Director: Jack Starrett
Anchor Bay/20th Century Fox

Director Jack Starrett had, by 1975, been responsible for some of the most successful action films of the 60s and 70s: RUN ANGEL RUN, THE LOSERS, CLEOPATRA JONES and SLAUGHTER. His first horror film, THE STRANGE VENGEANCE OF ROSALIE, had been unsuccessful, but that didn't stop him from mixing horror elements with action-packed chase sequences in RACE WITH THE DEVIL. Written by exploitation royalty Lee Frost and Wes Bishop, this road film with Satanists thrown into the mix became a hit for 20th Century Fox and is finally available on DVD for fans of 70s drive-in cinema to enjoy.

Roger and Kelly and friends Frank and Alice embark on a road trip from the big city into the rural bliss of Aspen for a vacation filled with dirt biking, lovemaking and fun for all. But when Roger and Frank witness a ritual sacrifice by a Satanic cult during a nighttime pitstop, they throw their lives and the fates of their wives into jeopardy and are soon being pursued by the heathens. Reporting the incident to the police does little to no good, and as they continue their way to their vacation spot, Roger and Kelly's dog is butchered and an angry rattlesnake is left in their RV's kitchen. With nowhere to turn and apparently no escape possible, Roger and Frank must battle with the followers of Lucifer or they're as good as dead.

For a PG-rated drive-in film, RACE WITH THE DEVIL very successfully mixes the horror of the evil side of humanity and the action-packed hijinks of DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY to produce a one-of-a-kind horror film which has flown under the radar for far too long. While Frost and Bishop's script offers very little characterization of the four leads, the fact that they are average American people being threatened by a supernatural, yet human, entity intensifies the terror they encounter even if we know nothing about them as people or their relationships with one another. Peter Fonda and Warren Oates, having worked together on a few other films (including Fonda's THE HIRED HAND), are a good match and make a great team during the dust-spewing, tire-squealing chase sequences. Lara Parker and Loretta Swit, both known from TV ("Dark Shadows" and "M*A*S*H*", respectively), do their best with what are basically screaming heroine roles. Parker in particular really lets it wail at all the right times to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. The film's pacing could have been amped up a couple notches, especially during the long middle part. Starrett uses this time to establish an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty of the motives of the townspeople surrounding the couples. But thankfully any yawns which may be produced during the stretches of dialogue are quickly thrown back into your gut during the heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat stunt driving sequences. Cars ram into each other, side swipe innocent pedestrians on the highway, drive off cliffs, flip over and fly off the highway! One of the most incredible sequences is after a harrowing escape from death, the quartet are slowed down by an apparent school bus accident...except it's Sunday... Just when Starrett lets the audience think it's time for a breather, the action kicks up another notch, with Fonda shooting at their pursuers from the roof of the RV with a shotgun! The surprise twist ending of the film is another classic 70s shock moment Look out for Wes Bishop as a deputy, Starrett as a gas station attendant, Lee Frost film regular Phil Hoover as the town mechanic, and B-movie heavy R.G. Armstrong as the dubious sheriff.

Culled from original negative materials from Fox's vaults, RACE WITH THE DEVIL looks ten times better than the old out of print VHS. Letterboxed at 1.85:1 with anamorphic enhancement, there is still a fair amount of grain during some outdoor scenes, but the night scenes are bright and clear, with deep blacks and balanced color. There aren't any defects worth noting. The English mono is very strong, with all the crash-and-burn sound effects, harrowing musical score and Lara Parker's piercing shrieks coming through beautifully.

The extras on the disc aren't plentiful, as director Starrett passed away in 1989, but most of the surviving cast and crew have been gathered together to discuss the making of the film. "Hell on Wheels" interviews Peter Fonda about how he became involved with the film. As with his comments in the featurette on DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY, Fonda spends too much time discussing the narrative and for a while, it sounds like he won't share any good memories about the film. But he tells some pretty fascinating tales, including his encounter with the real-life rattlesnake in the RV, his kinship with Warren Oates, the first director being fired before Jack Starrett took his place, performing his own stunts during the moving vehicle sequences, the incredible concluding car roll at the finish of the closing chase, and the bizarre water-balloon-and-pies fight on the last day of shooting. And you have to give Fonda props for being honest enough to say he was attracted to the film because he would get a percentage of the box office profits!

It's a mystery why Loretta Swit wasn't interviewed for the disc, considering she's soon going to be a co-host of "Battle of the Network Reality Stars" (no joke! I'm serious!), so perhaps she remembers very little about the film. Neither is Lee Frost, even in print form. But in their place is Lara Parker and executive producer Paul Maslansky for a feature-length audio commentary! Moderated by Perry Martin, the commentary touches all bases on the behind-the-scenes genesis of the film and the hell raising stunts and story arches. Maslansky begins by telling how the original director was screenwriter Lee Frost (!) who was booted off the picture by Fox (Fonda and Oates disliked this decision, too!) and continues to discuss the film's shooting locations in Texas, relationships with the cast and crew, shooting the nighttime ritual ceremony (including the fogging of the nudity), reveals the technical background of the multiple stunts and car crashes, and of course talks about the surprise ending. Parker also shares several nuggets of info, including how she dated Jack Starrett a few times before the film (!), her initial shyness on the set, her connection to Peter through being Jane's roommate at Vassar, and is a very warm speaker who is obviously fond of her work on the film. This is one of the strongest commentaries recorded for a cult film, with no dead spaces or switching to simple narration of the on-screen action. Maslansky reveals every single piece of information you would ever want to know about production, and Parker is such a fascinating woman whose memory is just as sharp. An A+ commentary!

The supplements are finished off with the classic theatrical trailer (who could watch this and not slobber at the thought of watching this at the local drive-in?!), three radio spots, a poster and stills gallery with gorgeous posters, lobby cards, and video sleeves, and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery with lots of great shots of the actors and crew socializing and Starrett directing his actors. Trailers for other Anchor Bay titles (THE ENTITY, QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY, GHOST IN THE MACHINE) are also included. Points are taken off this release for the tacky cover art which resembles a budget release from Beverly Wilshire! WARNING: A 2006 remake is being planned of RACE WITH THE DEVIL as we speak. It may be successful, but at least the original has been preserved on this beautiful special edition DVD. (Casey Scott)