Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Collection Project: Firewall

[Massive spoilers follow]

What I’d planned to do today was write up my thoughts on Ang Lee and James Schamus’s sprawling, complex Civil War epic Ride with the Devil, but then I saw those words “sprawling” and “complex”, and I was like “I don’t know about that!” Seriously, who needs that on a Wednesday?
Thankfully, over on “The Facebooks”, I brought up the Lee film, and through a series of merry mishaps it was confused by one of my friends, who shall remain anonymous, with Jack Starret's Race with the Devil, the Satanic biker/road/chase movie, starring Lara Parker, Loretta Swit, Peter Fonda, and, far more importantly, Warren Oates. I have to admit that I have a pretty strong fondness for this film – I like its straightforward B-movie ambitions, its reasonably unique blending of the horror and chase genres, as well as the fact that the film is set (possibly for budgetary reasons) in the country, but not in the Deliverance type of country often favored by Hollywood, but rather the more common kind that has libraries and schools. So our heroes, a group of middle-aged, swingin’ 70s types on a long road trip in their motor home, should feel plenty at home in the decidedly non-alien environs where they often find themselves, but, after witnessing a Satanic human sacrifice, they’re not at home, or safe, anywhere.
It’s a fun movie. Warren Oates is in it, you know, so let’s not forget that, and it has a nice pace, and, at least occasionally, a pretty strong sense of dread and despair. I like movies where people find themselves being relentlessly assaulted, their lives constantly at risk, because they turned their heads the wrong way, and saw something they never would have chosen to see. If handled properly, this basic idea – that in the wink of an eye, someone or something might decide to kill you, and might stop at nothing to do so, and you can be as blameless as an infant, but it won’t matter and ounce – can carry you over any number of missteps. It’s a powerful idea.
One misstep that this well-executed idea will not carry you over, however, is a shit ending, and Race with the Devil unfortunately has one. Oates and Co. have just come out the other side of an intense road battle with the rolling coven of Satanists, and they’ve done so relatively unscathed. Everyone is giddy with relief. But then one thing leads to another, and with the typical tacked-on grimness common to the genre and the era, the film ends with the motor home pulling to a stop in a grassy field, only to suddenly be surrounded by a not-very-high rectangle of flames. Everyone panics, and we see yet more Satanists marching implacably towards them. And, it is implied, a slaughter of our heroes will ensue.
Okay, so, two questions: 1) How in the heck did the Satanists know exactly where Oates and Co. would park their motor home? They had to set up their Rectangle of Fire booby trap before hand, and the success of that plan would be dependent on knowing where, in an unmarked field of grass, they were going to park.
2) Why the fuck can’t they just drive the motor home through the flames? Do they think fire is made out of metal? Because it’s not. Maybe in the 1970s they thought that’s what fire was made out of. People used to be stupid, after all. It’s like in Moby-Dick, when Herman Melville keeps insisting that whales are fish, not mammals. I guess I just thought Peter Fonda was a little bit smarter than Herman Melville.


Tony Dayoub said...

Remember, RACE WITH THE DEVIL was released in 1975, just a few years before allegations surfaced that the Ford Pinto would pretty much blow up if you just tapped it from behind.

Not to mention, this was the height of the decade which saw TV action shows where car chases took place in the canyons off the Hollywood Hills inevitably leading to spectacular finales where said cars would fly off the edge of the road and explode in a fiery ball of flame.

So I think our heroes were perfectly in their right to fear driving their highly combustible 70s-era trailer through the circle of flames.

bill r. said...

Now that you mention it, I'm pretty sure a car blows up just like that in this film. Doesn't a car, or truck, get sideswiped off a bridge, and just as it touches air the thing goes up like flash paper? So having witnessed that, yeah, I guess our heroes might have been less than confident in their motorhome's sturdiness as it pertained to sudden explosivity.

Excellent points, Tony!

Adam Ross said...

Both of your questions have the same answer: THEY'RE SATANISTS!

Haven't you ever heard the saying "fire is the devil's only friend"? And I'm willing to bet that wasn't just fire, but Hellfire -- which has a more orangish tint to it, and is capable of stopping vehicles, changing shapes, and incinerating little pigs inside their seemingly safe brick houses.

bill r. said...

Adam, Tony made great points, but I'm afraid you, sir, have not. If they had black magic fire at their disposal, why didn't they use it as soon as they knew their sacrifice had been witnessed??? WHY!?

Also, are you saying that the Big Bad Wolf was Satan, or, at least, a Satanist? Because I question your theory. I question it most resoundingly.

Kelly said...

Bill, we all know that in order to conjure up Hell fire from the Devil, the object you wish to engulf MUST be sitting still! Read your Necromicon for gosh sakes!

bill r. said...

First of all, Kelly, my copy of the Necronomicon got drenched in blood during a spell-casting mishap. Second, okay, let's say you're right: you still haven't explained HOW the Satanists knew where they'd stop!

Game, check, and mate, my friend!

Greg said...

Wait a minute, fire's not made out of metal?

Robert H. said...

Dude, it's SATAN. If he can get what appears to be an entire COUNTY of Texas behind him, then getting his followers to torch an RV in the middle of nowhere AND keep it and everyone inside immobile is a cinch...

Satan in Texas. Explains a lot, when you think on it some.

Kelly said...

All I can say Bill is you better keep moving. Me and Satan have got a deal...