(first posted 10/31/2015) Halloween is upon us, and soon the neighbor kids in my building will be knocking on doors for treats – wearing all sorts of costumes that are cool, gory, or just plain weird. Part of me enjoys watching today’s kids partake in the annual candy-fest that my ultra-conservative parents forbade in our household when my brothers and I were growing up. I was already in the seventh grade the first time I was allowed to go trick-or-treating with my middle school friends, with my mom finally then realizing (at around my current age) that letting her sons knock on doors and ask for candy once a year wasn’t going to lead us to life behind bars or participation in the occult. It’s also possible that perhaps Mom was just trying to avoid dentist bills. Realistically, it was probably a combination of all of those things, but let’s move forward.
It was around this time of my life that I finally started watching scary movies, including Elliott Silverstein’s “The Car” from 1977 – by then a ten-year-old film. I had wanted to watch this flick after reading an article in the National Enquirer that had stated “The Car” had come back to life and had started killing people again. Rotten Tomatoes may have skewered it, but this movie effectively destroyed my sleep for months after I first watched it on VHS. It truly terrified me, with my fear amplified by my bedroom’s placement on the lower half-level of our house, facing the street, directly in front of our driveway. The movie’s original trailer is below, Rated PG:
I remember staying at my grandparents’ farm in rural, northwest Ohio for the first time after having watched this movie. The crunching sound of car wheels on their gravel driveway would immediately freak me out. And then there was the roar and rumble of semis and their trailers roaring past their house on Ohio State Route 281, in the middle of the night. “NnnnnNNNYOOOOONNNNnnnnn…” Any random, black Lincoln Continental sedan from the 70’s was immediately suspect. Today’s flood of memories got me thinking…what is it about a car that makes it appear sinister?
Let’s look at the titular ’74 Caprice Classic ragtop. Something seems innately unwholesome about a once-expensive, high-end cruiser that has been allowed to deteriorate to this condition over time. It literally looks haunted. Ever notice how haunted houses in movies are just broken enough, but also look amazingly structurally sound for their cosmetic deficiencies? Sure they creak, and doors and windows rattle, but porches usually aren’t falling over and the roof is usually still there. Similar to that kind of abandoned house on the silver screen, this Caprice didn’t appear to have any major structural issues (on the surface, anyway) – just the rot and decay of its sheetmetal skin and the smell of rolling, impending automotive death (motor oil, gas, decomposing vinyl). It also had its demented, Cheshire Cat grin of a front grille reflecting glints of light in the darkness of the street.
Has there ever been a movie with a beautifully-styled car in great condition that was successfully cast as a villain? Let’s immediately take “Christine” out of the picture. By the time Arnie Cunningham was done restoring that red, ’58 Plymouth Belvedere, it looked like something I would have loved to own and drive. I think the early “Forward Look” Chryslers look amazing, and it’s a shame about the quality. I was also so furious by the wanton destruction of so many classic cars in that movie that I was unable to completely suspend my disbelief and fully enjoy the story.
As for this Caprice, my search for the truth is officially over. This is what happened to Baby Jane.
The ’74 Chevrolet Caprice Classic was photographed by the author in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, in November 2010 and March 2011.