UNASHAMEDLY proud of its TV-movie status, Death Car On The Freeway could teach some big-dollar box-office flops a thing or two about simple, tightly written storylines and realistic stunts.
Jan Claussen (Shelley Hack) is a novice TV news anchor trying to prove herself as a serious investigative journalist in a male-dominated field. Downtrodden by ex-husband and rival anchorman Ray Jeffries (the power-tanned Hamilton), Jan embraces the 1970s girl-power movement and sets out to make a name of her own. She investigates rumours of a psychotic, van-driving serial killer dubbed ‘The Freeway Fiddler’ (due to his love of playing psychobilly fiddle music on his eight-track – we hope!), and soon puts both her career and life on the line.
Mass hysteria grips Los Angeles as The Fiddler’s driving methods become more brazen as his attacks increase. Each new victim prompts a fresh paintjob for the heavily tinted Dodge, its exposed Chrysler small-block punching out plenty of neddies to mow down The Fiddler’s prey (the donk wears enough period-cool accessories to deserve pause time all on its own). The Fiddler’s features are kept hidden throughout the film – save for a pair of leather-clad hands and a heavy right foot – the script instead relying on the Dodge’s changing exterior to signpost the villain’s demeanour.
Jan’s hard-hitting style ruffles plenty of feathers, including those of the local police lieutenant (Peter Graves) and a bunch of misfit bikies and racers copping unwanted heat as a result of The Fiddler’s actions. A tip-off sees Jan close to exposing The Fiddler’s identity, all the while unaware of his interest in her. The tables soon flip on Jan, building the suspense for a fitting high-speed climax where life very coolly imitates art.
Like many films of this era, the stunt driving scenes are far more enjoyable knowing they’re filmed in real time and that stunt men and women actually risked their lives for our viewing pleasure. The saturation of CGI in modern films has nothing on the gritty realism of this bygone era.
DEATH Car On The Freeway feels like a movie-length episode of Charlie’s Angels or CHiPs, but that’s far from being a bad thing. It’s a cohesively written and well-executed TV movie, even if the acting gets a tad cheesy and the anti-fast car sentiment a little annoying. It’s best to just enjoy it for the 70s period-piece that it is, refreshingly free from the expectation of whiz-bang special effects that modern directors have ingrained in us all.
- 1978 Dodge Tradesman 200
- 1976 Ford Mustang II
- 1979 Pontiac Firebird
- 1973 Datsun 240Z
- 1978 Honda Civic
- 1971 Chevrolet Camaro
COOL FLICK FACT:
Director Hal Needham was responsible for the stunt work in many of Burt Reynolds’s classic films, including Smokey And The Bandit, Hooper and White Lightning.