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Under the Radar: Dirty Devils and Crazy Cars

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Apr 07, 2011 | 6:06am EDT

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Roger Corman's Dirty Mary Crazy Larry Race with the Devil Double FeatureWhen one encounters a DVD combo pack on the shelves of any given electronics store, one harbors certain prejudices. Especially if the two films bundled together are unfamiliar titles, the hesitance to even give it a second glance is powerful, and therefore its neglect upon the shelf is nothing surprising. But if there is one company that knows how to package great films together, it’s Shout! Factory.

Over the last several months, Shout has been doing a particularly stellar job releasing the lesser-known Roger Corman films in a way that taps into his most idiosyncratic trends. One of my favorites is the triple feature highlighting his foray into truly awful sci-fi: Not of this Earth, War of the Satellites, and Attack of the Crab Monsters. But that’s not to say they are limited to one artist in this regard. Next Tuesday sees the release of one of the greatest one-two punches ever made available on home video: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Race with the Devil.

Race with the Devil is not only an incredibly awesome piece of cinema, it’s also not an easy DVD to obtain. The original DVD went out of print long ago, and purchasing a used one on Amazon will cost you anywhere from $20-$50 with no guarantee as to its condition or the quality of the transfer. I have been hoping and praying that it would find rerelease imminently, and now it seems my patience has been rewarded with interest. Race with the Devil is the story of two couples who decide to take a cross-country road trip in a Winnebago. Everything is going as well as can be expected on a pseudo-swinger vacation until the two male components of the couples witness the ritualistic killing of a young woman near their campsite. Suddenly, they are besieged by psychotic Satanists as their happy little excursion turns into a nightmarish fight for survival.

There are so many things to love about Race with the Devil, it’s almost unholy. Peter Fonda and Warren Oates are the perfect '70s heroic duo. They play off of each other so well and personify the gritty, freewheeling spirit of the decade’s cinematic landscape. They are tough and incurably cool, but there is nothing overtly “movie star” about them. The horror elements of the film are fantastically understated and rely more on atmosphere and mood at first before exploding into some of the coolest auto stunts I’ve ever seen. Race with the Devil was directed by exploitation mainstay Jack Starrett, but the film is far better than anything that typifies '70s exploitation. The characters are genuine and likable, the terror is organic, it’s well shot, and has a phenomenal ending. If you haven’t seen Race with the Devil, this is the time to do so.

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, the other featured film in the set, also stars Peter Fonda as a racecar driver (Larry) who enters into a relationship with a fiery young groupie named…well, I’m sure you can guess. Along with Larry’s mechanic, Ace, the unbalanced couple knocks off a grocery store and begins a cross-country run from the law in a stunt that both of them are illogically convinced will garner them fame on the NASCAR circuit. They are stalked at every turn by a hard-nosed, tenacious lawman, played the incomparable Vic Morrow.

Race with the Devil Double FeatureDirty Mary Crazy Larry is, in many ways, the perfect companion piece to Race with the Devil. Both films celebrate the highway culture as an extension of the raging independent spirit of the '70s, and they actually both explore the dangers of that open road in different ways. Obviously, the blue ribbon for driving scenes goes to Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, as the furious, iconic white Dodge Charger rips asphalt apart with wanton abandon. Here, too, the cinematography is immaculate and the characters are fascinating, but the added benefit of Vic Morrow makes it impossible for me to choose a favorite between the two. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry also features an insane ending that perfectly caps off the lunacy of the previous 90 minutes.

If this release is anything like the Shout! Factory double features that have preceded it, hardcore film geeks are in for a real treat. Its commitment to gorgeous film print transfers is heart-warming for cinephiles like me, but more importantly, Shout is making it possible for novice movie lovers to discover films they may never have otherwise heard of -- something I can definitely appreciate. In this case, it allows them to dive headfirst into two of the coolest, most high-octane '70s carsploitation (yes, that's a real subgenre) films of all time. If you can at all manage it, I would recommend watching these two films projected against the side of a house while sitting atop the hood of an American muscle car; a comfy couch would serve as a suitable fallback.

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