47 FILMS: 37. THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS
In our continuing series of ’47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at Peter Weir’s debut feature film The Cars that Ate Paris.
One of the many, many joys of Mad Max: Fury Road was the appearance of the porcupine spiky cars that turned up early in the chase scene. An obvious nod to compatriot Peter Weir’s debut comedy/horror The Cars that Ate Paris which featured a VW Beetle that looked like Herbie’s bad-ass bastard brother.
The story of the film reads like a Twilight Zone episode penned by J. G. Ballard. Paris is a pleasant pastoral town in rural Australia with more than a passing resemblance to Hobbiton, but it hides an awful secret. The town folk engineer car accidents which they then profit from. Arthur Waldo (Terry Camilleri) and his older brother, George Waldo (Rick Scully) are two such victims when they crash near the town with their caravan. Survivors of the crashes are usually lobotomized by the town surgeon with power drills, but Arthur is spared and befriended by the Mayor of Paris, Len Kelly (John Meillon). The young men of the town use the spare parts to soup up and weaponize their own vehicles, becoming increasingly resistant to the authority of their elders. Weir’s brilliant twist is to never quite reveal who is the most dangerous. Are the hooligans in their cars really more dangerous than the elders who have clinically set up a murderous cottage industry while still maintaining a parody of gentility in their daily lives?
Weir’s film is darkly funny, but never commits fully to the silliness of its B-movie Oz-ploitation origins. Death Race 2000 retooled the same model in a much more exuberant manner. Weir would progress to the wonders of Picnic at Hanging Rock and Gallipoli, and later Hollywood fame with Witness, Dead Poets Society, Master and Commander and The Truman Show. But already with The Cars that Ate Paris, the topic of a closed world with its own strict rules is there, and will fascinate the Australian director for years to come.
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