Today’s Halloween Horrors contributor is Brian Kongsvik, one of my best friends and official Horror And Sons “hype man” for the last 6 six years. I say this as he has been one of my biggest supporters since minute one, rallying me to keep going and helping make the site as popular as it is today. As always, I am honored to have him as a friend, as well as having him return once again to this year’s Halloween series.
For this year’s entry, Brian will be looking at one of the best-remembered made-for-TV films of all-time. The film not only saw life in other outlets besides television, but also launched the career of one of cinema’s greatest imaginations. Its horror is undeniably simple, grounded in everyday reality, which may make it more effective as it presents a scenario that could easily occur in our everyday lives, and for some of us, may have already happened before.
If there’s one thing we should have learned from 1978’s “Halloween”, it’s that terror doesn’t have to come in the form of monsters, ghosts, or demons. Most times, it looks just like us. That is, if we even see it coming at all. Then again, I guess it’s pretty hard to miss a semi barreling down on you!
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: November 13th, 1971
How does that song go? (little parody on “Take It Easy” that I whipped up)
“Drivin’ down the road, tryin’ to loosen my load/ Got a world of trouble on my mind
Wife at home is ire/ Boss, “don’t sell, you’re fired”/ There’s a big rig up my behind
It ain’t easy/ I’m feeling queasy/ I got to know if this is real, or am I dreaming?“
Directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg, 1971’s TV-move Duel has been a flick that I re-watch every couple years. Written by Richard Matheson, whose own IMDB page looks like a phone book. He has written since the 1950’s, and contributed on a slew of titles (The Pit and the Pendulum, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Stir of Echoes, and the CLASSIC Jaws 3-D, just to name a very few.) Starring Dennis Weaver, who was the title character on the very popular 1970’s detective drama, “McCloud“. The movie was so popular on TV, they actually gave it a short theatrical release. This is a very solid suspense/thriller/horror movie that will keep you on edge throughout.
The film starts with mild mannered David Mann (Weaver) going out on a sales call to save an account for his company. The opening shot is really impressive, as it is from the perspective of the windshield and shows David driving through busy streets that slowly get less and less populated with traffic, ending up on California desert roads that lead to his client. Soon enough, he comes upon a nasty looking rig blowing tons of smoke and diesel into the air. David mutters to himself about the pollution this rig is causing, and immediately looks to pass. The driver waves him by.
Within seconds of his passing, the rig comes roaring past David. This obviously shocks David and he gets upset at the driver. The rig starts slowing down so David is right up behind him again. Once again, David looks to pass and does. David starts wondering what this guy’s problem is.
David thinks he is out of harm’s way as he no longer sees the rig in his rearview mirror. He needs gas and stops at a station. Just as he pulls up, the rig pulls up right beside him at the other pump. He tries to see who the driver is, but gets distracted by the station attendant washing his windows. As this is happening, the driver is already out of the rig and walking around the other side. All David can see is cowboy boots and blue jeans.
David needs to use the phone to call his wife (the only time we see or hear from her in the movie). We realize that there are problems at home due to David’s not standing up to a guy at a party they had attended where she was hit on and (I would assume) groped. She uses the phrase “practically raped”.
When he comes out, the driver is already back in the rig. The attendant tells David that he needs a new radiator hose, which David blows off. Anxious to get back on the road, David pays and drives off. Within a few moments, the rig is right behind David again. Now, David realizes that this isn’t just a simple misunderstanding about passing the rig. He allows the rig to pass and, once again, the rig slows down in front of him. David tries to pass and the rig plays “hog of the road” and doesn’t allow him. The driver then waves him by, and David attempts to pass, but is almost hit head on by another car. Soo, they are reaching speeds of close to 100 miles per hour! David can’t handle driving at these speeds and tries to slow down and pull off the road, but ends up careening into a diner parking lot and slamming into a fence.
David enters the diner and asks to use the restroom, clearly shaken by what has transpired throughout the morning. He sits down at a table and realizes that the rig is parked out front. Now his mind is racing as he looks around the diner to see if he can pick out the driver. Most of the men are wearing jeans and cowboy boots, but he thinks he sees a few that could be the driver. He starts to imagine himself going up to a few patrons trying to settle whatever dispute the driver thinks he has with him. He actually does approach one of them and asks him to stop what he is doing. The man looks confused and David insists it must be him. There is a slight altercation which is broken up quickly, and the man leaves. Now, David wants to see what truck people get into when they leave the diner. None of them get into the rig. The driver was already back in the rig and starts driving away.
David comes across a bus that’s broken down and pulls over to try and help. He feels that by trying to push the bus with his car, it will get stuck under the bumper… and it does. The rig appears again in front of a small tunnel. He frantically tries to free his car from the bus bumper. He frees his car and speeds off as the rig pulls in and pushes the bus back onto the road before continuing his pursuit of David!
This “cat and mouse” game continues for a while, and David even tries to call the police at another gas station before the rig smashes through the phone booth and tries to run over David multiple times. David manages to get away from the rig and pulls into a hidden spot near the train tracks, off the main road. The rig passes him and David swears he is not leaving his spot for at least an hour, hoping the rig will be long gone. Well, we all know what happens next!
Of course, the rig is waiting for him a few miles down the road. He tries to pass, but each time he does, the rig pulls out and takes up the whole road. David waves down one of the few other drivers on this desolate road, but it’s an older couple who want no part of what he has going on. The rig actually scares the Hell out of the old couple by backing up towards them.
They get to a graded part of the highway, where David starts screaming, “You can’t beat me on the grade!” David is far away from the rig, but his car starts overheating and he rapidly loses speed. (Damn radiator hose!) This allows the rig to catch up with him eventually. David’s car cools down enough for him to restart it and gain speed on the downward grade. They both come barreling down the road, and David takes a hard left up a dirt road. He drives until he gets to a fence, which overlooks a steep cliff. Knowing the rig is on its way, David makes one last ditch effort to save himself from this nightmare. He uses his briefcase to hold down the gas pedal and aims for the rig while hanging out of the door. When they are close David jumps out, and the rig slams into the car head on, causing the car to burst into flames! The driver keeps pushing him forward, blinded by the smoke and fire and doesn’t realize that he is close to the cliff. We see the driver hit the air brakes and try to stop, but it is too late. He goes over the cliff in a heap of twisted metal, smashing into the ground below.
David is ecstatic that he beat the driver, and starts jumping around and nervously laughing. He looks down to see the wreckage, and sits on the edge of the cliff, watching the sun set. The end!
- This is a top-notch movie, with superb acting by Dennis Weaver.
- You never fully see the driver, but you do see arms, legs, and (in one spot) a very brief glimpse of his face in the sideview mirror.
- I think the driver’s shirt changes color a few times during the movie. Could be the sunlight or shadows, but at one point it looks blue, and at others, tan.
- The rig almost seems to moan and groan as it falls off the cliff.
- How the Hell is David Mann getting home? He is in the middle of nowhere, has no car (obviously, no cell phones at this time), and the sun is setting. Guess he’s going to stay in the desert for a while.
- Great soundtrack that really adds to the suspense.
- I think it is better that we never know why the driver picked David to torment and try to kill.
- The end scene where the truck goes over the cliff clearly shows the driver’s side door open (as pictured below). What does this mean? Did he try to jump out, but was too late… or just a slight editing issue and they couldn’t re-film the scene? I’m thinking the latter as they probably only had one rig to destroy due to budget restraints ($400,000).
Moral: Push even the meekest man to their breaking point and they will do whatever it takes to survive.
Just a few years later, another Spielberg movie came out which was one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, Jaws. The similarities are evident. Man vs Monster, David vs Goliath, underdog vs a seemingly unstoppable force. In the collector’s edition of Duel, Spielberg does an interview where he discusses this. I can’t help but feel this movie directly affected Jaws. As most people know, Spielberg changed a lot from the Jaws novel, which infuriated the author, Peter Benchley.
I can’t recommend this movie enough to anyone who hasn’t seen it. Enjoy!
To this day, Duel is something every aspiring filmmaker should see as a superb example of building and sustaining suspense. And of course it’s a treat for fans that doesn’t get old with repeated viewings. Some time ago I read an article that quoted Richard Matheson as saying the intent at the climax, with the rig’s brakes and metal joints screeching as it goes over the cliff, was to make it seem like a living thing, like a huge dinosaur falling to its death in slow motion.
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