This month’s Final Girl Film Club pick is 1977’s The Car. Released just two years after Jaws, the film is essentially a retelling of Spielberg’s classic film, but with a desert setting as opposed to aquatic. The film’s working title was actually Wheels, strengthening the Jaws connection through the use of the popular “title your movie after the villain’s most dangerous part” naming convention. Throw in a little demonic possession (very popular in the 70s) to get your four-wheeled shark rollin’, and the script basically writes itself from there.
What the film lacks in originality it makes up for in tongue-in-cheek humor, ridiculous death sequences and, most of all, 1970s nostalgia. So strong is this film’s tie to the year in which it was made, we’ve used it as the perfect example of how to tell if a film is from the 1970s. Below we’ve listed the key characteristics to be on the look-out for.
1. Title Font
I love the opening sequence of The Car. The music is ominous, the landscape is stark and western, and the film begins in utter darkness with only the film’s title. Simple and effective, the style is reminiscent of 60s psychedilia, but with a sleek modernist aesthetic. Combine this with the pastel green font coloring on a black background, and you’ve just situated your film right in the mid-1970s.
Aside from leisure suits, no 70s era style dates itself more than bell bottom jeans. In an apparent attempt to out-70s all the other Texas high schools, the students in The Car lead the First Annual Bell Bottom Jeans Parade, shortly before being terrorized by the motorized antagonist.
3. Citizens’ Band Radios
I know that Wade is a lawman, but I found it odd that he has a CB radio on his personal motorcycle. But before I had time to fully rationalize it, I remembered that people were wild about CB radios and trucker culture in the 70s, an aesthetic that culminated in Sam Pekinpah’s 1978 film Convoy. Wade never calls anyone “good buddy” or ends his sentences with “come back,” but I think having a CB mounted to his motorcycle is enough to earn him a Jr. Trucker’s merit badge.
The 70s was a busy decade for the devil, with appearances in such films as The Exorcist, The Devil’s Rain, Satanico Pandemonium, and The Omen, to name just a few. In 1977 it felt like you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting someone or some thing possessed or spawned by the Devil himself.
Steve McQueen had made motorcycles super cool by 1977, and wearing a helmet just wouldn’t convey the same attitude. On the surface, Wade doesn’t wear a helmet in this scene because he’s a rebel at heart, telling his kids to “do as I say, not as I do.” It’s a horrible parenting philosophy made all the more ironic since Wade’s last name is Parent. But I think Wade really refuses to wear a helmet because he’s so obviously overjoyed in this scene as the wind rustles through his perfectly feathered, 70s style hair.
I don’t know who first invented this striking pose, in which the sunglasses slide down to the tip of the nose, just before they’re snatched away, but something about it conveys a definite 70s attitude that is both capricious and bold. If you see this move you’re either watching a film from the 1970s or a re-run of CSI: Miami.
8. Burt Reynolds (or facsimile of)
Nothing says “Hi, I’m the 1970s” like Burt Reynolds. While Burt makes no actual appearance in The Car, his spirit is alive and well in James Brolin’s performance of Wade. Wade’s moustache, hair, sunglasses and CB radio all add up to just one simple truth that The Car can’t help but convey — the producer’s couldn’t afford Burt Reynolds. And while this may be true and Smokey and the Bandit‘s bitchin’ Firebird Trans Am may be the iconic car of 1977 — I say it ain’t got nothing on the bad-ass, shark-finned, demon-possessed, customized Lincoln Continental from The Car.
That’s it for this month’s Final Girl Film Club entry, but don’t forget that our name-that-movie-super-amazing-fun-time contest is still currently open for submissions! A winner will be announced soon.