Race with the Devil is a hugely enjoyable and interesting independent production which manages to conflate a number of the thematic preoccupations of 1970’s American cinema into its form. Firstly we have an exploration (albeit rather unsophisticated) of satanic cults. The most disturbing aspect of which is the lengths such sects will go too in order to maintain the anonymity of its members. This film appeared in cinemas before the commercial battering ram of The Omen (1976), and continued to prove that the devil had significant commercial draw in the 1970’s. The director Jack Starrett exploits Satan to the fullest, even though the horned beast fails to put in an appearance. The film also draws on a cinematic current which sought to find horrors within the alienated populations of rural America. These ‘rural horrors’ such as Deliverance (1972) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) set the trend by having the feeble faces of urban modernity facing primeval fights for survival against fellow Americans forgotten and rejected by modernity. With its wide open landscape, empty and desolate roads, and lifeless towns Race with the Devil fits smoothly into this thematic terrain. The film is also a road movie, it venerates the automobile as a gadget for masculine expression, but challenges preconceptions of motor vehicles as a conduit of pioneer spirit. Our protagonists do discover something in the American outback, but it is something terrible and nightmarish. This is a film with generic hybridity, and by expanding the generic remit it is able to put its finger on a number of the ‘phobic pressure points’ that Stephen King so eloquently described in his work of non-fiction Danse Macabre (1981).
© Shaun Anderson 2010