Friday, June 18, 2021

Race with the Devil

Race with the Devil
Jack Starrett

Coming along with the monumental success of The Exorcist (1973) came a sea of satanic films. Wikipedia lists thirty titles alone after 1973 and that is far from a complete tally. This public interest in satanic cults would take a wild turn in the 1980s when the public would quake at the devil hiding in every bit of popular media in what would become known as the Satanic Panic. I think those caught in the grip of the Satanic Panic would have believed that Race with the Devil was an accurate portrayal of what it was like in America with the Devil’s minions massing across the countryside.

Two couples (Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, and Lara Parker), decide to take a trip in an RV for a ski trip. They make a stop in the middle of nowhere Texas. They have a cookout, race dirt bikes and are generally having a fine time, that is until they witness a satanic cult ritual that ends with a murder. The cult realizes that they’ve been seen and swarm the RV. From there, the group are on the run as the cult seems to have members all over the country and slowly but surely, they close in.

"We are definitely going to get killed
on this vacation."

Race with the Devil is a masterful exercise in escalating tension. The film starts with a slow, almost agonizingly relaxed pace. We are introduced to these characters, their friendships, and the small personal concerns of their lives. There is no warning about what they are about to encounter, no cutaways to menacing cultists watching them from afar. Once the mayhem breaks it comes increasingly larger and larger waves of attacks as our heroes grow more and more desperate to escape the clutches of this seemingly never-ending cult.

The highlight of Race with the Devil is the extended chase scene onboard the RV and various cultists trying to board it. We move though the high action of these scenes to tense moments of coming across narrow avenues where they have to slow down. At its core this is an action film with a horror flavor that is always present. Things really kick up in the final moments which deliver a good spooky shock.

"I really need to wash this mask."

I think it would be easy to get annoyed at the slow burn of the first half of the film as we watch these characters literally spin their wheels at one time. There is a side quest to a local library for people to figure that they witnessed a satanic ritual when in the end it doesn’t matter. The intelligence gathering in no way helps when dozens of murderous satanists are clambering up the RV the kill everyone. Race with the Devil begins as a drama, moves to horror, and then to action before coming around to horror again.

Race with  the Devil is excellent little film that has a lot to offer and becomes more and more engaging as it goes. If you’re looking to kick off a satanic summer this is an excellent place to start.

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