Starring: John Meillon, Terry Camilleri, Kevin Miles
Director: Peter Weir
The “Paris” of this story is a small town in rural Australia where Arthur finds himself stranded after he is in a car accident that kills his brother. He takes on a job as a hospital orderly but soon finds out that there’s something rotten at the heart of the town. The local population has been causing car accidents to salvage parts and valuables from the wrecks and any surviving people are turned into “veggies” at the hospital he works at. Things are coming to a head in the town as the younger population create mad looking vehicles and terrorise the area while the older generation try to hide the dark side of their lives under a veneer of normality.
The Cars That Ate Paris was Peter Weir’s first feature film, and though he later made the masterful Picnic At Hanging Rock which we also look at this month, and Witness, Dead Poet’s Society, this film is unlike those. Reading the plot, you’d assume that this was a dark horror film, but actually it’s more of a dark comedy. In fact, the film is mostly shot during the day so it has an odd brightness to it on the whole.
Some Australian films, and films from other places too, see the small town as a place where people live a better, simpler life. But this film is all about that rotten core and how isolation makes humanity and compassion crumble. Peter Weir likes to show that there’s something dark and menacing in the Australian landscape sometimes, but here he undercuts it with humour.
I think if you put this next to his other films, you probably wouldn’t recognise this film as being one of his, because he’s not someone who is known for that dark humour and comedy/horror feel, but that said, I actually really like this film. I like that everyone in the town is just so used to the situation that it’s normal to them, they don’t see their behaviour as bad. The more you scratch away at the surface the darker the plot is, but it’s all so acceptable to them, like their decline into awfulness has been a slow one. I love that the younger generation are creating these Mad Max like cars and hooning around terrorising everyone while the older generation looks down on them as behaving badly, even though they’re cheerfully murdering people.
There’s just something indie and whimsical and strange about this film that really appeals to me. While some critics have pointed out that it attacks the Australian dream of country life and good people and the nation’s love of their motor vehicles, I feel like the way the humour is kind of dry and the whole thing is kind of outrageous is what makes it a fun watch. I love that the couple at the start of the film leaving home on a road trip seem like they’re in an advertisement until they go off the road. I love that there’s a mad scientist type plot in there. And I love the cars.
It’s a film that didn’t quite find it’s audience on release, probably because it doesn’t quite commit to satire or horror, but it’s become a cult classic since, and one that I’ll be gleefully rewatching.
See It If: you like old school, indie type horror comedies. It’s an oddball but also a fun cult classic.