Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

RACE WITH THE DEVIL. 20th Century Fox, 1975. Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker, R. G. Armstrong, Clay Tanner. Director: Jack Starrett.

   Imagine it’s the mid-1970s. You’re not a hippie or a rebel, though you like your motorcycles and a drink or two. You’re planning the most kick ass vacation possible. You’ve got your wife, your best friend, his wife, her cute little dog all comfortably ensconced in a souped–up RV and you’re ready to hit the wide open American road. Freedom is in the air.

   What could possibly go wrong?

   In Race With The Devil, the answer is everything. But not in a comedic National Lampoon’s Vacation manner. There’s no John Hughes comedic sensibility in this suspenseful, disturbing, but compulsively watchable, thriller about two couples on the run from a horde of bloodthirsty Satanists.

   A nightmarish journey into fear and paranoia, Race With The Devil stars Warren Oates and Peter Fonda as two buddies who, along with their wives, run afoul of a mysterious cult. Both men, actors whose work I greatly admire, are naturals here. Their distinct personalities shine through, giving life to their upper middle class characters. They are men caught between their bourgeois, consumerist lifestyle and their visceral desire to protect their women and to fight back.

   Directed by Jack Starrett, the movie has two strong leads, some bang up car chases, and a cynical eye toward both authority figures and the counterculture. The plot strains credulity, but it’s easily forgivable. After all, this isn’t high art. It’s an exploitation film about normally dressed Satanists chasing two middle class American couples through West Texas, shattering their planned ski vacation in Aspen. It’s a hell of a ride, spiraling ever downward into a neo-noir landscape where you have no idea whom you can trust.