A little while ago (September 30th) Kindertrauma celebrated its 6th anniversary! I'm guessing we still have tons of ground to cover, as I haven't even shared all of my own hoarded traumas yet! Case in point, 1975's RACE WITH THE DEVIL! Oh man, how this one used to terrify me in the best possible way. I recently revisited this childhood favorite and although it doesn't chill me to the bone quite the way it used to, it surely brings back memories of being thoroughly frightened and excited at the same time. Here are some of the elements that helped RACE WITH THE DEVIL make my kiddie heart race…
Our story finds two couples on vacation in an RV stumbling upon a Satanic sacrifice and being hunted down as unwanted witnesses by the participants. As their wives hang out within the comfort of the vehicle, drinking buddies Roger and Frank (PETER FONDA & WARREN OATES) share a pair of binoculars, jokingly hoping that the semi-nude ritual they are seeing will turn out to be an orgy. No such luck. When Frank's spouse Alice (LORETTA SWIT) loudly calls curfew on the two peepers the Satanists are alerted and our vacationers must scramble to escape with their lives.
As a kid I could relate to the idea of getting into trouble for viewing what I was not supposed to. You see, when it first came on TV, I was not allowed to watch THREE'S COMPANY because it was too risquÃ©! This meant that after LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY was over, I would routinely pretend to go to bed and then watch it from the second floor between the staircase bannister. How do you like that? I was allowed to watch human sacrifices in RACE WITH THE DEVIL but not three people living together out of wedlock in THREE'S COMPANY! I guess we were a typical American family; boobs were acceptable as long as they were stabbed and followed by a car chase.
I know its hard to believe but there was a time when I thought Satan worshipers were the most dangerously insane religious group! Flash forward a couple decades and it's clear they'd have to try much harder to earn that ranking!
As a kid I found old people, with the obvious exception of Granny from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, creepy. It wasn't because they were wrinkly, it was because I was constantly force-fed the idea that they were good-natured and wise when my actual encounters with them revealed them to be grumpy, scornful and generally irrational. If you are old and I have hurt your feelings, please console yourself by eating some gross candy that nobody else wants.
UNTRUSTWORTHY AUTHORITY FIGURES!
When you're a kid you are told that if ever you should find yourself in trouble, you can always count on the police. One need only get a gander of the boar head hanging on this guy's wall to realize that might not always be the case.
RATTLESNAKE IN THE CUPBOARD!
If only I could travel back in time and share with my younger self the true stats of how many times I would encounter rattlesnakes, tarantulas, sharks and the metric system throughout my life.
Truth be known, I'd rather see a packed school bus burst into flame and fall off a 500-foot bridge into icy waters than a dog suffering a splinter. Hanging a dog, even if you are a devout Satanist, is inexcusable! Making trauma matters all the more dire for mini-Unk is the fact that the pet dog slain in RACE WITH THE DEVIL is named Ginger; that was my beloved childhood pooch's name!
Normally I'm one to recommend the casting of baggage-free unknowns in horror films but utilizing a recognizable presence has its perks too. All children of the seventies must be familiar with LORETTA SWIT as, if I recall correctly, her show M.A.S.H. was shown in reruns approximately eighty million times a day. SWIT played tough cookie Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan. Witnessing the usually uber-competent SWIT turn to terrorized jelly in the face of her Satanic attackers in RWTD was to kidâ€“me an unsettling signifier of just how bad the situation was.
TRAGIC RV TRASHING!
While my brothers were fond of drawing dragsters, as a kid I would draw vans and RV's so that I might fuss over their stylish interiors. If that makes me sound like a homemaker in training, let me add that I made sure to draw gun turrets on my dream vehicle's roof to destroy all enemies. Seeing a supped up machine like the one in RACE (it has a microwave!) needlessly trashed and damaged was pure tragedy in my young eyes!
STOLEN LIBRARY BOOKS!
God bless every movie that features a "gathering information" scene in a library! They always make me happy! In RACE's requisite research bit, the two wives (SWIT and LARA PARKER) drop by the local library to dig into some tomes about witches. They find two books that suite their needs but are told by a librarian (script supervisor JOYCE KING according to IMDb) that because the books are reference books, they can't be checked out. Their lives on the line, the desperate ladies swipe the books! Unbelievable though it may be considering all the Satanic panic going on, kid-me actually had the nerve to feel some anxiety over this thievery! You're not supposed to steal books from the library! That's not allowed! I was placated slightly when SWIT and PARKER make a pledge that after they escaped with their lives they would send the books back by mail! I hope I'm not ruining the movie for you when I tell you that I have very little faith those books were ever returned.