Chase scenes. No movie seems complete without them, especially if you’re a hardcore car fanatic. The streaking green Ford Mustang and hulking black Dodge Charger in the 1968 Warner Brothers’ film Bullitt quickly became the benchmark for all other movie and TV car chases to follow, and remains so to this day. However, for every Bullitt and Seven-Ups, there are plenty of other celluloid chases that are just as thrilling, but not as well remembered. This blog entry pays tribute to these forgotten and semi-forgotten tire-burning gems of cinema.
The 1979 CBS-TV film Death Car On The Freeway stars the gorgeous Shelley Hack (of Charlie’s Angles fame) as an ambitious young television news reporter chasing the story of her career – a murderous psychopath dubbed The Freeway Fiddler. The Fiddler spends his days prowling L.A.’s freeways in his souped up, tricked out Dodge Van, targeting lone female drivers that he then chases down and runs off the road, usually with fatal results. He gets his name from the crazed, frantic fiddle music heard blaring from his speakers every time he goes on the attack. She eventually tracks down a guy who she suspects might be the Fiddler, a disfigured loner with a love of custom vans and bluegrass fiddle music. During their tense and awkward meeting, the man is consumed with guilt and practically confesses. Once he’s caught, with both the cops and the media hot on his trail, and with nothing left to lose, he tries to make Hack his last victim. This leads to a climactic final showdown with an all-too-predictable ending.
I’m pretty sure that this movie, along with the huge proliferation of serial killers during this decade, did nothing to improve the public’s image of the lowly cargo van. If you can look past the misogynistic violence, this flick can be high-octane, low-budget fun for the average gearhead. Dig Shelley’s Datsun and all the other prime vintage iron in the background. Groovy, dude.
In the 1974 film McQ, one of John Wayne’s final roles, The Duke plays a hardboiled police detective who quits the force and becomes a private eye to track down whoever murdered his partner. McQ soon discovers that his late partner was crooked, and in business with some really nasty drug dealers. When he finds his dead partner’s stash, the dealers will do anything to get it back, leading up to this climactic scene with vintage Detroit heavy metal being mercilessly flogged on a Pacific Northwest beach.
One aspect of this scene constituted a first in modern film. A hidden air cannon, buried beneath the sand and launching a large projectile, was used to flip over the bad guys’ Impala, rather than a traditional ramp. Unfortunately, it worked a little too well. One of the stunt drivers was seriously injured and spent months recovering.
In the action flick Fire Down Below, Steven Seagal plays a government inspector who rallies a small, idyllic mountain town to stand up to the evil corporation attempting to buy the townspeople off while poisoning their community with toxic waste. Seagal has some nasty run-ins with both the local constablery and the corporation’s boss. He also romances a local girl and earns the wrath of her mentally deranged, money-hungry, incestuous brother. All of this culminates in a botched attempt on Seagal’s character’s life.
The sight of that Advance Design Chevy and that old Mack DM both being totally destroyed made me rather queasy 🙁 . Even so, it’s a decent scene- even if it is a shameless ripoff of Duel.
The 1986 film Quicksilver stars a young Kevin Bacon as a New York stock trader who loses his job after a disastrously bad investment decision, and ends up being a bike messenger on New York’s mean streets. Bacon soon locks horns with “Gypsy”, a neighborhood thug who threatens and intimidates the couriers to move his illegal merchandise. When Gypsy kills one of Bacon’s bike messenger friends, and brutalizes the girl that Bacon’s character has fallen in love with, it’s war.
This scene is tailor-made for our fearless leader Paul Niedermeyer. When Paul sees what kind of car Gypsy is driving, and what happens to it, I know it’ll make his day. This one’s for you, Paul 🙂 .
A bit of trivia. Although this story takes place in New York, most of the footage was shot in San Francisco. The painting is a local artist’s rendition of the then-incomplete 105 Freeway that runs east-west from Paramount, Ca. to El Segundo, Ca. I know that freeway very well. It’s a 10-minute drive from my apartment, and I drive on it almost every day, whether for work or play.
In the low-budget film Speedtrap, Joe Don Baker plays a maverick detective helping the local police track down a mysterious and elusive car thief known as “The Road Runner”. As one might expect, there are numerous chases, but my personal favorite this one, pitting Joe’s malaise-era Charger against some punk kid in a stolen Eldorado. For some odd reason, I like the Eldo better.
Another chase, with Joe in a “borrowed” C3 Corvette, chasing a stolen Mercedes W109 .
The mechanical carnage here will make both Moparites and GMphiles weep.
Abigail, Wanted, also titled Stingray, is a 1978 low-budget charmer that tells the story of a Corvette, two hapless young men, a large stash of money and drugs, and a ruthless woman. A young man, with his best friend in tow, buys his dream car- a red Corvette convertible. Unbeknownst to them, the ‘Vette contains a quarter of a million dollars and several ounces of heroin, stashed there the night before by a gang of low-rent drug dealers as they flee the scene of a murder they just committed. When Abigail, a cold-blooded career criminal and the gang’s bloodthirsty and foul-tempered leader discovers what’s happened, her and her dim-witted henchmen tear the town apart to get their cash and dope back, leaving the two young, innocent guys and the girl they pick up no choice but to run. And run. And run. Until Abigail and her goons finally turn on each other.
Abigail is one tough chick. And she’s fine as hell. Unfortunately, she’s also a very nasty woman, if not downright psychotic.
Watching that poor Chevelle helplessly pitch and wallow around the slightest turns shows just how far suspension and tire technology has come in the past 40 years.
I hope you enjoyed this. There’s more to come in a future installment. Stay tuned!