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.

For more of our 47 Films to see Before you are Murdered in your Dreams’ Click Here.


Advance copies arrived of Mel Gibson‘s new autobiography Sad and Angry and Studio Exec was given exclusive permission to publish extracts.

From Chapter One: My Family:

We were a normal family. Dad was on Jeopardy! I remember that clearly. But other than that, he was a hard working guy who raised us well. And mom was always there for us. I suppose that’s where we got our values from. After we moved from New York to Australia, I must have been about 12 we probably became closed as a family. dad would come home, exhausted from denying the Holocaust happened and we’d play Battleships on the kitchen table. I was always Admiral Donitz. 

Chapter Four: Mad Max:

When I first met George Miller, he was a young director with hardly a penny to his name but he had a dream. ‘Mel,’ he said. ‘I really wanna make a film about a talking pig, but as the technology isn’t here yet, we’re gonna do some crap with cars instead.’ As our relationship matured and the Mad Max films achieved increasing commercial and critical success, so George ambitions began to get out of hand. One day he pulled me aside just before a scene with Tina Turner: ‘Penguins Mel,’ he told me tears sprang into his eyes. ‘Dancing penguins.’ 

Chapter Six: Gallipoli:

Peter Weir is man with a fearsome intellect and someone you don’t want to get on the wrong side of. He always had problems with me from the very first day of the shoot and it was inevitable we’d argue. You have to remember at that point I still had a broad New York accent and my Australian accent was the result of hard work with the dialogue coach, Andy Spain. Weir never missed an opportunity to remark in everyone’s hearing how my accent was lousy and I should have been replaced by a real Australian. Ironically, I would have exactly the same problem but in reverse with Richard Donner on Lethal Weapon.   

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