Second Union

Second Union

SOCIALLY DISTANT CINEMA: Race With the Devil (1975)

It may cost them their lives.

Two couples-Roger and Kelly and Frank and Alice (this was the 70s…) embark on a January RV trip from San Antonio, Texas to Aspen, Colorado; but find their lives in danger when they witness an occult ritual involving a sacrificial murder. Pursued by seemingly endless numbers of local cult members at every turn in trucks, cars, and motorcycles, they fight for their lives in a high-speed chase as they make their way through a string of evil-infested small Texas towns and RV parks.

Ah, yes. The evil of Leakey, Texas. I know it well. The bleak ending of the film was typical 70’s fare, especially for sci-fi and horror-a trend which really started circa 1968 with Night of the Living Dead and Rosemary’s Baby. Life was full of depressing elements when the ’70s rolled in-a a seemingly endless, unwinnable war, energy crises, political scandals…and popular entertainment reflected this. Add to this an increasing cultural awareness of a societal darkness that previously seemed unknown in the form of serial killers, a new term that started being thrown around in that decade. John Wayne Gacy, the BTK killer, Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, and of course, Charles Manson were names people were too familiar with in those years. Is it any wonder the horror genre of film began to change? What used to be fun ‘monster’ movies kids would attend on a Saturday matinee now took on a more ominous tone and began to focus on that ultimate baddie, the devil himself. Possibly starting with the 1968 films Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil Rides Out, Satan and occultism soon dominated the horror genre on both film and TV. Even the previous ultimate film villain, Dracula, was no longer ‘bad enough’ without invoking the devil in 1973’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula.

I had seen the end of this as a boy one afternoon on KTRK’s Million Dollar Movie and the image of the RV surrounded by a ring of fire with cult members closing in stuck with me for many years, with me not knowing the name of the film until after Google was a thing.
In the film, the two couples eschew an overnight RV park stay to boondock next to a Texas river (Frio? Blanco? I’m not sure) to dirt bike in the afternoon and camp out at night. Hanging out beside the RV after a well-lubricated dinner, the men observe a fire lit under a creepy dead tree fairly close by and they walk over to investigate. They witness the human sacrifice from a short distance and make a run for it, tearing off the side awning when they peel out in the RV. In the next half hour, they try to seek help from authorities and continue on their journey only to find everyone is a part of the occult conspiracy, intent on stopping them. The final half-hour of the film is a non-stop road chase…

The creepiest tree near Castroville

The creepiness of stumbling across something you’re not supposed to see in a rural area is a trope that has been used in several films. I have to say I’ve been camping in west Texas and it gets dark when you’re sufficiently far from town. I’d hate to run across anybody in the middle of nowhere, Texas at night, much less a group that looked like they were escapees from The Wicker Man.

Our lead actors were Mr. Easy Rider himself, Peter Fonda; The Wild Bunch‘s Warren Oates; M*A*S*H‘s Loretta Swit, and Dark Shadows‘ Lara Parker. Texas locals Ricci Ware and R.C. Keene also make appearances along with numerous Texan extras. Car chase movies were big in this era and the film attempts to combine this genre with horror in sort of a Duel meets The Devil’s Rain.

The film was directed by native Texan Jack Starrett, best known for his role in the film Blazing Saddles (1974). Starrett made his directorial debut in 1969 with the biker film Run, Angel, Run, one in a series of biker films he would be a part of during his career. It was written by partners in crime Wes Bishop and Lee Frost. The duo was responsible for a string of genre exploitation films such as Chain Gang Women, The Thing with Two Heads, and The Black Gestapo. Composer Leonard Rosenman is responsible for the film score, who had done Fantastic Voyage and two Planet of the Apes films, and would later score music for Star Trek IV and Robocop 2. Some parts of the score are actually very evocative of Planet of the Apes with it’s primal, avant-garde, tribal-sounding percussion, and screeching strings.
Although not credited, Texas local Gary Chason performed casting duties on the film and will tell you accounts of corralling Fonda and Oates who had entirely too much fun during their time here.

Peter Fonda will blow you away

Yes, this was shot in Texas, and because I have lived in the area for the past 35 years, I have a number of comments about the locations seen in the film. The movie was shot on location in and around San Antonio, Bandera, Wimberly, San Marcos, Castroville, Tarpley, and Leakey, Texas.

The film opens inside a motorcycle shop as Frank works with his employees before leaving for his RV vacation. This was shot at the Cycle World over on Broadway here in San Antonio. The motorcross racing scene was at the old Pan Am Speedway on Toepperwein, long since closed. The Alamo is of course seen when they drive by in the RV.
The ‘sheriff’s office’ they visit after witnessing the ritual is a private home in Castroville; and the ‘library’ the women visit to research witchcraft is the Castroville City Hall. The gas station the RV gang visit used to be on the corner of Paris and Fiorella in Castroville, since torn down. The honky-tonk the couples attend for dinner was the Silver Dollar Saloon in Bandera, and the band was Arkey Blue and the Blue Cowboys, which are still around and still play at the Saloon and I think own the place now. Last I checked they even still had the same outfits, but that was 20 years ago.
The chase scenes were mainly filmed on roads around Wimberly I’ve driven several times. The battle with the green Chevy box truck was on Ranch Road 12 about three miles south of town. The red Ford pickup went off the bridge (exploding in mid-air, as vehicles do when you drive off a bridge) at the Blanco River bridge, also on Ranch Road 12 actually close to the middle of town. When the RV passes under the railroad bridge and a cult member is smacked off the roof was where Post Road passes underneath the railroad barely half a mile west of I-35 in between San Marcos and Kyle. This road also crosses the Blanco River, visible in the scene.

Some random thoughts and tidbits:
-The guy performing the ritual was wearing an ankh. The ancient Egyptian symbol had entered the zeitgeist on the heels of 1971’s The Love Machine which prominently featured one on the movie poster and trailer. An ankh would feature in the plot of 1976’s Logan’s Run.

-Despite what is depicted in the film, you can’t just ‘pull over and camp’ by a river in Texas. Unlike the vast amounts of public lands that exist in the Southwest, nearly everything here is private property, especially anything bordering a river. Camp on someone’s property and you will likely have a knock on your camper in the middle of the night and open the door to armed property owners.

-Eventually the gang decides to shoot for driving to the city of Amarillo to find a city not controlled by the cultists, and at one point are ’82 miles’ away. This means they would have passed the cities of San Angelo, Abilene, Midland/Odessa, and Lubbock, any of which would have made more sense to try to get to instead of all the way up to Amarillo. Once they hit I-20, Fort Worth would also have been an easy shot to the east. It’s likely the writers just picked a Texas city the viewer is likely to have heard of.

-The RV in the film was a new 1975 Vogue 32 foot Villa Grande. The same model motorhome seen on TV in episodes of The Rockford Files, Highway To Heaven, Matt Houston, and Herbie, the Love Bug. A similar Vogue motorhome was used in the 1975 series Three For The Road, but it was a shorter model. For a time, Vogue motorhomes were very popular and packed a lot of features, including robust amounts of water storage. In the film, we are given a tour of the amenities. Four burner stove, double sink, regular and microwave oven, two rooftop air conditioners, color TV, generator, and even an automatic step that extended when you opened the door. It may have been ’32 feet and gleaming’ at the beginning, but gets beat to hell during the film.

The RV you want for your swinging 70s road trips.

While not particularly groundbreaking, and despite the title and premise, surprisingly little occultism shown in the film, Race With the Devil seen in HD gives you a taste of 1975-made more interesting if you are from central Texas. Race With the Devilis on DVD and Bluray as a Peter Fonda double feature from Shout Factory, and is streaming on Amazon, Apple TV, and Vudu, among other services.

Socially Distant Cinema is a column that will regularly point you to content from the 70s/80s currently available on various platforms that may bring you some entertainment during these periods of physical distancing...and beyond.

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