Vacationing isn’t so good in … The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)
The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) is Peter Weir’s directorial debut, a horror movie that would make Roger Corman proud. I say that because Corman is known for his offbeat horror films, like The Wasp Woman, Dementia 13, and Death Race 2000. This is not a monster movie and none of the cars really eat anyone or attack anybody, a la Stephen King’s Christine. It’s not even set in France. The movie takes place in Paris, Australia, not Paris, France.
What’s with the title then? It could be a reference to the end of the movie, where the cars go on a rampage. The cars are the killing machines, a strangely destructive weapon and source of income for a town economy based on car homicide. But the title plays with the notion of being overcome or devoured, much like Arthur is adopted by the obsessive townsfolk. I’m not even sure what the hell I’m talking about, so I apologize.
The film begins with a music montage as some vacationing brothers travel to a nearby town for some shopping. They drive in the country, but somehow, their front wheel flies off the axel and the car tumbles down an embankment, where it crashes. Some men pick up the bodies casually and stuff them into the trunk.
This movie reminded me of The Hills Have Eyes (1977). Seriously, the backwoods and the attack by natives on visitors is comparable in both movies, but after the second “accident”, nothing comes of a discussion with a local detective. One of the vacationers named Arthur survives the accident and explores the strange town.
It is also a lot like The Wicker Man (1973), as it seems all the residents are in on the conspiracy. All of them. Most of the residents participate in the town economy of ambushing passing motorists, and I’m not sure why they hate tourists so much. Like The Wicker Man, the town plots against its “visitor”, so Arthur is in deep trouble, that’s for sure.
The Mayor leads another attack on a passing car and we see the townsfolk strip the car, take the belongings, and make off with everything else. There is an eerie, surreal feeling as the people go about their homicidal daily work.
Arthur simply tries to leave Paris, but is blocked. He can’t force himself to drive because of his fear, brought on by a prior misdemeanor conviction. He tries walking away, but is interrupted each time. I think this is a comment on nationalism, which is the exclusivity of culture and traditions. The traditions are sick and demented in Paris though, and no new ideas are allowed. Is that philosophy?
The town is about as strange as it gets, perhaps even more strange than The Wicker Man and The Hills have Eyes combined. And it’s weirdly Austrailian. I think after the doctor tells Arthur that his dead brother was found with his foot up his nose, I was supposed to laugh, but the comedy was too dark for me. Goes with the territory, I suppose.
They do make a joke out of the word “accident” though, which I found amusing. A horrific picture is called an accident. Arthur looks at other pictures of a dog and a cow. He is then shown a picture of his bloody car crash and the only response that is accepted is the word accident. I think the city’s name is also pretty humorous. It’s not really Paris you see, but an evil place full of dark comedy and murder. Don’t forget the murder. When you think Paris, you don’t think of those things, and that’s why it’s funny. Yeah, okay nevermind. It’s pretty different, I’ll give you that.
Arthur seems uncomfortable and out of his element for most of the film, which is probably the point. I’m not sure if his character is a comment on tourism or tourists in general or what. Arthur can’t figure this town out, but he decides to stay anyway. He is given the job of “parking officer” by the Mayor, but nobody listens to his advice about where to park. Besides, Arthur doesn’t even like cars very much, which makes him the most ineffective parking officer ever. Is that a joke?
The demented youngsters go on a rampage and drive their cars into most of the buildings in the town, causing massive amounts of destruction. To top off this farce, a car with spikes all over drives into some people and kills them. This movie flopped at the box office and I can see why. Arthur gets over his fear somehow and drives off, having figured out that the town is full of losers. Yay, it’s over. Finally.
All in all, this movie is really strange, which Peter Weir does on purpose to present shocking visuals and a twisted narrative of small-town life. It’s also a pretty silly movie and most of the comedy didn’t work for me. It is choppy film, not at all something I liked. I think there were some Australian in-jokes I didn’t get. It’s interesting to compare this movie to others far more well-known that I’ve seen, but I think it’s just as strange, like The Wicker Man. Maybe it’s a little more stupid actually, because the movie really do much except present horrific visuals. This movie carries on the legacy of dark horror comedies though, so maybe it’s kinda funny not to know what the hell is really going on in the film, though it would have been nice.