As a fitting tribute to FAST AND THE FURIOUS 6 which is released on DVD on 12/10/13 I dedicate my sixth review of Something Weird’s Drivers Ed Scare Films Volume to Paul Walker, a man who made cinematic car crashes seem like harmless fun for millions of young summer film lovers….at least until his tragic fatal racing accident on November 30, 2013. While lawmakers, movie critics and car aficionados everywhere will continue to debate the realism, message and authenticity (or lack thereof) of the FAST AND THE FURIOUS series, few can argue that Mr. Walker will be legitimately remembered as the closest thing we have seen to James Dean in an entire generation. Rest in Peace.
It is once again that time of year where I review the next installment of Something Weird’s Drivers Ed Scare Films. For those of you who haven’t actually seen a driver’s educational movie before or have yet to read any of my six infotaining previous reviews regarding them, let me get you up to speed. The Drivers Education movies of long ago, by all counts, were an experiment in state sponsored shock film making that the world had never seen before, or would ever see again. More often than not they involve a short story about hypothetical careless teenagers (often mixed with real life accident footage), explained by a joyless, usually unseen narrator who always seemed strangely misanthropic in tone, as if he somehow secretly enjoyed the death and carnage on parade. Perhaps most unbelievable, these films are usually endorsed, created and otherwise authorized by the HIGHWAY PATROL, the DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION or some actual government entity who thought these graphic “asshole meets asphault” vignettes were actually a helpful way to instruct our teenagers. Let us this throw this review wildly into drive and veer into the opposing lanes of educational film convention for another series of crash films where the mixed safety messages will embed in your brain like a steel, pre 1968 steering column in a frontal impact.
American Highways: Way of Life, Way of Death (1972)
This is something of a treatise on the engineering, legislative and statistical history of the American Highway as introduced by Representative Jim Wright the Chairman of Public Woks Subcommittee on investigations and review. Oddly enough, it seems that there is nothing that Congress, The Automakers and the government can do to guarantee accident free driving. I tried to synopsize this one in the exact same dry, academic prose that remotely simulates to the reader how boring this film is to read about as it for an actual viewer. Some practical driving tips are included toward the end to help you beat the odds, but never has the onscreen depiction of “death by degrees” been so inestimably boring. Just to recap, don’t drink and drive, don’t speed, don’t tailgate, mind your blind spots and whatever you do never use your horn excessively. At the end of the film I learned that in the time it took for me to watch this film two people have been killed in automobile accidents. When I heard that I couldn’t help thinking what a sad waste of life that was and how the fatality statistics were kind of depressing too.
Advanced City Driving (1968)
This is a crosstown trip reminiscent of SPLIT SECOND DECISION, one of the chapters of the last volume. In classical first person video game view we drive our hypothetical car across an ordinary trip across an anonymous town while the most demanding back seat driver in the world continually tells how and where to drive through constant voiceover. Hey, I’m just trying to get home. Get out of my head, man!
The Final Factor (1968)
What sounds like a throwaway game show from the 1960’s is actually the exhaustive story of what the law simply now calls contributory negligence. This has lots of hypothetical traffic vignettes involving people who “pile on” the bad driving behavior until the always inevitable “pile up” at the end. Pay special attention to the woman named Harriet Wingate who likes to drive through city streets with her toddler standing on the seat next to her. After a sudden stop her child falls and hits the dashboard and gets a “bumped forehead, maybe a chipped tooth”. Thankfully this driving instruction film is soft enough and exists in an educational film time loop where everyone gets a “do over” so Harriet puts her child in an antiquated cable tether that still allows him to “safely stand in the front seat”. This is an important early onscreen depiction of early child safety technologies because these early tether systems still gave baby the freedom of movement to jump around playfully in the front seat of a moving car with only the slightly significant injury of neck breaking whiplash in case of a sudden stop. Now that’s what I call really thumbing your nose at the old grim reaper!
Highway Driving (1950)
This is a clean, polite little driving film with lively orchestral traveling music that sounds like it was lifted from a 1950’s television family drama about any wholesome idyllic American Family. So watch those rear-view mirrors, you wouldn’t want to back over “Wally and the Beav”.
Drive Defensively (1959)
This is a black and white treatise that explains how to drive reactively rather than proactively. Just ride with a young driver named Chuck Hennan for a day and learn from his many mistakes. In time you too can be a respectable young man who doesn’t honk at cyclists, stops at all blind intersections and always yields right of way to a rubber ball rolling into a street. This is usually the part in the review where I joke that it was too bad it wasn’t called “DRIVING OFFESIVELY”, the subject matter alone could have made for a more exciting, strangely compelling film. Little did I know at the time how right these sentiments would actually be until I saw the final film in this set, which seems to be based on exactly this premise?
The Third Killer (1968)
This one is not what you might expect and by that I mean it is capable of actual entertainment value as a dramatic work and not just my sarcastic synopsis’s. A mysterious salesman by the name of Rellik meets with various sick and dying people in the hospital under false pretenses expressing feigned compassion, which quickly becomes actual, uncontrollable sadness when learns that both a cancer patient and a heart attack patient are somehow going to pull through and survive. As Rellik is now tired of dealing with victims of the two biggest causes of premature death in this country, he then focuses his efforts on the third leading factor of mortality in 1968, Traffic Fatalities. For the rest of the film Rellik appears (literally) out of thin air and engages engage various motorists in polite conversation, encourages them to do something stupid with their driving habits which always results in a fatal accident. This is an incredible breath of fresh air for a driver’s education film because almost all of them thus far have revolved around a stern but saintly disembodied voice that scolds and scares the audience enough to impart wisdom onto them through matter of fact scolding and shameless statistic dropping. Rellik however is absolutely, positively evil and obviously works for none other than the devil himself (his red suited sales manager). Also, the quiet, smooth salesmanship Rellik displays as he cunningly convinces complete strangers to engage on a course of driving behavior that can only lead to their violent death simply has to be seen to be believed.
Finally, there are the usual graphic depictions of real life accident aftermath footage is which is used to represent the nice everyday folks who Rellik just “advised” a scene before. These would be mean spirited and unconventional enough on their own, if played in meaningful silence or the usual sad, sympathetic trumpet dirge we almost always get in films like this. Yet Rellik isn’t done yet, during the shots of actual corpses being pulled from actual cars, our traveling accident instigator adds insult to injury by gloating in voiceover to the dead people on the screen, often insulting them for the smug human ignorance which allowed them to ever listen to him in the first place. Still not satisfied, he then starts to mock their pain and suffering as can be heard in this actual film quote:
“You think you're too old to cry? You'll cry like a baby when you're stretched out on the asphalt with pain tearing at every inch of your body! And you'll pray! You'll pray because you just don't know!”
With its trademark graphic depictions of real accident aftermaths, cheesy overdub by a peculiar narrator who has the usual absolutist all-encompassing knowledge of all traffic deaths (as well as an fresh, all-consuming hatred of all mankind), this is absolutely more ideologically disturbing than most modern day horror movies, making THE THIRD KILLER the absolutely the most perfect Driver’s Education video I have ever seen in my life. The conclusion involves Rellik sitting next to another salesman in a café advising him not to stop and rest for the night but to keep going 200 more miles instead of sleeping and get a jump on his sales for the next day. As the salesman leaves, they exchange business and Rellik simply hands him a card with his name on it. When the trucker sees the reverse image of the business card on a reflective “drive safely” pamphlet holder he realizes “Rellik” it is actually “Killer” written in reverse. Good God, this is some harsh highway hokum. If you liked those Allstate commercials (as much as I do) where a man named “Mayhem” illustrates the agonies the lighter side of bad decisions firsthand, you will simply adore this tale of Rellik, his ideological (and distinctively more badass) grandfather.
In typical fashion for this series there was one really grisly short film on Volume 6 and the rest were padded with filler regarding driver etiquette, remedial traffic school information and technically obsolete information regarding our nation’s accident fatality statistics before the age of the airbag. However, THE THIRD KILLER packed such a wallop that I have to recommend this set as having more “impact” than all of the other films of this whole crash happy series thus far.
Extras include nothing.
As always, I will review the final entry in this series (volume 7) sometime in 2014…