The Cars That Ate Paris [DVD]
Director : Peter Weir
Screenplay : Peter Weir (story by Peter Weir & Keith Gow & Piers Davies)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1974
Stars : John Meillon (The Mayor), Terry Camilleri (Arthur Waldo), Kevin Miles (Dr. Midland), Rick Scully (George Waldo), Max Gillies (Metcalfe), Danny Adcock (Policeman), Bruce Spence (Charlie), Kevin Golsby (Insurance man), Chris Haywood (Darryl), Peter Armstrong (Gorman)
Judging from the poster art and the title, if you had gone to see Peter Weir's The Cars That Ate Paris when it was distributed in the United States, you would have been pretty disappointed. The movie, even further misleadingly titled The Cars That Eat People, was advertised with a poster of a Volkswagen Beetle covered with metal spikes (which does appear in the film) literally eating a hapless victim (which does not). And, to add insult to injury, when it was re-released in 1984, the advertising line at the top of the poster compared the movie to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978), but also noted that Weir was the director of Gallipoli (1981).
Nobody gets eaten by any cars in The Cars That Ate Paris. Even though the title makes it sound like a goofy monster-run-amok movie about possessed automobiles, it is actually a clever little satirical thriller that fits rather neatly into the rural horror genre and also acts as a precursor to George Miller's Mad Max trilogy (1979-1985). The Paris of the title is not Paris, France, but rather a tiny, isolated burg in southern Australia. Like all remote small towns in rural horror movies, Paris has a deep, dark secret. In this case, it is the fact that the entire town subsists on causing car accidents and then salvaging the parts and any clothes and money on the victims. If there any survivors, they are usually so brain-damaged from the accident that they wind up "veggies" housed in the hospital and employed as guinea pigs for "experiments" conducted by the local doctor (Kevin Miles).
One night, however, an accident leaves a mostly undamaged survivor, a soft-spoken young man named Arthur (Terry Camilleri). Arthur's brother, George, is killed in the accident, and through a combination of coercion and intimidation, Arthur is convinced to stay in Paris, becoming like a son to the Mayor (John Meillon, who U.S. viewers might recognize as Wally from Crocodile Dundee). We get the sense that Arthur is a weak person with little gumption; he is so docile that it hardly seems like much work for the local doctor to convince him that he has psychological problems and should stick around. To make him feel more at home, the Mayor even gives Arthur an official position, parking administrator, although he is helpless to assert any authority in the face of the town's increasingly violent and agitated youth.
The theme of the old and young generations at war with each other snakes its way throughout The Cars That Ate Paris, with the Mayor and the other town elders trying to preserve their twisted way of life while the town's youth not-so-quietly revolt. When the Mayor burns one of the youth's cars as a punishment, it incites them to riot, bringing on the film's impressively sustained climax in which a youth gang runs rampant through the town, smashing buildings with their spray-painted junkers, some of which have been armored like jalopy tanks (this is the scene in which the aforementioned spike-covered Beetle makes its appearance, first seen in creepy silhouette on the horizon, emerging from the darkness like a giant arachnid).
Part horror movie, part black comedy, and part social satire, The Cars That Ate Paris is an intriguing gem of a cult movie. Its place in history is firmly rooted as the starting point of both Weir's long directorial career and the renaissance of Australian filmmaking in the 1970s. It's a weird little movie, one that seems to be taking place in some alternate dimension, like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. Yet, the characters are strangely recognizable, as they are all slightly twisted variations on small-town archetypes-the mayor, the members of the town council, the new kid in town, the local idiot, and so on. While no one is eaten by any cars in The Cars That Ate Paris, it still works as an creepy evocation of the horrors of isolation and the extremes to which people will go to survive when left to their own devices.
|The Cars That Ate Paris DVD|
|Audio||English Dolby 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements|| The Plumber 1979 TV thriller directed by Peter Weir|
Two video interviews with Peter Weir
|Distributor||Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||October 21, 2004|
|Home Vision has given The Cars That Ate Paris an impressive, director-approved anamorphic widescreen transfer in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The image is very clean, bright, and nicely detailed. The overall color palette is somewhat desaturated, with an emphasis on browns and greens, and the color reproduction looks dead on.|
|The original monaural soundtrack sounds very good for its age.|
|One of the supplements on this disc is a feature-length film, The Plumber, which Peter Weir wrote and directed for Australian TV in 1979. It is presented in a clean transfer in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio (not sure why it wasn't transferred full-frame at 1.33:1, since that is undoubtedly how it was presented on TV, but the transfer was approved by Weir, so we're left to assume this is how he prefers it to be shown). It's an interesting little thriller that gets under your skin, even though the ending is somewhat abrupt and not entirely satisfying. However, for fans of Weir's work, it will be a real treat since it has been virtually unseen for years, particularly in the U.S. |
Other supplements include two new video interviews with Weir, one about The Cars That Ate Paris and the other about The Plumber.
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images Copyright ©2003 Home Vision Entertainment and Salt-Pan Films Pty. Ltd.