Finally I get to bust out of the other half of my Peter Fonda double bill disc that started in the May action movie marathon with Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. I wasn’t sure if Race with the Devil technically counted as a horror movie but I knew it had a cult and I knew Kevin Smith was always talking about how scary it is so I figured why not.
Roger (Peter Fonda) and Frank (Warren Oates) are the owners of a successful motorcycle business who, along with their wives, are taking an RV to Aspen for a ski vacation. Along the way they park the RV in a secluded area for the night and while out and about, Roger and Frank witness a sacrifice being performed by a demonic cult. The cult members see that the two of them caught them in their silly devil games and thus begins the chase that permeates the rest of the movie.
Race with the Devil taps into a lot of the same ideas as Rosemary’s Baby as there is an ever growing fear for the protagonists that everyone they encounter is in on this and is a member of the cult. There is never a sense of who they can actually trust and the movie does a great job of ensuring the audience isn’t sure either.
The scene where they watch the ritual unfold is great; very effective and chilling. At first they think they are watching an orgy go down and are laughing and joking about it. That is until a woman is stabbed and killed. From there panic sets in and things only escalate when they make too much noise and draw the cult’s attention. That is some freaky shit. I’m sure any one of us can relate to the fear of getting caught where you’re not supposed to be, especially if the person catching you is way into Satan and setting people on fire and stabbing them.
That whole sequence is easily the highlight of the movie as the rest can never quite match that level of fear and intensity. The following chunk of the movie is definitely slower as the wives start to do research into the cult after finding a piece of paper one of them left on the back of their RV. A great sequence involving a pair of rattlesnakes picks things back up and the finale is fantastic. At this point the movie goes full blown action as the group is trying to fend off the cultists from their RV. This involves lots of impressive (and of course, practical) car stunts and explosions and awesome. I enjoyed this one sequence more than the entirety of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.
It’s also worth noting that the abrupt and chilling ending that I quite enjoyed was only there because the filmmakers had no clue how to end the movie so they just cobbled something together. They didn’t seem particularly proud of that on the commentary track but I thought it worked great, keeping things somewhat ambiguous while still providing enough information that you can be quite sure what happened next.
Race with the Devil begins and ends very strongly with a bit of a lag in the middle (seems to be a running theme in this year’s marathon) but it still moves at a quick pace and makes for a very enjoyable watch. The cast is great and you have one very effective horror sequence and another very effective action sequence bookending everything, so the movie delivers on several levels. Recommended.