This weekend, the city of Chicago is buzzing with the opening of their annual Auto Show taking place Feb 11-20th at The McCormick Place. This is the nations largest show of its kind and always attracts a loyal group of gear heads & followers interested in checking out the newest models and novelty cars. One year I recall sitting inside a replica of the tour jeep used in 1993′s JURASSIC PARK. Regardless of past participation, I must confess that I am neither a gear head nor a loyalist. Without the necessary cash to purchase one of those gleaming gems, my self-esteem demands that I remain home with my road-worn, “beater.”
There are some cars, however, that are definitely worth checking out! My definition of the perfect auto show would feature the lethal automotives from past horror films. Sort of an “Auto Show from Hell,” with a veritable who’s who of wheeled menaces that literally “drive” terror into viewers of both the large and small screens.
Think about it; in the main hall you’d see several versions of the infamous CHRISTINE in her various beaten down stages. The pristine version would sit at the center of the display in all her shiny, red glory. Visitors would be encouraged to sit on her plush leather seats before the radio automatically activates, playing a 50′s tune. Children can also join in the fun as they are handed a mallet and asked to give the beautiful Caddy their best shot. Their eyes bulge with delight as the dents they’ve created suddenly begin to repair themselves (while dad quickly reminds them to NEVER try this home).
Further down is the black coupe seen in 1977′s THE CAR. While its windows are opaque, the passenger door mysteriously swings open, revealing its empty seats. Chicago’s Svengoolie and his musician pal, Doug Graves, would be nearby performing their parody of “Hot Rod Lincoln,” a song featured during his own airing of this film a few years back.
Other killer vehicles on display would include the diabolical 4X4 in one of the stories featured in 1983′s NIGHTMARES, the truck from MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (highlighted with a Green Goblin Grill), and the dark and mysterious hearse seen in the title film THE HEARSE. Even service vehicles are capable of their own brand of road rage, like the alien possessed bulldozer (affectionately referred to as KILLDOZER) in its own 1974 made-for-TV movie.
Somewhere towards the back of the event, not far from a concession stand that serves $5 cola’s and $10 beers, is a lone, vintage tanker truck. Visitors barely give it a second glance as they quickly shuffle past it in route to the crowded rest rooms. Far from an ordinary truck, this worn 1955 Peterbilt 281 served as the main antagonist in the 1971 made-for TV movie - DUEL
DUEL not only stands out as one of best made for television movies (and most unappreciated thrillers), it is also notable for being the first feature film directed by a then 25 year old Steven Spielberg. Perhaps it was the phenomenal success of his future endeavors (including the aforementioned JURASSIC PARK) that would cause this film to slide into obscurity.
While some killer vehicles have a mind of their own, this one is never presented as being supernatural. There is a human driver, though he is never clearly seen and remains overshadowed by the tanker itself. This creates the illusion of being pursued by a monster while never venturing from reality. In fact, this film was based on a short story written by Richard Matheson who stated he found inspiration while actually being tailgated by a troublesome trucker.
What this film lacks in plot it makes up for in pure “cat & mouse.” Salesman, David Mann (played by Dennis Weaver), is relentlessly pursued by an old truck after apparently angering its driver during a pass. I think we’ve all had moments where we’ve irked one of our fellow drivers (of course we’re more cognizant of those that do it to us) while daydreaming behind the wheel. During these times, there’s that awkward moment where you can’t wait for one of you to change course while trying not to look at the driver who, no doubt, is waiting to give you the finger. This film takes an average situation such as this and brings it to the absolute WORST case scenario. Weaver does such a great job playing an “average joe,” you can’t help but relate to his plight. In any event, you’ll want to take care not to upset anyone driving anything bigger than you are after watching this film!
Like the film, THE CAR, this takes place on remote desert roads, thereby providing Mr. Mann with little escape nor assistance. This movie, on the other hand, is pure suspense and leads to a similar, yet much more satisfying climax.
While this may not be one of the top 5 (or 10) movies that come to mind when mentioning the extraordinary filmography of Steven Spielberg, it can certainly be said that it was tantamount to his success. While shot for television, positive feedback would lead to a theatrical version overseas. This was accomplished by adding about 18 minutes of footage along with some profanity to further distance itself from its TV counterpart. The success of DUEL caused filmmakers to take note of young Spielberg, eventually leading to his being handed the reigns of a certain blockbuster named JAWS. In fact, Spielberg often states that JAWS was, in many ways, an underwater version of DUEL. In a special homage to his virgin voyage, Spielberg actually injected the sounds of the dying truck used in DUEL as the slain JAWS sinks to bottom of the depths.
If you have not seen DUEL, I strongly urge you to. Though it will, no doubt, cause you to pay closer attention the next time you get behind a wheel.,,,and just when you thought it was safe to go to the Auto Show….
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