Jack Starrett's 1975 horror/action/thriller hybrid shows the director's roots â€“ he got his start on 1969 biker film Run, Angel, Run and would hone his skills on such seventies fare as the Starsky & Hutch television series and blaxploitation fare like Cleopatra Jones and Slaughter. In Race With The Devil he'd combine all those elements that make for a great drive-in movie with some fun performances from two popular leading men of the era, Warren Oates (Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia and Peter Fonda (Easy Rider).
Written by trash master Lee Frost (director of notorious nasties like The Climax Of Blue Power and Love Camp 7) and Wes Bishop (who worked with Frost on other projects such as The Black Gestapo), the film follows two pals who run a motorbike shop together â€“ Roger March (Fonda) and Frank Stewart (Oates). Along with their wives, Kelly (Lara Parker of Dark Shadows) and Alice (Loretta Swit of M.A.S.H.), they all pile into Frank's new $36,000 motor-home and head on out of Dallas to get some much needed rest and relaxation in Colorado, where they intend to do some skiing.
On the first night of their trip, they decide to pull off the main highway and crash for the night in a secluded area of the Texas desert. After the girls have gone to bed for the night, Frank and Roger notice a bonfire across the river. When they pull out their binoculars to check it out, they witness a Satanic cult who sacrifice a woman to their dark master. When Alice turns on the lights to call the boys in, the cult members see them and give chase. Our four heroes high tail it out of there but the cult's fingers stretch all across the state and the travelers soon find out that the membership was a lot bigger than the dozen or so people they saw decked out in robes in the desert that night. Even the local Sheriff (R. G. Armstrong of The Ballad Of Cable Hogue) is acting suspicious, and then there's that red pick up truck that seems to be following them from town to townâ€¦
Part action movie, part horror thriller, Race With The Devil kicks it into high gear about fifteen minutes in and doesn't let up until the end credits hit the screen. This one is all about the chase and the direction is tight, making great use of the claustrophobic RV interior and contrasting it in interesting ways with the wide open road that it's barreling down. The cultists, supposedly members of an actual sect, are creepy and convincing during the sacrifice scene, as their chants mount and their bloodlust finally boils over, and even creepier outside of the ceremony, giving knowing glances towards the travelers as they move from one location to another, looking for safe haven.
Oates and Fonda, who also starred alongside one another in 92 In The Shade made the very same year, have got a great on screen chemistry together which makes their struggle for survival all the more interesting and all the more fun. During the action scenes, both men have the air of the 'common man' about them that make them easy to root for and easy to sympathize with.
In short, there's enough tension and enough action in the film that you're easily able to overlook the plot holes and ridiculous premise and just enjoy seeing the two titans of 70s b-movies do their thing. Car chases, shotguns, devil worshippers, a snake or two and some creepy campers make this one well worth checking out.
Anchor Bay's 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is pretty sharp, with nice color reproduction and very strong black levels that stay deep throughout the film. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression and only some slight edge enhancement and line shimmering (check out some of the plaid shirts, this is where you'll really notice it). Print damage shows up once in a while in the form of the odd speck or two here and there but for the most part it is kept firmly in check. Some moderate film grain is present but it doesn't prove to be too distracting. Overall, this is a very nice transfer indeed, with plenty of foreground and background detail.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack isn't going to 'wow ' you but it gets the job done well enough. The score is lively and rather bouncy sounding and the dialogue is always pretty clean. At times things are a little on the flat side but such is the case with most thirty year old low budget films. There's not much to complain about here. An English closed captioning option is available.
Executive Producer Paul Maslansky and actress Lara Parker are joined by moderator Perry Martin for a fun and interesting commentary track. Maslansky and Parker don't need much coaching, as they both remember the film quite vividly and aren't afraid to share their experiences making the movie with the audience. Maslansky explains the ambiguity of the ending and why it was chosen and Parker has no shortage of tales to tell about Oates and Fonda on the set.
Up next is a video interview with Peter Fonda entitled Hell On Wheels in which the star discusses his career and how Race With The Devil was completely different than many of the films he'd made up to that point, most of which were biker movies. He's also got plenty of stories about Warren Oates, as the two were friends off set as well as on, and he mentions how cold it was shooting in the desert at night in Texas. The interviews are spiced up a bit with plenty of photos from throughout Fonda's career, some behind the scenes photos and some candid shots as well.
Rounding out the extra features are a promotional still gallery, a behind the scenes still gallery, a theatrical trailer for the feature, two radio spots, and trailers for three upcoming releases from Anchor Bay.
Anchor Bay gives a great seventies drive-in thriller the treatment it so justly deserves on DVD. Solid audio and video quality and great extra features compliment the film quite nicely and as such, Race With The Devil easily earns a high recommendation.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.