Race with the Devil at 40: Speeding with Satan

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Jun 26, 2015, 4:14 PM EDT

40 years ago, 1975 brought the arrival of a number of sci-fi, horror and fantasy films that made an impact on their genres -- some good, some not so good, but all interesting and all remembered even to this day. We continue our look back at each of those films on the anniversary of its release and where it stands four decades later with this minor drive-in classic.

Title: Race with the Devil

Release date: June 27, 1975

Cast: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker

Director: Jack Starrett

Plot: Two couples driving in an RV from San Antonio, Texas to Aspen, Colorado find their lives in danger when they witness a Satanic ritual involving a sacrificial murder. Pursued by a conspiracy of Satanists in trucks, car and on motorcycles, they fight for their lives in a high speed chase as they make their way through a string of evil-infested small Texas towns.

Why it's significant: It may not be "significant," but it is a hell of a lot of fun. Race with the Devil was the kind of movie you watched at drive-in double features, a form of American entertainment that is all but forgotten. The drive-in circuit kept B-movies like this and the filmmakers who created them in business, where they managed to churn out unpretentious genre quickies that more often than not provided the chills and thrills they were meant to deliver (and in the case of Race with the Devil, an ending that was fashionably bleak for the time).

And, of course, you had one-time counterculture icon Peter Fonda, not even a decade out from Easy Rider, playing the polar opposite of his '60s image -- this time cast as the kind of guy who takes his RV on ski trips to Aspen. But the teaming of him and overall bad-ass Warren Oates was a solid one: The two made three pictures together, of which Race with the Devil was the second.

Chase movies were big in the late '60s and '70s (and still are), but Race with the Devil was the first one to combine this kind of action staple with the horror genre. Even to this day, we see direct echoes of this hybrid in movies like Drive Angry, both versions of The Hitcher and, in a wider sense, franchises like Resident Evil or Underworld which combine horror archetypes with heavy doses of violent action. But if you want to see one of the first action horror movies, put the pedal to the metal and track down Race with the Devil.

Other entries in this series: