Three young men on their way from Minnesota to Wisconsin late one night are terrorised for no apparent reason by someone driving a mysterious black Cadillac. Who is driving the car? What do they want? When the friends stop to pick up a stranded police officer, things seem to be looking positive but the Cadillac is soon back to menace them.
After the recent success of Roadkill (aka Joy Ride), it was inevitable that other films would come along and try and do a similar thing and here we have one with Black Cadillac. Steven Spielberg’s Duel pretty much cornered the market for this type of road rage film back in the 70s and covered all of the bases so these recent films have not really been laden with originality. I mean there’s only so much you can do with a car trying to run another car off the road for an hour and a half. But what they have had to do is keep their films tight, entertaining and fast-paced so that this rehashed material is given a makeover to seem fresh. Roadkill managed to do it and I’m pleased to say that Black Cadillac follows in the same footsteps, though the tepid claims that it is ‘based on a true story’ ring true of a shallow marketing ploy to divert accusations of plagiarism rather than re-enact history.
Black Cadillac is hard to describe as a horror – it’s more of a thriller and a fast-paced one at that. It moves along pretty briskly and after the opening scene inside the bar where we’re introduced to the three characters, the audience is given plenty of motives as to why the Cadillac is after the teenagers. Unfortunately the trio of leads aren’t particularly captivating and you could easily interchange them with similar characters from other teen horror films. You’ve got the motor-mouth one, the big violent brother and the annoying little brother. At least Shane Johnson, Josh Hammond and Jason Dohring all make the most of their clichéd roles, even if the script lets them down a lot of the time with some flat, truly woeful dialogue that guys like them would never say to each other.
The Cadillac is first seen about fifteen minutes into the film so the story wastes little time in getting down to the meat of it and then the cat-and-mouse interaction between the two cars takes it into more familiar Duel territory. Copious low angle close-ups of the Cadillac, rapid editing to signal how fast the cars are both travelling and plenty of tyre-burning mayhem ensues. The focus is not so much on who is driving it but as if the car has taken on a life of its own.
The introduction of Randy Quaid’s cop adds a new dynamic to the mix as you’d assume that the three friends are now safe in the presence of law enforcement. But the car returns and Quaid’s character becomes more essential to the story that you’d have assumed. Quaid might be annoying in a lot of his films, playing brash, loudmouth characters and generally getting in-your-face. But this time he plays the character just right, allowing a darker side to emerge and giving the film and unsettling feeling. You know there’s something that he’s hiding from the rest of the characters and he’s got this sinister look throughout. It is arguably the case that this foreshadows some of the plot twists later and ruins potential surprises well ahead of the game which is a bit of a shame.
The film does lose itself quite a bit towards the end when the teenagers decide to make a stand and fight back against the Cadillac. There are also plenty of plot holes, usually to do with the physics, space and time. One minute it’s driving behind the characters and the next it’s parked up in the road ahead in some form of ‘Dastardly and Muttley getting way ahead of their rivals in Wacky Races and then stopping to cheat and ending up way behind everyone but then in the next scene they’re in front of everyone again’ kind of way.
There is a lot to enjoy about Black Cadillac and it is well worth the price of a rental if you can find a copy. By going full speed ahead for as long as it can, it eventually runs out of gas and comes to a virtual standstill in the final third but overall it is a solid thriller.