Black Cadillac

Starring: Randy Quaid, Shane Johnson, Josh Hammond & Jason Dohring
Mosaic Entertainment
Certificate: 15
Available now

A Yale university student, his younger brother and his best friend visit a roadhouse to celebrate the end of an era. Two have sexual liaisons, but when the third is involved in a fight, the trio are forced to make a sharp exit. A black cadillac toys with them on the road and leads the unwitting young men deeper into woodland roads, until they are hopelessly lost. They pick up a policeman whose car has broken down, but when the man appears unconcerned by events they realise that the cadillac driver might be after the cop. Leaving him on the side of the road, they see him shot by the unseen assailant. But the cadillac keeps coming...

This is yet another teen flick riding on the success of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, although in this case there's no Ghostface or Fisherman. In fact, the car is worn like a costume, rendering the perpetrator invisible until the end of the movie. It works here rather like the Scooby-Doo premise: hardly anyone else is seen throughout the story, and yet it still comes as a surprise when Mr Jenkins, the abandoned amusement park caretaker, is unmasked as the monster. It has to be done this way though, because a previously unknown villain would have no impact on the plot.

The horror movie classic, Halloween, has a lot to answer for. Nowadays, nobody stays dead for very long. Customised 1950s cadillac it may be, but even this car leads a charmed life. Having struck a dead cow, it drives off the road, impacts with a pitted slope and rattles its way down on to a frozen lake. No broken suspension, no sheared engine mountings, no punctures, it didn't even scrape the paintwork. The engine simply restarts, and off it drives as if nothing has happened. Yet there is no supernatural element to the car. I think the director must have enjoyed playing car computer games with the damage control turned off.

So often in these lower status films there is a half-hearted attempt to raise a dark phobia from a key character's psyche, which is seldom played out to its full potential. This is also the case here. Use Duel as a comparison. We know next to nothing about Dennis Weaver's character, but his reactions of nervousness, unadulterated panic and sheer relief are totally convincing. A cop-out need to tie everything up into a neat little package doesn't necessarily turn a hack into Shakespeare. It usually has the opposite effect. In other words, it's better to allow your characters to come to life, rather than force attitude or back story into them sideways.

All in all, this is average fair. There's very little suspense, and no character sympathy, but it does somehow generate enough interest to keep you watching.

Ty Power