The first thing you notice is that exclamation point at the end of the word fighting for your attention; you wouldn’t pay attention to the word Crash! (1977) otherwise – or at least for another 20 years when we received not one, but two films with the same title. But our Crash! is very different from both of those; born of the ‘70s, it mixes car crashes and the supernatural at a time when that wasn’t the most unusual prospect. What can one say? The ‘70s loved to cross-pollinate, results be damned.
First there was Duel (1971); then came Killdozer (1974); after that Fonda & Oates hit the open road in an RV to fight off Satanists in Race with the Devil (1975); and shortly after Crash! was released, we got The Car (1977). Most of these involved the devil, but all of them were concerned with vehicular damage. While some will scoff and say that Crash! doesn’t deserve to be spoken in the same breath as most of the above, I say we aren’t talking about the noblest of sub-genres here. Crash! is drive-in fun, nothing more and nothing less.
Released by Group 1 International Distribution in January, Crash! (aka Death Ride) was pure drive-in fodder perfect for second billing below something more reputable, like The Great Texas Dynamite Chase. This was Charles Band’s second feature that he considered his first because he dismisses Last Foxtrot in Burbank (1973), a spoof of Last Tango in Paris edited by no less than John Carpenter. (I think I need to see this one.) We’ll dive into Band’s work here a little later, but for now, a story:
Kim Denne (Sue Lyon – Lolita) is hitting the flea markets and finds a tchotchke perfect for her anthropologist husband, Marc (Jose Ferrer – The Swarm) – a small figurine of a funky looking…god, perhaps? She takes it home but Marc isn’t impressed; he hasn’t been since a car accident left him partially paralyzed and clinging to an insinuation that Kim cheated on him. She takes the gift back and puts it on her car key chain. As she drives away, a Doberman jumps in, she loses control, and ends up in the ditch. Battered, she walks to the highway and is brought to the hospital.
Kim is found to have amnesia, and as she lies in bed she refuses to let go of her car keys; or more accurately, her charm – which soon manifests itself through glowing red eyes and a capacity for telekinesis. But once those car keys hit the ignition, all bets are off – when the convertible hits the highway by itself and terrorizes (Needham style) the community. Will Kim remember who she is? Was Marc responsible for her accident? Can this ancient demon drive a stick shift if necessary?
Crash! feels like an “almost” film; but then again, so do most of the films Band has directed in his varied career, while also being the man behind Media Home Entertainment and Wizard Video, and then running the Empire and Full Moon studios. His motto, which I believe starts here, is “padding is your friend”, and that’s with most of his films coming in at 75 minutes or so; and while Crash! skirts 85 minutes, it does it with the help of several crashes and whole scenes reshown (or shown out of sequence, or both).
The funny thing is though, compared to some future endeavors of Mr. Band, Crash! feels like an actual movie as opposed to a concept or IP (puppets and bongs and such) thrown around and forced to crawl across the feature length finish line. This isn’t a slight against some of his work, by the way; like any film, it’s about execution and sometimes he pulls it off in an entertaining way, as he does here.
While this isn’t a novel storyline, certain elements stand out that give it a grounded approach; the relationship between Kim and Marc is poison, and the film takes measures to show that in throwaway exchanges between the two that amplify the marital discord and elevate the material somewhat (somewhat; it’s still a killer car/possessed person picture in the end). Not necessarily deep, but deeper than expected.
But if you dig this particular corner of ‘70s Cursed Car Culture, Crash! has you covered; there are a lot of dust ups and heaving, crunching metal, at least enough to get you through to the next film on the roster. And the bonus is you get to watch them unfold more than once.
Lyon is quite good, whether under literal wraps or dealing with her toxic husband (not to mention she looks bitchin’ in red contacts to boot); but Ferrer steps up in this one, going beyond his normal Helicopter Cameo to create a bitter monster who’s way worse than the vehicular villain.
Crash! isn’t for everyone; hell it may not be for many. But if you like grinding cars, cool stunts, gratuitous slo-mo, bloodshot eyes, and fake dogs being pounded by wheelchairs, then you’ve come to the right drive-in. Grab your speaker.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: EFFECTS (1980)