A Peter Fonda double feature? That's right! Shout! Factory did it on DVD and now they're doing it on Blu-ray too. Throw in some Warren Oates, dirt bikes, Satanists, Susan George, a giant RV and some muscle cars and you're in for what Shout! Factory aptly describes as an Action-Packed Double Feature! Here's how and whyâ€¦
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry:
Peter Fonda (of Easy Rider) plays a race car driver named Larry who has seen better days. His career isn't what it used to be and maybe it's time he started looking at other options to pay the bills from here on out. Larry and his buddy/mechanic Deke (Adam Rourke of The Stuntman) decide that the best way to get rich quick and move on to greener pastures is to rob a grocery store and out run the police through California to financial freedom in Mexico! Unfortunately, Larry decides to sleep with a woman named Mary (Susan George of Straw Dogs and Enter The Ninja) the night before the robbery is to go off, and she decides for the two boys that she's going to be coming along on their adventure.
When the time comes for the old snatch and grab, the three of them pull of the plan reasonably easy, robbing the store (managed by Roddy McDowell of Planet Of The Apes!) by holding his family at gun point until he hands over the goods. They hit the road in their Dodge Charger, putting the pedal to the floor and gunning it south. What they don't take into account is that the cops who gives them chase, lead by Everett Franklin (Vic Morrow of Humanoids From The Deep), while use every trick in the book to stop them cold. Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry are going to have to drive fast and furiously through the back roads of Southern California to make it out, and they're also going to have to learn to survive life with one another along the way.
Plot wise and character wise, this film leaves a lot to be desired. The story isn't too far off from Sam Peckinpah's The Getaway (at least the initial premise) and neither Larry nor Mary are really all that memorable as people. The romantic subplot panders to the audience and doesn't add much value to the film, and the humorous moments spread throughout the film are neither funny nor interesting.
So why bother?
The car chases, baby, the car chases. Made in the days before CGI ruined big screen stunt driving, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is chock full of fantastic chase scenes and car stunts that are sure to appease anyone into muscle cars and what they can do. Not only that, but the film also features a lot of great footage of the terrain where the entire thing goes down and plenty of action throughout. Yeah, Peter Fonda kind of sleep walks through it all and Susan George isn't any better than 'just okay' in her role but the sheer volume of high speed chases and jumps and stunts more than make up for it. The pacing is tight, the cinematography is handled very well, and there's a gratuitous 'Vic Morrow as the heavy' factor that can't be disputed.
It wouldn't be tough to argue that the film is hung on a very skeletal plot, but there's enough car chase action, explosions, and fantastic stunt work to make it easy to overlook the fact that we've seen this all before. None of this is original, none of this is high art, but all of this is entertaining. Turn off your brain and enjoy this one. It sure beats the pants of more modern fare like The Fast And The Furious or Italian Connection remakes.
Race With The Devil:
Jack Starrett's 1975 horror/action/thriller hybrid shows the director's roots - 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 - 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 - the Peckinpah ties run deep on this disc!) is acting suspicious, and then there's that red pickup 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 blood lust 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 worshipers, a snake or two and some creepy campers make this one well worth checking out.
Both movies arrive on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Both movies get a nice upgrade in the visuals department here. Detail is considerably improved on both films and colors look noticeably more natural and appear to be better defined as well. Shadow detail gets a nice step up from the DVD releases and the darker scenes look cleaner and clearer - you'll notice this during the ritual scene in Race With The Devil, for example. Lots of visible pours on the faces of various characters and there are visible threads and materials noticeable on the different costumes seen in the movies. Black levels are strong and if there are any compression artifacts evident, they're very minor. There are no obvious problems with edge enhancement or with noise reduction and both movies look quite good here in crisp, sharp and more importantly film like presentations. The gritty, sometimes grainy, seventies look and feel runs through both these movies quite strongly, but most of us wouldn't want it any other way.
It's English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono for each movie, no alternate language options are provided for either film, no subtitles either. The audio upgrade isn't quite as obvious as the video upgrade is, but it's definitely there and you're absolutely going to notice it in both films. The most obvious examples are the car chase scenes in the first movie and the motorcycle scenes in the second one. Any time those engines rev up there's a bit more power, depth and punch to the sound than there ever was on past DVD versions. On top of that, there's noticeably more presence in the dialogue and the scores for the two movies that make up the double feature have a bit more weight behind them. Levels are properly balanced throughout and there are no issues with hiss or distortion. Given the age and mono origins of these two movies, there's nothing to complain about and much to praise - the movies sound quite good on Blu-ray.
Perry Martin moderates an interesting commentary track for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry with director John Hough who spends a great deal of time explaining some of the technical difficulties (or lack thereof) of the stunt driving used throughout the film and who provides a great deal of technical information about the film. Hough, prompted by Martin's questions, discusses his career in general as well as how he became involved with the film, and he also fills us in on some of Peter Fonda's activity from around the same time period. It's a pretty informal commentary but an interesting listen with some interesting trivia and information presented.
Ride The Wild Side is a documentary that takes a look at the making of the film through some interviews with Peter Fonda, Susan George and John Hough. Hough obviously still enjoys the film quite a bit and while he covers some of the same ground that he goes over in the commentary track, it's still interesting to hear him out. Susan George is also fun, recalling her times on set and some of the fun she had in the roll. Sadly, Peter Fonda doesn't have a whole lot to add to this, but hey, he's in there even if he doesn't seem to remember a whole lot of the details.
Rounding out the extra features for the first movie are a theatrical trailer, a couple of radio spots, and two television commercials. The Dodge Charger promo spot that was on the Anchor Bay disc hasn't been ported over and neither have the bios (this was the case with the Shout! Factory DVD release from a while back as well), but other than that, everything else is here except for the still gallery.
For Race With The Devil, 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 for Race are a theatrical trailer for the feature, a TV spot and two radio spots. Once again the still gallery that was on the DVD release has been omitted. Not a big deal, but you've got to mention things like this in a review. Menus and chapter stops are included for both movies as well. The double sided insert cover slips features some cool alternate artwork for each film on the flip side as well as credits for each movie.
The Shout! Factory Blu-ray debut of their Action Packed Double Feature: Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry/Race With The Devil is a good one. While both movies have been given nice DVD treatment before, the audio and video for both movies gets an appreciable upgrade on Blu-ray. There aren't any new extras to speak of but almost everything that was on their previous DVD release has been ported over, and that's a fair bit of material as it is. The movies themselves, obviously the most important aspect of the release, hold up really well. They've stood the test of time as well made drive-in movies, the kind that put entertainment first, but there's some solid technique and fine performances here to enjoy in amongst the action and chaos. Highly recommended.
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.