Saturday, December 13, 2008

Death Car on the Freeway (1979)

Network: CBS
Original Air Date: September 25th, 1979

OK, it’s time to give the Freeway Fiddler a little love, because let’s face it, love was all he needed. Maybe then he wouldn’t have gone on to chase down independent woman on crowded Los Angeles highways. And all this time, I thought it was road rage. I mean, I live here and so I know all about road rage. You don’t gotta have a demented mommy giving you a few smacks across the face to plow down your fellow driver. So maybe I just relate a little too much to the Freeway Fiddler… just maybe… Does that up my scary factor?


In a bit I’m going to compare this movie to Black Christmas. I only mention it now because I love suspense! Can’t you see I’m a master at it?

Death Car on the Freeway stars Shelly Hack (Charlie’s Angels) as Janette, the beautiful, intrepid reporter out to find a maniac who has been dubbed the Freeway Fiddler. The Fiddler likes to taunt his victims on the freeway before he pulls a Dukes of Hazzard, which causes horrible (yet spectacular) crashes. The victims are all strong, self-sufficient women so you know eventually Janette will end up on this man’s hit list. But for now, she is too busy proving she can climb the network ladder as well as making it on her own outside the workforce, much to the chagrin of her soon-to-be ex hubby, George Hamilton (who manages to be the prettiest actor in the film!).

So close!

Death Car was directed by Hal Needham who is most famous for making Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run. A former stuntman, this man knows his way around a car! The chases and crashes are incredible, tense even. The Fiddler is the stuff of legend (see my list of Creepiest Characters from 70s TV Movies for proof), and would easily fit into any slasher story, except his car is the weapon. I just gotta say it one more time… this movie had to be an influence on Tarantino’s excellent thriller Death Proof. OK, I’m done! Needham also makes an appearance as Mr. Blanchard, the guy who teaches Janette to burn rubber!

Outta sight!

OK, back to my thoughts on Black Christmas. We may agree that the Freeway Fiddler is creepy but he’s no Billy. Also, both films could be considered a slasher (if we really extend the definition!) but to the naked eye, these films couldn’t be more different. That’s where the leading ladies step in. Olivia Hussey was great as Jessie the Final Girl in BC, but let’s face it, she was a very self-absorbed character. She never once took her boyfriend’s feelings into consideration when she revealed that not only was she pregnant but that she was terminating that pregnancy. She came across as a woman who was going to do what she wanted regardless of who got stepped on. She might not be Madonna, but still kind of a bitch. Hack’s Janette is a bit the same way. She seemed unaware or maybe she just didn’t care how her ex felt about the impending divorce. Hamilton is drawn in a (mostly) sympathetic light so half the time I was thinking how lame Janette was. And at the same time I wondered if this cold-hearted portrayal was supposed to paint Janette as “independent.”

I get confused easily.

Also like BC, the killer's identity remains one of the great mysteries of the made for television movie. That does up the creep factor just a touch you see...

The Fiddler's gruesome handywork

So maybe I’m just thinking too much about the Fiddler and his nemesis because in the end Death Car is just one fun little film. More spectacular than most tele-films of this ilk, minus one plodding scene with a biker gang, it scores on almost every count. And it’s got Dinah Shore as an a-sexual tennis player! So what if I wanted to see Janette go up in flames?

Also, check out this awesome Death Car on the Freeway fansite!!!

Billy is that you?

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