S. Now, while I may admire the ‘anytime, any place, anywhere’ spirit, it is partly this behaviour, and ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan’s inability to keep her ‘hot lips’ shut, that’s about to cause all manner Satan related problems that they probably could have done without on their lovely, glamorous holidays.

Still quaffing Martinis Frank and Roger settle comfortably under their smashing awning (probably an incentive bonus for purchasing the deluxe R.V. package, and also something else that we manage to make look a bit rubbish and we huddle underneath it for shelter and some semblance of warmth, but they make look sexy and cool) and take in the night air. Unfortunately though, what Frank and Roger don’t know is that this particular secluded spot is also the secluded spot of choice for the local neighbourhood Satanist chapter and it isn’t long before the boys spot some funny goings on around a fire in the middle distance that they feel compelled to investigate, with binoculars.

Now, there are many things that I believe in; equality and freedom of speech, for instance, but mostly, mostly I believe that people who spy on people through binoculars generally deserve what they get (except for Jimmy Stewart, that was entirely different), I also extend this to people who think it’s perfectly acceptable to wander uninvited into people’s houses usually on the basis that houses/people in question are a bit weird, these people definitely deserve all they get.

Anyway, stumbling closer to get a better eyeful of what they assume is a convenient orgy staged for their voyeuristic pleasure, the boys get more than they bargained for when what they actually witness is a Satanic rite that culminates in the ritual murder of a young girl, but they did get to see boobies so the spectacle wasn’t entirely wasted for them. Just as the boys are realising that their best course of action is to sneak quietly away and alert the appropriate authorities, ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan marches into the fray and ruins the covert perving by yelling at the boys to come in for their tea, or something. Thanks to Hot Lips the Satanists now know that their evil privacy has been invaded by half-drunk tourists and unsurprisingly they’re non to happy about it.

At this point they decide that it is their best interests to make a run for it and they speed out of the secluded overnight spot dragging their awning behind them. Also at this point, in case you are interested, I decided to have a light supper of cheese and crackers, yum. And thus the vacationing quartet find themselves pursued relentlessly up and down Texan motorways by enraged cultists and the eponymous ‘the ‘race with the devil’ begins.

From here on in the film essentially becomes a classic car chase flick as the hapless couples spend the rest of the movie trying desperately to get to the safety of Amarillo but at every step of their journey they are dogged by the satanic version of the Anthill Mob, unhelpful law enforcement officers, weird trailer park residents wearing so much polyester they certainly must be a fire hazard and sinister gas station attendants and librarians. I think it’s fair to say that the film only really finds its feet when the action sequences begin, shotguns are fired out of windows at high speed, cars are driven for miles on two wheels, stuff explodes, Satanists career off bridges and Peter Fonda consistently sports some the of finest 70s shirts mankind has ever witnessed.

Race With the Devil is so 70s it made my nose bleed. (This isn’t actually true. The only time I have ever spontaneously bled due to over stimulation is when I thought I saw Alan Moore whilst in a beer garden in Northampton, I had also just hit myself in the face with my mobile phone so these two factors may not even be related. For the record we never did get any clarification as to whether it was in fact Mr. Moore, I like to think it was). While Race With the Devil is undeniably a raucous romp round the back roads of 70s horror, I like to think of it more as a morality tale warning us of what would have really happened to Scooby Doo’s gang when they go meddling into the affairs of evil doers in masks.

Things I learned from Race With the Devil

Satanists are persistent little buggers and apparently make up a good fraction of the state of Texas.

Everyone, in fact, knows the way to Amarillo and if you do happen to be in doubt you can always ask a roadwork’s labourer.

Libraries are awesome. Any given library anywhere will always have a comprehensive collection of books on satanic practices for your perusal.

Satanists are also excellent stunt drivers and could easily make living in the movies if the Devil thing doesn’t work out.

Cheese and 70s Satanists before bed make for messed up dreams.


  1. I actually saw this movie at Drive-In Theatre in the 70's and it scared the crap out of me (I was about 12). I watched for Satanists all teh home that night (and just about every night for months), sure my family would be targeted - though for what reason, I don't know...

  2. Thanks for the laugh. :) I had a lot of fun reading your review and hearing the British perspective! I doubt I'll see this movie, though...

  3. As another Brit who was forced to spend many childhood holidays trapped in a tin can on wheels, I now have to see this film.

  4. Speaking of the library, I love the blatant "Oh you won't loan us these books? We're definitely NOT stealing them, just look this way, OK?" scene.

    Good write-up, ma'am. It is a silly film, but it's got some fun moments.

  5. As usual, an hilarious and informative review....
    This movie looks like Peter Fonda at his best.

    I may keep my eyes peeled for it.



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