Speak No Evil #1: Who Killed the Haunted Car?
Byon May 3, 2012
I recently purchased a new car – a 2012, brick-crimson Versa with your basic touch-screen GPS; hands-free, Bluetooth, chatterbox cell phone and an input for my iPod that controls directly from the steering wheel. Overall, the kind of car that splits the difference between awesome and affordable, the product of a trade-in, of a trade-in, of trade-in. A 2012 for a 2007; the 2007 for an aging aught-two. It’s a process I’ve repeated four times in my 32 years -- sixteen if you count the licensed ones -- mortgaging a four-wheel future with a little help from Wells Fargo and a few finely polished, 30-second TV spots.
Yes, I’m the sucker with the wide-eyes. I'll die four cars from now.
We’ve been talking about “Killer Cars” here at Chiller this week – a fun, but fading, bit of alliteration when you consider the fact that our finest examples are slowly rusting out back in the cinematic shed. If the mom-and-pop of the automotive-murder genre are Seven Spielberg’s 1971 adaptation of Matheson’s Duel and John Carpenter’s test-drive of Stephen King’s classic Christine, one wonders where the last few decades have gone. Why, in this seemingly "green" era of recycled creativity, are there no remakes or sequels to these Cadillac classics holding down some October release date? Hell, even Tarantino's relatively recent tribute to the muscle-car-as-weapon, Death Proof, was a purposefully dated grindhouse homage.
Of course, such films harken back to a period when the American high-ways still saw the occasional empty stretch of black-top, or the first car you bought was damn-near the last car you’d own. And while the two-ton threat of an 18-wheel psychopath has been tenuously maintained in films such as Joy Ride – and recently re-visited by King and his son, author Joe Hill, in their Duel-inspired Road Rage – the notion of the self-possessed Chevy has, it would seem, chugged quietly out of gas, bleaching in the sun somewhere alongside the old Route 66.
One might argue that the boy-and-his-car relationship long ago fell victim to the disemboweling claws of competing demographics; low-end rides for the 18-24 set; high-tech eloquence for the 49-plus. And where films like Christine once explored the notion that one might supernaturally imprint themselves on their beloved sedan, today we can quite literally do this with a few simple keystrokes. Our favorite places stored in a GPS; our loved-ones called up from a spoken-verse phonebook; the music of our teens, our twenties, remembered in a series of forever-kept playlists. And if you’re crap at parallel parking, the button on the left will do it for you.
Never have our cars been more reflective of ourselves, and yet, oddly, never have they felt less personal. More and more, our vehicles are filled not with memories, but a reasonable MPG. I doubt, when I die, that my Versa will nostalgically (or vengefully) navigate my bi-monthly trek up the Merritt to idle in my parents’ driveway, blasting my typical mix of Death Cab and Lupe Fiasco along the way, auto-dialing my far-away friends simply to hear their voices….
But Christine would.
Because Christine is filled with the resonant echoes of drive-in movie theaters, the perfume of long-ago lovers, the old-car smell of slowly baked leather; Christine was seldom sold and often loved, cared for, wiped down, waxed and washed. Christine knew the soft jingle of keys as they fell from a father’s hand to a son’s. Christine was not simply some Blue Book percentage factored by depreciation over time.
No, the haunted car used to be the equivalent of a rabidly protective dog – mouth foaming – or the receptive vessel for an angry and ill-departed soul, ready to run down the greaser son-of-a-bitch that disrespected its driver. Today, however, the cinematic, self-driving car is the Fast and Furious equivalent of Hasselhoff’s K.I.T.; auto accidents are a thing protected-from and insured against; and psychotic big-rig drivers are best dealt with by gunning it toward the next super-sized rest-stop.
Who knows? Perhaps Christine is still cruising around out there, driving the lonely, Nevada stretch between Xxyxz and Vegas, about to be flagged by some State Trooper who’ll no doubt run her plates and dredge up the past. Maybe she’s waiting impatiently at the back of an antique car show, or sitting in an impound alongside an equally unsettling Buick. Maybe she’d have some impolite thoughts about our present-day car culture; or maybe she’d simply love a CG-voicebox to threaten with, or seduce…
Either way, the classic haunted-car story seems to have crested the horizon, but there’s still some gas sloshing there in the tank. And maybe our modern-day automotive dispassion is the key the ignition requires; a car like Christine to remind us all to care again….Now if only the right kind of driver would sit behind the wheel and press the peddle…
What do you think? Can the genre be saved? Share your thoughts on the subject over at Chiller’s Facebook page and join the discussion…