Author Archives: cmsaunders

About cmsaunders

I write stuff. Pretty much any stuff. My dark fiction has appeared in Asphalt Jungle, Raw Nerve, Roadworks, Dark Valentine, Screams of Terror, Shallow Graves, Fantastic Horror, The Literary Hatchet, Gore and numerous anthologies. My first book, Into the Dragon's Lair – A Supernatural History of Wales was published back in 2003, and I've worked extensively in the freelance journalism industry, contributing features to numerous international publications including Fortean Times, Bizarre, Urban Ink, Loaded, Record Collector, Maxim, and a regular column to the Western Mail newspaper. I lived in China for over five years where I taught English during my search for enlightenment, before moving back to the UK in January 2013 to work as staff writer on Nuts magazine. Later, I was senior writer on Forever Sports magazine and associate editor at Coach magazine, before leaving to chance my arm in the world of pro freelance. In recent times I've devoted more time to dark fiction, my latest offerings being Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut), Human Waste and X3, my third collection. I also edit, copy write, proofread and ghost write and drink far too much craft beer.

RetView #22 – The Descent (2005)

Title: The Descent

Year of Release: 2005

Director: Neil Marshall

Length: 100 mins

Starring: Shauna MacDonald, Alex Reid, Natalie Mendoza, Saskia Mulder

SAW_1Sheet_Comps

Following the runaway success of Dog Soldiers, British director Neil Marshall was inundated with offers to make films in a similar vein. Anxious not to be typecast, he was initially reluctant but finally agreed to make The Descent because the two projects were, “Very different.” He did, however, insist on making drastic changes to the script to make them even more different. The film was originally to feature a mixed cast, but realizing how common that is, Marshall opted on an all-female cast instead. The decision proved to be a masterstroke, winning the film plaudits and instantly setting it apart from many of its contemporaries. Discussing the film after its release, Marshall says, “We wanted to show all these terrible things in the cave: dark, drowning, claustrophobia. Then, when it couldn’t get any worse, make it worse.”

In a bid to overcome a recent tragedy in which her husband and young daughter are killed, Sarah (MacDonald) meets a group of friends. They decide to go caving together in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Not my idea of a fun time, but ya know. No sooner are they underground, then a cave-in traps them there. Then it transpires that the cave system is unmapped, and that one of their number, Juno (Mendoza) had led them there deliberately so they could become the first people to explore it. This means rescue is impossible, and they are going to have to find their own way out. Whilst seeking a way out they make several discoveries that would indicate that all might not be as it seems, among them cave paintings, a mass of animal bones, and some old climbing equipment. So far, so weird. Things then take a turn for the gross when one of the girls takes a tumble and breaks her leg. I don’t know why open compound fractures (where the bone sticks out of the shattered limb) are so common in movies, but they are and the rest of us have to stomach them. While the rest of the girls are debating how to get themselves out of this mess, Sarah spies a pale, humanoid creature drinking from a subterranean pond. This, my friends, is our first glimpse of a ‘Crawler.’ Hideously deformed, carnivorous, cave-dwelling creatures who were once people, we are led to believe, but have been underground for so long they have mutated and evolved differently to the rest of us. Blind, they have enhanced senses of hearing and smell to compensate. They’re sprightly little fuckers, too. A bit like a cross between the inbreds in the Wrong Turn series and mini-golems. They aren’t very friendly, either, and soon attack our little group of transgressors. Suffice to say, it doesn’t go well for the girls. Juno accidentally stabs Beth (Reid) in the neck and leaves her to die, before later running into Sarah and lying about the whole thing. It is also revealed that Juno had an affair with Sarah’s husband before his death. After a confrontation, Sarah leaves her nemesis at the mercy of the Crawlers and makes good her escape, finding a way out of the cave and back to civilization. Except, in a brilliant twist ending, her ‘escape’ as actually a hallucination, and when she wakes up she’s in just as much trouble as her friends. More, in fact.

Whilst it is set in North America, The Descent was actually made in the UK. The exterior shots were filmed in Scotland, and the interior at Pinewood Studios, as it was deemed too expensive, problematic and risky to film in a real cave system. I don’t know what this says about different audiences, but it is interesting to note here that the US version ends with Sarah’s escape, leaving out the part where she wakes up still strapped in the caves. It was suggested in Entertainment Weekly magazine that this was done because after such an emotionally draining cinematic experience, American audiences wouldn’t appreciate the ‘uber hopeless’ finale. Evidently, however, British audiences prefer their endings to be uber hopeless. The more hopeless and depressing the better. Something else about this film that fucks with your head a little is the depiction of the Crawlers, who count females and vulnerable-yet-still-nasty children amongst their number which obviously means they’ve been multiplying down there. The Descent was followed in 2009 by a sequel, again staring Shauna MacDonald. However, despite having a much bigger budget, this was a comparative failure and struggled to break even.

Trivia Corner

The film’s marketing campaign in the UK was disrupted by the London bombings of July 2005. Advertisements on the city’s public transport system had included posters carrying the quote, “Outright terror… bold and brilliant,” and depicting a terrified woman screaming in a tunnel. The posters were recalled, and the campaign reworked to exclude the word “terror” from advertised reviews of the movie. The distributor’s marketing chief, Anna Butler, said of the new approach, “We changed tack to concentrate on the women involved all standing together and fighting back. That seemed to chime with the prevailing mood of defiance that set in the weekend after the bombs.”

 

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Flame Wars!

I’ve had a few interesting experiences recently. My life is full of interesting experiences. I seem to attract them. But these particular interesting experiences involved social media.  What a strange world we’ve created. Sometimes, it’s a free-for-all. Other times, it’s worse. I’m talking about flame wars, people!

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A couple of weeks ago, a guy sent me a friend request on Facebook, closely followed by a copy-and-pasted ‘Please fund my Kickstarter’ message. He was trying to raise funds to make a horror movie. I replied, saying I’d be happy to support him, if he supported me in return. If he would be so kind as to buy one of my books, I would gladly make a comparable donation to his Kickstarter scheme. Seems like a fair deal, right?

You know what he did? He blocked me.

Rude!

Even Kickstarter guy couldn’t match another dude I ran into recently for pure assholery. This guy added me out of the blue claiming to be a ‘Hollywood Celebrity.’ It was actually in his Facebook bio. I messaged him, out of genuine interest, and asked how he won this celebrity status. In all fairness, he took time out of his busy superstar schedule to respond with a chirpy, ‘Hard work, motherfucker!’

I replied with, ‘What work is that?’ Quite reasonable, I thought. I wanted to get to know my new celebrity friend. Yup, that sucker blocked me, too.

I HATE it when people block me. I rarely feel strongly enough to block others. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a universal rule. Some blockings are completely justified. Like the fake profiles fronted up by stolen pics of babes in bikinis that just want to spam your page with ads for sunglasses, or the ridiculously attractive Filipino girls who want you to send them money for a new phone. You can also add angry exes, terrorists, asylum seekers, and assorted gold diggers and career criminals to that list. But the truth is, it’s rarely so dramatic. Most blockings result from trivial online disagreements.

For example, you might be involved in one of those ridiculous group chats at two in the morning discussing the merits (or not) of Metallica’s latest album, when someone disagrees with something you say and instantly hits the block button. That really gets my goat. It’s the equivalent of farting and leaving the room. What would happen if we all just blocked everyone who had a different opinion to us? Our narrow online world would soon be populated by a bunch of people who all think the same way we do. It world would become one big echo chamber. And how boring would that be?

It’s a sad indictment of the human condition that most people just want their ego stroked. In short, they want validation.

What they DON’T want is to be challenged. Some do, obviously. That’s why they actively seek out controversial topics and discussions and say stupid shit. But the vast majority just want people to agree with them. Say how right they are, and how wrong everyone else is.

Well, here’s an idea. How about us, as a race, manning the fuck up? If someone doesn’t agree with you, stand and fight your ground, put your ideas and opinion across in a calm, rational manner. Help the other person see things the way you do. Don’t just go crying off like a little gutless princess. That’s weak.

Some people jealously guard their Facebook page, as if anyone actually cares what they say on it. They keep their ‘friends’ to a minimum and have rules like, ‘If I don’t know you in real life, I don’t want to know you on FB.’

That’s understandable. But it’s not how I roll. My Facebook page is a free-for-all. An open window into my life. Being a struggling indie writer (we’re all struggling) I need the exposure, so the more ‘friends’ I have and the more interaction I can promote, the better. It’s an integral part of my platform. I also move around a lot. I’ve lived in eight cities in three countries over the past decade or so. Facebook makes it easy to stay in touch with people who would otherwise disappear from my life. So yeah, my Facebook page is utter carnage sometimes.

One of my pet hates is people coming on to one of my social media profiles and telling me off. My pages are my domain. You may as well run in my house and yell at me. Not cool. The Brexit debacle of 2016, closely followed by the American election, prompted a whole new level of Internet assholery. One acquaintance wrote ‘Get a better brain, get better friends,’ on my wall then promptly unfriended me. I messaged him to ask what his problem was, and apparently my crime was ‘liking’ something he didn’t like. I shit you not. This is how petty things were.

In the resultant fallout from Brexit, I was called things I’d never been called before, including right wing thug, fascist, and Nazi sympathiser. All those came from the same guy.

His issue stemmed from the fact that at the time I had a red dragon as my cover picture on my Facebook page, because Wales were doing well at the Euros (it’s a football tournament). Some people decided that because I had a dragon on my page, the national symbol of Wales, I must be a racist. What’s gone so wrong with society that people confuse national pride with racism?

When you take these accusers to task, they invariably try to show their superior intellect by nit-picking. In one conversation I misplaced an apostrophe. In another, I used the common abbreviation ‘U’ instead of ‘you’ because I couldn’t be bothered typing three letters when one would do. Both were jumped upon with great delight, as if that was the only thing that could justify their argument. MISPLACED APOSTROPHE? HA! YOU MUST BE A THICK XENOPHOBIC RACIST!!

Not really, mate.

Block.

The saddest and most ironic thing of all was that these ‘Remainers’ who supposedly pride themselves on a liberal attitude and racial tolerance made a snap judgement based on a picture. That isn’t very tolerant, is it? They believed what they WANTED to believe. They wanted to assume the moral high ground and label me a ‘Leaver’ and, by extension, right-wing, fascist, Nazi-sympathising scum. The truth is, I didn’t even vote to leave. Okay, I didn’t vote to remain, either. I was one of the apathetic 27.3% who couldn’t be arsed to vote at all. Far from being neutral, it turned out to be the only position guaranteed to piss almost everyone else off, except other people who by then had run out of all their fucks.

More recently, I made a tongue-in-cheek comment on a friend’s status, about him posting too many statuses, and one of his friends told me to go and kill myself.

Harsh.

And another block. I don’t need that level of hostility.

So what’s the takeaway from all this? Use social networks as tools, not weapons, and don’t be dicks about it.

This post first appeared on Deviant Dolls


Revenge of the Toothfish!

My short story, Revenge of the Toothfish, appears in the anthology Trigger Warning: Body Horror, out now on Madness Heart Press, the place where Southern hospitality meets shredding insanity.

Here’s a peak at the cover:

Body Horror Front Cover

Revenge of the Toothfish is probably the most bizarre title I have ever bestowed on anything in my entire life. The idea for the story came from a documentary I saw a couple of years ago about toothfish, which is an actual species, by the way. Though you probably know them by their other, more consumer-friendly name, sea bass. I started thinking how much it must suck to be a fish, swimming merrily along trying to find some lunch, blissfully unaware that all the while a bunch of humans are trying their level best to bury a metal hook in your gullet, yank you out of your natural habitat, chop you up and sell you. I started thinking how great it would be if one of these persecuted fish could somehow get some payback.

Trigger Warning is an annual collection of stories geared toward making readers uncomfortable, which I hope I achieve with Revenge of the Toothfish. Just the word ‘toothfish’ for some reason makes me feel icky. The story itself is a good old-fashioned body horror tale, with a healthy dose of surrealism and bizarro. It’s probably one of the weirdest things I have written, but also one of the most enjoyable. I had fun with this one, and I hope you do, too.

Trigger Warning: Body Horror is out now.


#RetView 21 – The Fog (1980)

Title: The Fog

Year of Release: 1980

Director: John Carpenter

Length: 89 minutes

Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh

The Fog

Along with The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, this is one of the films that shaped (or warped) my formative years. Following the success of Halloween two years earlier, John Carpenter was considered hot shit in Hollywood and virtually given free license to do what he wanted on the Fog, albeit on a pretty modest budget. He didn’t disappoint. Being sandwiched between Halloween and Escape from New York, the Fog is often overlooked, but remains one of the jewels in Carpenter’s crown.

As the Californian coastal town of Antonio Bay nears its hundredth anniversary, paranormal activity mysteriously begins to rocket. When a huge chunk of masonry falls out of a wall in his church, town priest Father Malone (Holbrook) finds his grandfather’s journal hidden in the alcove. When he reads it, he uncovers a terrible secret. The original townsfolk, led by Malone’s grandfather, deliberately sank a clipper ship, the Elizabeth Dane, and plundered it for gold, which was then used to establish the town and build the church. Cut to the present day, and a fishing boat is out at sea when it is engulfed by a mysterious glowing fog. You guessed it, there’s something in there. Specifically, it’s the Elizabeth Dane, and her very angry (and very dead) crew.

The heart and soul of San Antonio is the local radio station, seemingly managed by Stevie Wayne (Barbeau) all on her lonesome. The radio station is set up in an old lighthouse, meaning Stevie is in pole position to see the glowing fog, which suspiciously moves against the wind, approach the town. Weatherman Dan helpfully calls to tell her about it, but unfortunately, Weatherman Dan could make a strong case for being the stupidest man in the world and is dead moments later. Instead of just calling it a night and going home, Stevie then takes to the airwaves to implore any passing strangers to go to her house, address provided, to save her son who is stuck there with the soon-to-be-dead babysitter. A short time later, she apparently gives up on him altogether and shifts her attention to saving the villagers instead who have gathered for a Centenary celebration. In an apparent attempt to help the crew of the Elizabeth Dane find them quicker, she tells them all to gather in the church where an epic showdown takes place.

As well as writing, directing, and even pulling off a brief cameo role, John Carpenter also composed the musical score. I didn’t notice the significance until I sat down and actually listened to it. It consists of the usual deep, ominous, brooding tones, which are then mimicked by lighter tones. Same chords, different tones. When I thought about it, that effect conjured up the notion of being stalked or followed, which I imagine to be an effective tool to use on the subconscious whether intentional or otherwise. The music is instrumental (boom!) in making the Fog such an atmospheric, satisfying, well-made chiller. The plot is ultimately a tad predictable, but there’s just enough gore and jump scares to keep things interesting.

The fate of the Elizabeth Dane is said to be based on that of an actual wrecking which took place off the coast of California near the town of Goleta in the 19th century. This particular kind of skulduggery appears to have been mercifully rare in America. However, it was a lot more prevalent in Britain.

John Carpenter also claimed to be partly inspired by a visit to Stonehenge with his co-writer/producer (and then-girlfriend), Debra Hill while in England promoting Assault on Precinct 13 in 1977. They visited the site in the late afternoon, and saw an eerie fog in the distance. Though carpenter and Hill worked together on The Fog, Halloween and several other projects, by the time the Fog came to be filmed Carpenter was married to Adrienne Barbeau. Unusually, both Carpenter and Hill were involved in the 2005 remake starring Selma Blair and Tom Welling, which managed to stay more-or-less faithful to the original.

Trivia Corner

Worried the film might flop, the distribution company, AVCO Embassy Pictures, spent around $3 million on advertising and promotion, mostly on TV, radio and print ads. They also spent a considerable amount installing fog machines in the lobbies of cinemas where the film was showing. That was almost three times the amount the film cost to make. However, the gamble paid off as it generated over $21 million at the Box Office.


The Amazon Prime Horror Binge

I was never going to pay for Amazon Prime. But then I accidentally signed up for a month’s free trial so I didn’t have to. First on the agenda was, obviously, ordering lots of crap which had been in or around my shopping basket for ages to take advantage of the free next-day postage. Then, being a huge horror movie nut, it was over to Amazon Prime Video to see what was what.

Hide and Go Kill (2008, 72 mins)

Hide and Go Kill

Stumbling across this was a pleasant surprise, and something of a coincidence because I’d just finished writing a story based on the same weird Internet ritual, hitori kakurenbo, which roughly translates as ‘hide and seek alone.’ Search for it if you want the grisly details. If you’re a fan of J-Horror as I am, you’ll know that all the most twisted shit starts in Japanese classrooms, and this is no different. Here, there’s a girl remembering her absent friend who, after being jilted by her lover and bullied at school, becomes obsessed with a mysterious blog about the aforementioned Internet ritual. Word of the blog spreads, and soon the horror takes hold. The film is an anthology of sorts, each segment following a different person’s experience with said blog. True, it’s a somewhat familiar template and in places is slightly derivative of certain other J-Horror staples, but it’s still worthy of your time.

7/10

Countrycide (2017, 69 mins)

OK, I wasn’t expecting much from this. Especially after reading some scathing reviews online. However, nothing could have prepared me for just how bad this no-budget affair would be. It starts with a torture porn scenario lifted straight out of a dodgy exploitation flick as we see a woman running (or trying to run) through the woods sporting a nasty bear trap injury to her leg. The film then flashes back two days and we discover she was on her way to a wedding with her new boyfriend when they decided to stop off and camp for a night. And that’s where it all goes pear-shaped. Hallucinations, rampaging rednecks, local wildlife, and the afore-mentioned bear trap all conspire to piss on their parade before it properly gets started. If any of that is appealing to you, don’t be fooled. Nothing about this film is appealing. Not least the fact that it appears to have been filmed on someone’s iPhone. Total crap. The only reason it’s getting two points is because someone went to the effort of making it, and hard work should always be rewarded.

2/10

Death Valley (2015, 94 mins)

A few criticisms here right off the bat. Firstly, there have been at least three other films with the same title. Some imagination would have been nice. Also, the description on IMDB and Amazon Prime is just plain wrong. Four strangers aren’t on a ‘drunken wedding dash’ at all. Four strangers are going to a music festival. Sigh. Anyway, when said strangers’ car breaks down they blag a lift with some more strangers in an RV who think it would be a good idea to take the RV off-road and into the desert. Now I’m not an expert, but I do know that most vehicles like to be on roads. Obviously, the RV comes a cropper and then they all take peyote and party on down in the middle of nowhere. I mean, the desert must be a dangerous enough place as it is without compounding things by being stupid as fuck. Within minutes one of them drops dead of an overdose, another one gets bitten by a snake, and the rest are hopelessly lost. And that’s about it. From there, everything just fizzles out. A lame plot is salvaged only by some breathtaking cinematography and generally high production values.

5/10

Our Last Weekend (2011, 82 mins)

Four minutes in and I have no idea what’s going on. There are two people arguing, a threesome, and someone’s making a salad. Despite what you may think, the most entertaining of these three threads is the argument. It’s a Spanish language film, and Amazon’s subtitling skills are woefully exposed (“I’ll break your teeth and pull your eyes off!”). Google translate would do a better job. Twelve minutes in, there’s someone peeing in the woods, someone else has been caught cheating, and we’re all off to a villa for a party. Things are looking up. It’s freezing, though. Not even sunny. Everyone’s walking around in shorts and bikinis trying to pretend otherwise, but it’s obviously the middle of winter. Probably cheaper to film in the off-season. Back to the plot, and despite the hedonistic atmosphere, all is not well. A creepy dude in a blue onesie keeps popping up everywhere and a drunken local lets slip that there’s a secret military base nearby. Then the group accidentally runs someone over (shades of I Know What You Did Last Summer) and things take a very surreal turn indeed. I think the makers were aiming for arty, but what we get is more weird and confusing. They do deserve some credit for at least trying to be original.

3.5/10

Webcast (2018, 92 mins)

webcast-movie-poster

Let’s be honest, there’s been a few missteps in this experiment. It’s partly my own fault. I was choosing films primarily based on the synopsis, without factoring in other pertinent information like their IMDB listing notes or their score on Rotten Tomatoes. Any decent writer can make a film sound good in a three-line synopsis. But as it’s my last chance (the free trial is ending) I made an informed decision, and opted for this one. It’s picked up some good reviews, and I’m a huge fan of the found footage format. Shoot me. So here, a young couple researching a missing person cold case become convinced that one of their neighbours has kidnapped a(nother) teenage girl and decide to run a surveillance operation on him. As you do. And that’s just the start of the shenanigans. In many ways, this is a typical British film; small town paranoia, suburban secrets, clandestine cults, general weirdness. If this film were an album it would be by Pink Floyd or Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Written and directed by Paul McGhie who, according to his website, usually specializes in wedding videos, this is another no-budget effort which has its moments but is ultimately let down by the ambiguous ending.

6/10

Conclusion: As a platform, Amazon Prime Video might be in its infancy and could well improve in the future but for now, Netflix doesn’t have much to worry about. The Zon would do well to invest in some real quality, rather than focusing on quantity in order to build their library. By the way, I was going to leave these reviews on the site, but apparently I’m not eligible to leave reviews, probably because I haven’t spent more than $50 in the past six hours and I don’t have a dog called Gerald.

So here they are.


100 Word Horrors 2

Back last year I contributed to an anthology of drabbles called 100 Word Horrors. I’d never written a drabble until then, but found it a lot of fun as well as a good exercise. When you only have 100 words, you have to be concise and make every word count. The format is one I enjoy, and I’ve dabbled (drabbled?) in it quite a lot since.

Here’s another one.

Fast forward a few months and editor Kevin Kennedy is at it again.

Introducing… 100 Word Horrors 2.

How’s this for an awesome cover?

100 word horrors 2

My contribution this time around, Hitori Kakurenbo, is a spin-off from my recently completed (and as yet unpublished) novella Tethered. It isn’t set in the same universe, nor does it feature any of the same characters, but the two stories are linked because they both concern creepy internet rituals. Translated from Japanese, Hitori Kakurenbo means ‘One person hide and seek.’ Or something along those lines. I’ll be giving the game away if I divulge too much here, but let’s just say it involves a stuffed doll, a knife and some blood. Wahoo! What more do you need for a fun night in by yourself?

Check out 100 Word Horrors 2 to read Hitori kakurenbo in its 100-word entirety, along with stories by lots of other, more talented writers including Amy Cross, Andrew Lennon, David Moody, Michael Bray, Shaun Hutson, Terry West and my spirit uncle Craig, to name but a few.

I’m just there for the shits and giggles.

And the stuffed dolls.

100 Word Horrors is available now on ebook and paperback.


RetView #20 – Race With the Devil (1975)

Title: Race with the Devil

Year of Release: 1975

Director: Jack Starrett

Length: 88 minutes

Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Switt, Lara Parker, RG Armstrong

RACEWITHTHEDEVIL

Race with the Devil is the rarest of things; an action/horror/road movie mash-up of epic proportions. American audiences loved their car chases in the seventies. For a while, that was the whole point of making films and often, any plot or storyline was aimed primarily at manufacturing situations where people got behind the wheels of cars (or in this case, motorhomes) and chased each other around. Just look at that poster. They witnessed an unspeakable act! It screams, stopping just short of adding, “And that’s why they got in the ve-hicle so we could have us a good ole chase!”

After some suitably ominous music, we are introduced to motorcycle dealership owner Frank Stewart (Oates) who, along with his friend and keen motorcross racer Roger Marsh (Fonda) is preparing to head out to Aspen, Colarado, on a ski holiday. Along for the ride are their wives (Switt and Parker) and a belligerent little dog called Ginger. After being on the road for a while they find a quiet, secluded place to spend the night. While drinking beer and shooting the shit outside the motorhome, Frank and Roger see a fire burning in the distance. On going to investigate, they find a bunch of people dressed in robes, dancing around said fire and chanting which is all very reminiscent of Maiden’s Number of the Beast (“I feel drawn toward the chanting hordes, they seem to mesmerize, can’t avoid their eyes”).

When half the Satanists get naked, Frank and Roger settle down to watch what they anticipate will be a vast, open-air orgy, but things take a sinister turn when one of the naked women is stabbed to death by a dude in a mask, and apparently offered up as a human sacrifice. Just then, the interlopers are discovered by the newly-naked Satanists and lo and behold, we have our chase. Frank and the gang drive the motorhome through a river, up a hill through a forest, and then cross country (it’s a motorhome, not a fucking tank!) before eventually winding up in a small town where they report the unspeakable act they witnessed to the local sheriff (Armstrong). But isn’t there something slightly off about that sheriff? Of course there is. You know the drill. In fact, everyone they meet seems a little ‘out there,’ from the librarian to the mechanic fixing their window, which riffs off the whole generational hippy paranoia thing that was going on at the time. Vietnam, Watergate, race riots, Jesus Christ Superstar, post-Woodstock America was a deeply troubled place.

Things escalate when the group leave town and spend the night at a camp site populated by yet more iffy individuals where Ginger comes a cropper and they find rattlesnakes in the cupboards. That’s enough to ruin anybody’s holiday. Before long, they really are engaged in a race with the Devil. Or, more accurately, the Devil’s mates. The last quarter is one long adrenaline-filled smash ‘em up as the increasingly frustrated cult members try their hardest to prevent the Frank and company making it the real police leading to some pretty impressive stunt driving. At one point, a Dodge pickup truck pursues them for about three miles on two wheels. I shit you not. The supernatural elements do feel a bit tacked on, giving you the impression that these people could be being chased by anybody – cult members, rednecks, bikers, hippies, rogue penguins, aliens. But nevertheless, it’s thrilling, and sometimes chilling, stuff.

Race with the Devil was directed by Jack Starrett (perhaps best known for his roles in Blazing Saddles and as asshole deputy Art Gault in First Blood) who made his name acting in a slew of biker movies in the late sixties and early-seventies. Conveniently, this dove-tailed with Fonda’s appearance in the legendary Easy Rider and several other notable contributions to the genre. It could have been preordained that these two were going to work together at some point, and when they did, motorcycles were going to be involved. Starrett even has a cameo role here as a gas station attendant. Interestingly, he later claimed to have hired actual, real-life satanists as cult member extras, though this statement may have been a publicity stunt. I mean, how the heck would he find them? You can’t just put out a call for satanists who wouldn’t mind being in a Hollywood movie. If it was a publicity stunt, it worked. Though it received mixed reviews, the movie tapped into the American psyche and was a huge success, drawing over $12 million at the Box Office from a modest budget of $1.75 million. It was released just when home video was taking off, bringing in another $6 million-plus in rentals, and was re-issued as a double feature in 2011 with another Peter Fonda film, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. It isn’t often talked about these days, which is a shame as it’s definitely worth a punt.

Trivia Corner:

According to IMDB, some of the chase scenes involving the motorhome and its steadily degenerating condition were used as stock footage in eighties TV classic The Fall Guy.

 


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