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  Cars that Ate Paris, The Salvage Squad
Year: 1974
Director: Peter Weir
Stars: John Meillon, Terry Camilleri, Kevin Miles, Rick Scully, Max Gillies, Danny Adcock, Bruce Spence, Melissa Jaffer
Genre: Horror, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Arthur (Terry Camilleri) and his brother George are driving through the Australian countryside one night when suddenly lights blaze before their car and they are forced off the road. George dies in the crash, but Arthur survives, and awakens in the hospital of the small town of Paris, a town which, as he discovers, scavenge what they can from staged road accidents - including people...

Peter Weir's first feature-length film as director was one he wrote with the help of Keith Gow and Piers Davis, and, like the inhabitants of the town it depicts, it took elements from many sources as spare parts to build its bigger picture: horror, science fiction, comedy and westerns among them. The introduction shows, at first sight, a television commercial as a young, attractive couple drive through the countryside, stopping off to buy a painting at an antiques shop and enjoying brand name cigarettes and cola. Then it turns nightmarish as their car crashes and they die in the wreckage.

The Australian Parisians are on the lowest rung of society's ladder, pillaging what they can to keep their town together. But it's not really running like clockwork, as the resident doctor (Kevin Miles) performs experiments on the accident victims, turning them into semi-vegetables, and the local youths customise the wrecked cars to create demolition derby vehicles that prowl the streets at night. Nice touches to illustrate the second-hand nature of life there include the use of car radios instead of stereos and the doctor utilising a power drill for a bit of D.I.Y. surgery.

The Mayor, superbly played by John Meillon, is outwardly a stuffy, respectable man, but his efforts to bring his community together are pathetic when they're not downright murderous. He takes in Arthur and ensures he stays in Paris by making him mentally unable to drive a car through amateur psychology, gives him a useless job and asks him to join his family when it looks like Arthur will leave. We learn that his daughters aren't even his, just orphans from a car crash.

There may be moments of black humour, such as the scenes of the inappropriately cheerful hospital janitor ("Have you ever seen a bloke with a foot up his nose?"), but the overall tone is sickly and grim. The finale, which sees the town self-destruct when the youths drive their cars through the houses and people, is bloody, featuring an unforgettable Volkswagen Beetle covered in spikes as one of the killer vehicles. What starts as a satire on consumerism ends up with an uncertain message, and Arthur's rediscovery of his courage doesn't leave you reassured, but Weir's film, which resembles a seventies, Australian version of The League of Gentlemen TV series, is undeniably memorable. Music by Bruce Smeaton.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Peter Weir  (1944 - )

Australian writer and director with a touch of the mystical about his work, usually fish out of water dramas. After various short films, he made The Cars That Ate Paris, a darkly funny horror which nearly ended his career when it failed financially. But he bounced back with Picnic at Hanging Rock, an international hit which led to apocalyptic fantasy The Last Wave, war tragedy Gallipoli and political thriller The Year of Living Dangerously, whereupon he moved to Hollywood to direct Amish thriller Witness, survival tale The Mosquito Coast, Dead Poets Society (possibly his worst film), comedy Green Card, spiritual air crash drama Fearless, science fiction satire The Truman Show, historical adventure Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and WW2 era trek movie The Way Back.

 
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