Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about. Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: Wheels of Terror
Genre: Murderous Machines
Tagline: Evil waits. With the motor running.
Released by: Paramount Home Video
Director: Christopher Cain
Plot: A school bus driver and her twelve-year-old daughter move to a small town in Arizona only to be terrorized by a faceless stranger driving a scary-looking black muscle car who kidnaps and murders little girls. When her own child is abducted by the evil sedan, she goes on a high speed, mountainside chase to reclaim her kid and put a stop to the pedophile hot-rodder’s sinister deeds.
Thoughts: Being a big fan of the “killer car” genre I really thought I had seen them all, but this made-for-cable horror-thriller somehow avoided my radar gun for over two decades now until I recently found a copy in a used video bin and fell hard for its badass cover artwork. Watching it recently for the first time ever, without any previous knowledge of its existence, I must say I was pretty impressed by the film. It plays like a fusion of the incredible Jaws rip-off The Car mixed with Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and topped off with a splash of Spielberg’s own made-for-television classic Duel.
The suspenseful story mixes it up by featuring an evil 1974 Dodge Charger (similar to the one Stunt Man Mike drove) that cruises the back roads of a tiny southwestern town looking for children to kidnap, abuse and murder. The killer is never seen except for an opening door and the brief glimpse of an arm, which is a very effective way of making the machine itself become an automotive representation of all child molesters. It helps that the car is an intimidating-looking Mopar that couldn’t have been cast more perfectly for the part. I just wish that the headlights glowed the same shade of green in the movie that they do on the box art, but alas it never happens.
Joanna Cassidy (Blade Runner, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) stars as the single mom who escapes the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles with her young daughter for a quieter life in scenic Copper Valley, Arizona. Luckily her new job provides a school bus that’s equipped with a racing engine, which comes in very handy when her own child is grabbed by the creepy car. She heads out for an exciting chase sequence where the lives of a few of the kids she’s responsible for are endangered, because they’re already trapped in the vehicle when the pursuit begins. There’s some pretty incredible stunt driving as well and the finale is edge-of-your-seat entertaining.
I enjoyed the hell out of this movie and recommend you analog-hunters track it down. It’s a very serious, disturbing subject at the center of a really well crafted horror/action/thriller made in the style of the films I mentioned earlier, as well as the original The Hitcher. Alan B. McElroy, the scribe responsible for the awesome backwoods-slasher Wrong Turn and the ridiculously underrated Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers wrote it. He does a really nice job of taking a weathered sub-genre and adding some real world grime to the material, making it a very unique little hybrid. Makes me wonder if old QT might have caught this on the idiot box late one night back in the nineties.