A film-loving friend suggested trying to imagine the definitive 70’s movie; The Great Smokey Mountain Carquake and Orangutan In a Trans-am were the (fictional) winning entries. Race with the Devil would do just as well; Jack Starrett’s 1975 horror-action hybrid attempts to capture the mid-70’s angst by fusing demonology with hard driving; the late Peter Fonda was the ideal centre for this film. Roger Marsh (Fonda) and his pal Frank (Warren Oates) grab their girls (Loretta Swit and Lara Parker) and head into the desert with their RV and motorbikes, only to come across Satanists; the result is, quite literally, a race with the devil. There’s a few staples of 70’s cinema here, from distrust of authorities to a downbeat ending, but there’s also a sense of fun; if you mash up Deliverance, Easy Rider and The Exorcist, this is exactly what you get.
(This review renosed and updated after the death of Peter Fonda in August 2019). On the back of his Easy Rider success, Hollywood didn’t know what to do with Peter Fonda, and he was shoe-horned into a number of vehicles in the hope of capturing a youth audience. Some of them, notably Race With The Devil, are great fun, and probably the best of Fonda’s work in this period is Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. Finding a sweet spot between the road-hippie odyssey of Easy Rider and the sunny automotive destruction of Smokey and the Bandit, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry cast Peter Fonda and Susan George as the titular ex-NASCAR driver and his girl as they evade the attentions of a corrupt sheriff and somehow strike a blow for all-American freedom by causing pile-ups and car smashes. The final helicopter chase is a high-water-mark of stunt-work, well handled by John Hough, and the ending is a absolute one-off that sticks in your mind forever. Simultaneously sociopathic and patriotic, it’s an anti-establishment drama without the politics, and shows Fonda’s free-wheeling charisma and anti-hero styling at its best.
Although the much discussed remake of Westworld has travelled a much more high-brow road, the original has a special place in pop culture, notably taking Yul Brynner’s cowboy from The Magnificent Seven and repositioning him as a terminator-style robot, bent on hunting down two tourists (Richard Benjamin and James Brolin) in the futuristic Delos theme park. This sequel expands the Delos universe to reveal a plot for taking over the world with strategically placed robots, with Peter Fonda as the journalist uncovering the conspiracy. Blythe Danner provides colourful support, and there’s a surreal dream sequence in which she imagines herself romantically stalked by Brynner’s robot. Futureworld is a sloppier proposition than the original film, but certainly has its moment of surreal charm, not least for the early CGI, quite literally in the form of the hand of Pixar exec Ed Catmull.