Satan in the Hill Country

These days, San Antonio’s connection to Hollywood is basically nonexistent. Sure, things were “hot” back in the 1920s with some award-winning World War I aviator films and all that, but that was kind of “a long time ago.” Studios have shot here since then, but it’s been random. Either they’re already shooting in Austin and need to photograph some horses with old buildings in the background, or it’s something about the Alamo, or Kenny Rogers is doing another Gambler sequel. Films that actually showcase San Antonio are rare.

But if you dig deep beneath the surface you’ll find some wonderfully bizarre cult classics with A-list stars set against our skyscraper-less skyline. You’ll also find some forgotten films with C-list stars, which we’ll try to get into as well, but first let’s start with one of the all-time cult classics from the 1970s, Race With the Devil. Though it was initially overlooked by audiences and critics, it has since risen in popularity over the years, and features the unforgettable tagline: “If you’re going to race with the devil, you’ve got to be as fast as Hell!”

The film features two completely iconic ’70s film stars: Peter Fonda and Warren Oates, who each starred in one of the two most important counter-culture road movies of all time — Oates in the existential Two Lane Blacktop, featuring folk singer James Taylor and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, and Fonda in the legendary Easy Rider. The unlikely success of the latter brought revolutionary artistic changes to the Hollywood studio system that would become known as the American New Wave. In Race with the Devil, these two road-movie icons join their cinematic forces for an even greater road-movie experience … a tour of the Texas Hill Country in an RV with their wives (Loretta Swit and Lara Parker)! Yeah, not quite the same open-road experience, but perhaps existential in other, less obvious ways. Fonda and Oates have a couple of souped-up motorcycle dirt bikes strapped to the back of the Chinook, so they aren’t completely settled down, emasculated, and stripped of their cinematic virility.

Though it isn’t stated explicitly, the Fonda and Oates characters appear to be San Antonio residents, as we see them driving through downtown San Antonio on the way out of town. How do we know for sure they’re in San Antonio? They drive by the Alamo, of course. They’re heading to happy, safe Colorado, but on the way they spend their first day and night in the Hill Country, where evil incarnate has set up shop.

In what appears to a location somewhere around Bandera, the happy foursome pull over by a river to take it easy, race around on the dirt bikes, and have a few drinks before hitting the road again in the morning. At night, Oates and Fonda come across a crazy party by a campfire in the distance. With binoculars they spy on some naked boobies, which is cool and all, but the good times are fleeting. Seconds later a guy wearing some sort of chupacabra costume ends up killing the girl in what can only be considered a satanic ritual, not to mention a serious buzz kill. Of course the great irony here is that Peter Fonda represents not a counter-culture dropout like in his other films, but the moral majority. Anyway, the satanists realize they’ve been spotted, and it’s off to the RV for our heroes with the satanists close behind. This begins a non-stop pursuit through the Hill Country, as Satanists keep popping up everywhere we look. The film is one-half paranoid Satan mumbo-jumbo mixed with another half of Dukes of Hazzard car chases, which makes sense because the director for this film, Jack Starrett, later directed episodes of the TV show. The hilarious genre-bending going on here helps explain why Race With the Devil has reached cult-film status.

Race With the Devil is in the news again. For the last few years a producer of American Pie has been considering remaking the film, and Kevin Smith (Clerks) is in pre-production on his first horror film, called Red State, which in interviews he claims is very reminiscent of Race With the Devil. On June 8 the Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Austin screened the film. Hopefully San Antonio’s Drafthouses will follow suit. •

Race With the Devil

Dir. Jack Starrett; feat. Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker, R. G. Armstrong (PG)


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