From Here to Obscurity: Crash! (1977)
Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Jose Ferrer, Sue Lyon, John Ericson
Directed by Charles Band
NOTE: The movies reviewed in From Here to Obscurity have either never been given an official VHS or DVD release, have been released on VHS but are long out of print and very hard to find, or are readily available in some form but have generally gone unnoticed by most of the general public.
Take a moment and try to envision what a feature-length episode of “Night Gallery” would have been like if directed by Hal Needham. That’s what I was envisioning as I watched an ultra obscure (Good luck finding a copy!) early Charles Band effort from 1977 simply entitled Crash! That exclamation point is very much part of the film’s title; it was the mid-to-late Seventies and filmmakers and audiences both loved one-word titles with exclamation points back then almost as much as they loved hearing wa-wa peddle music while watching cars get totaled. Movies about the paranormal were also hugely popular in the polyester era. So with Crash! a young, enterprising Charles Band decided to mix chocolate with peanut butter – the gothic horror of a Seventies supernatural horror movie mixed with the car crashing thrills of Southern fried chase flick.
“An occult object takes possession of a driverless car and causes one spectacular crash after another until fifty cars are pounded into a mass of twisted metal”
That tagline adorning the Crash! poster may be more than a bit ungainly but it pretty much sums up the movie. One spouse tries to kill another; toss in a cursed object and a driverless car with a hatred for old AMC vehicles. I didn’t keep count to see if the automotive body count actually achieved 50 cars but if it didn’t it certainly wasn’t because of lack of effort. The mishmashing of concepts and genres definitely makes for a convoluted mess, but this is one of those strangely charming convoluted messes. It’s rather of a shame the film has fallen into the cracks of obscurity and become damn near impossible to find.
The late great Jose Ferrer collected an easy paycheck starring as Marc Denne: old, wealthy, and wheelchair-bound. Though technically he’s not wheelchair-bound; kind of confusing, the guy is in a wheelchair for the majority of the movie but he can walk a short distance, usually to get to the wheelchair he’ll spend most of the movie sitting in. More disabled than crippled, I suppose; the guy can even drive himself places. Being physically incapable of playing tennis anymore, that seems to be what has finally driven him over the edge and left him a deeply bitter and jealous old man. Marc blames his beautiful young wife for the auto accident that left him the world’s most active invalid.
Both verbally and emotionally abusive, he finally orders his young bride to leave their California countryside villa once and for all. Wanting her dead, he’ll send his Doberman to chase down her jet black convertible as she drives away; the vicious dog hops into the moving vehicle and mauls her. She crashes and ends up in the hospital with her face bandaged like a mummy – no identity, no memory, in a catatonic state, maintaining a death grip on her keychain, and repeatedly muttering the word “Akaza”.
You see earlier that day trophy wife Kim Denne (Sue Lyon, an actress no stranger to movies about crashing having previously co-starred in the 1976 TV movie Smash-Up on Interstate 5 and the 1970 biopic Evel Knievel) had been out shopping at the local drive-in theater flea market where she purchased a curious little trinket that looked to me like a cyclops squatting on a toilet. That little trinket would end up on her keychain. That little keychain trinket would turn out to be an ancient idol of the Hittite god Akaza, and if you know anything about the Hittites then you know you didn’t want to get on the bad side of them or their gods.
Now here’s where the movie gets weird. Really weird… As in “WTF?!?!” weird.
Kim may be in the hospital all bandaged up, unresponsive except for repeatedly muttering the name of a certain ancient deity, and clutching her keychain the same way an NRA member clutches their gun, but her wrecked black convertible has come back to life. It makes like The Car and stars stalking the California back roads playing Smokey & the Death Proof with anyone it comes across driving an AMC Rambler, Rebel, or Ambassador (Oh my!), particularly if they’re cops. These slo-mo wreck scenes are inserted seemingly at random throughout the film and always with no particular reason for this driverless car to be terrorizing innocent motorists aside from there being nothing more dangerous on the open roads than a Sumerian demigod with a serious case of road rage.
The 1967 Chevy Camaro Convertible from Hell is shown heading towards the community of San Cecilia where Marc lives. This is quite confusing since I thought Mrs. Denne wasn’t far from the house when the accident occurred and this possessed car’s trip seems to take several days.
Like I said, things get weird.
Also weird, exactly how and why some of these accidents happened; there were times when I couldn’t decide if Band was trying to be avant-garde with the direction or if he was just desperately trying to edit together disconnected shots with little room for coherency. Seems pointless to complain about such things too much when you’re talking about a movie in which a car’s tires can be heard squealing … on dirt!
No sooner did I joke to a friend that I thought the movie would be funnier if the roles were reversed and Jose Ferrer’s wheelchair would drive around on its own killing people, low and behold, we get a hilarious scene where Kim awakens with demon eyes and opens her hand so the idol keychain can go flying across the hospital room and magnetize to a wheelchair that immediately goes crazy smashing into things. Clearly establishing its hatred for people who ride in wheelchairs, I then found myself hoping very much that the film’s finale would involve the possessed car going on a roadkilling spree at the Special Olympics. Instead, a little later on, the idol would bring Marc’s motorized wheelchair to life in order to ram the Doberman to death. Might have gotten Marc too except he managed to sword fight it off with a crutch. Extra points awarded for possessed wheelchair POV shots.
Unbandaged but still not 100%, still suffering from amnesia, and every now and then being overtaken by the spirit of an angry Hittite god hell-bent on helping her subconscious mind take revenge on her devious old bastard of a husband who is still looking to finish her off, Kim will get released from the hospital and stay at the home of handsome Robert Stack look-a-like, Dr. Martin. He makes it his mission to uncover her identity and that investigation starts with tracing the origins of the unholy keychain she’d previously held onto for dear life.
This’ll lead Dr. Martin to a college anthropologist played by the ever slumming John Carradine, a brief cameo. In an even more convoluted turn of events, Dr. Martin ends up taking the idol to someone Carradine recommends with knowledge of ancient antiquities: Marc Denne. What are the odds? Kim even ends up at her old house unaware of who he is or his bad intentions, at least until the old cripple tries killing her again by locking her in the sauna and cranking up the heat – a scene straight out of a “Charlie’s Angels” episode.
The preposterous finale will see Kim sweaty and possessed as Dr. Martin runs around the villa looking for her while Jose Ferrer in his wheelchair with a shotgun has a Mexican stand-off with the Akaza-controlled convertible. The end comes when the black convertible topples Jose Ferrer down a hill with a mere nudge, appears to then do a Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka flying body splash onto him, and explodes. At least I think this is what happened; the scene is shot so dark you can barely discern anything until the ball of fire.
I’ll say it one last time: Crash! is one weird movie.
Crash! was only the second film Charles Band ever directed and the first he was willing to put his own name on. The low budget and the filmmaker’s still novice skills are evident by the sometimes confusingly edited scenes, occasional bouts of poor lighting, and sheer amount of extraneous footage padding out the film.
That last complaint I suspect was due to the film coming in short and Band desperately needing to stretch things out. That’s the only reason I can figure to justify the opening flea market sequence featuring several minutes worth of the lead actress browsing or Jose Ferrer wandering a hospital’s hallways for entirely too long, or, the crème-de-le-crème of padding, about an hour in the lead actress experiences a six-minute flashback/dream sequence recycling most of the film’s car wreck footage now color tinted to appear hallucinatory. It’s a shame the film has these annoying pacing issues because, otherwise, it could get my whole hearty recommendation.
Ah, heck, even for all its faults, whether they be of the rough-around-the-edges variety or of the what-where-they-thinking variety, Crash! is so kooky it’s hard dismiss it outright. This is a bizarre cinematic curiosity worth tracking down if you’re a fan of truly oddball cinema.
3 out of 5
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