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Home Vision Entertainment presents
The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)

"Well, to put it nicely, he was one worse than your full veggie, wasn't he? You ever see a bloke with a foot up his nose?"
- Daryl (Chris Haywood)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: December 09, 2003

Stars: John Meillon, Terry Camilleri, Kevin Miles, Bruce Spence
Other Stars: Chris Haywood, Rick Scully, Max Phipps
Director: Peter Weir

Manufacturer: Ascent Media
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, language, brief nudity, gory accident scenes)
Run Time: 01h:27m:31s
Release Date: October 21, 2003
UPC: 037429176528
Genre: black comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-B+ B+

DVD Review

Director Peter Weir (Master and Commander) has made quite a few critically-acclaimed and highly interesting films over the years. This disc from HVE takes a look at one of Weir's earliest works, made before he received substantial critical acclaim. This first feature film shows a director who is not afraid to take on a bizarre concept and to find the drama and humor inherent in it.

Paris, Australia isn't much of a town, but it has a nasty habit: the townspeople eke out a living by causing car crashes nearby and scavenging the wreckage. Arthur (Terry Camilleri) is passing through when such a wreck occurs to him, and his brother George (Rick Scully) is killed. Arthur is nursed back to health by the townspeople, including a doctor (Kevin Miles) who is conducting mad experiments upon some of the crash survivors. But Arthur finds that not only does the Mayor (John Meillon) not want him to leave, but he wants to take him into his family. Matters become increasingly nightmarish until the seeds sown by Paris come back to haunt it.

Weir takes the theme of idolizing the automobile (a notion all-too-familiar in America as well as Australia) to its logical conclusion. Everything in Paris is governed by the car; the economy functions on car parts and oil to the exclusion of just about everything else. Everything of import to the plot happens either in a car or regarding a car. The corrupt basis of the town also reverses the old saw about the sins of the fathers; here the moral blinders accepted by the older generation is translated by the younger into a complete amorality that ultimately results in the climax of the picture. Particularly noteworthy are the iconic spike-covered Volkswagen Beetle and the Flying Tiger-inspired automobiles driven by the youths as they rampage through the town. By way of contrast, the musical score is often quite delicate, with harps prominent and thereby giving the twisted metal an ethereal delicacy. The score is by Bruce Smeaton, who would collaborate with Weir the next year on Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Arthur's imprisonment is given extra pathos by a haunting memory from his own past, when he hit and killed an old man with his own car. The guilt and responsibility he feels gives him a resonance that helps explain why he might just accede to becoming a part of Paris' odd culture. Camilleri plays him as an Andy Kaufman-like insecure nebbish, which helps matters as well. Meillon as the pompous mayor also turns in a good performance, with a number of interesting subtleties such as his apparent fondness for Arthur. Bruce Spence, who would become best known for the role of the twitchy helicopter pilot in The Road Warrior, and was more recently snipped from the theatrical version of Return of the King, here takes on the part of Charley, the village idiot; his moral stunting is a clear parallel to that of the bestial kids who live for demolition derbies above all and consider their befanged vehicles sacred property. Weir takes a slap at religion as well with his cutting; he turns from a slack-jawed Charley to the minister, with his mouth similarly agape, in a none-too-subtle message.

The concepts here are taken far over the top, with nasty comic results. The Pioneer's Ball held by the village elders involves bizarre pseudo-religious chanting that resembles a small-scale Nuremberg rally. The funniest bits involve the hospital and the varying degrees of 'veggies' who have fallen under the doctor's knife for his own amusement. Daryl the orderly (Chris Haywood) demonstrates a wicked comic timing in his banal descriptions of the patients to Arthur. The weird goings on seem to be a point of pride and amusement to him. There are a few holes in the story (such as how exactly the town caused the wreck that precedes the credits), but on the whole the piece is intriguing and entertaining. The picture was briefly (and disastrously) released in the USA by New Line in a substantially recut version, under the title The Cars That Ate People; the film presented here is the original without the New Line tampering.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic picture is startlingly good for the most part, with excellent crispness and quite filmlike. Colors are very lifelike, although the palette is rather subdued for the most part. The source print is very clean, and both the heavy grain and difficult patterns (including paisleys and fine plaids) are well rendered, with minimal noise.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Australian audio is in Dolby Surround, not mono as noted on the keepcase, since there is accentuated directionality at times (not surprisingly, with regard to the cars). There is a fair amount of hiss present, and dialogue is often hard to make out due to the accents, which makes one feel the lack of subtitles or closed captioning. The sound is somewhat thin, and the echo in the church is rather unconvincing. While the music sounds decent, the car wrecks themselves lack visceral impact and bass.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Plumber
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. bonus feature film
Extras Review: As a bonus, Home Vision includes another early Weir feature, his psychothriller The Plumber (1978). This picture takes the nightmare of home invasion and the helpless feeling engendered thereby to a maddening extreme. Two young anthopologists, Jill (Judy Morris) and Brian Cowper (Robert Coleby), living in university housing, are subjected to a series of indignities by Max (Ivor Kants), who may or may not actually be a plumber, but who demonstrates erratic behavior—to put it politely. Before long, the apartment is practically a disaster area and Jill is terrorized and traumatized by Max's game playing, unable to get help from the university or her husband, who is absorbed with his own doings. Although the story is pretty taut for the most part, it starts to get repetitive before the end; it might have worked better with a little shorter running time, though it's none too long as it is. The picture, which aired on Australian television (the commercial breaks are rather obvious on this print), contains some small bits of nudity. It's very grainy but also looks quite filmlike, though a bit lacking in fine detail and rather soft.

In addition to trailers for each film, there are two 2003 interviews with Weir in which he discusses the films. That for Cars talks about his roots in sketch comedy and the problems with New Line. That for The Plumber discusses observations on stories and ideas and their connections to hitchhiking, as well as an anecdote about a plumber who resented Weir's portrayal of his occupation.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

A wicked black comedy from Peter Weir, given an excellent transfer and some superlative extras. Well worth checking out.


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