SON OF MADE FOR TV MOVIES WEEK: Death Car on the Freeway (1979)

When it comes to the biggest TV movies of all time, you have to include Steven Spielberg’s Duel on the list. A battle between Dennis Weaver and an 18 wheeler for a taunt 74 minutes that stayed in viewer’s minds for way longer.

That leads us to this film, which originally aired on CBS on September 25, 1979.

Janette Clausen (Shelley Hack, TV’s Charlies Angels, plus Troll and The Stepfather) is a crusading reporter who has moved up from writing feature stories to being on the air herself. She sinks her teeth into a story about a van driver who she feels has been targeting and killing only female motorists, taking on not only the male establishment but even Detroit auto manufacturers and advertising itself!

If you’re a 1970’s TV star buff like myself, you’ll have a field day with this film. You’ve got Peter Graves (Mission: Impossible) as Lieutenant Haller, the main cop on the case. There’s George Hamilton as Jan’s ex-husband who keeps trying to control her. And hey look — that’s Dinah Shore as a tennis pro who may have faced off with the villain of this piece, the Freeway Fiddler, before!

As Billy Mays used to say before he died from doing too much blow, “But wait, there’s more!”

The Riddler, Frank Gorshin, is here! Is that Ozzy’s wife, Harriet Nelson? Why yes, it is! Do I spy Barbara Rush from It Came from Outer Space and Peyton Place? I do! Abe Vigoda! You’re here too! I feel like I’m on Romper Room using my Magic Mirror to see all my friends!

Tara Buckman! You got your throat slashed in Silent Night, Deadly Night and here you are in this TV movie! Even better, you drove the Lamborghini with Adrienne Barbeau in Cannonball Run and even appeared in Never Too Young to Die!

Morgan Brittany! Sure, you were in Dallas, but you also started your career in Gypsy but found the time to be in movies I care way more about, like being the Virgin Mary in Sunn Pictures’ In Search of Historic Jesus and the TV movie The Initiation of Sarah!

Nancy Stephens! We love you! She’s probably best known as Nurse Marion Chambers from the Halloween series of films. But did you know she’s married to Halloween 2 director Rick Rosenthal? Now you do!

Is that Hal Needham as the driving instructor? It is! Hal formed Stunts Unlimited, which did all the stuntwork for Burt Reynolds’ biggest films, but he also directed Megaforce! And guess what? He also directed this movie and did a ton of the stunts, too.

Death Car on the Freeway sets up a slasher who kills targeted women with his evil black van, particularly strong women who excel beyond men. And while he does it, he plays fiddle music! We never see him or learn more about him than that, but if this reminds you a bit of Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino’s part of Grindhouse, you’re not alone.

The best part — for me — was when Jan goes to meet a gang of street racers and Sid Haig shows up! I ran around the house screaming, “SID HAIG!” so many times that Becca had to tell me to settle down and covered me with a blanket until I calmed myself.

When Jan ends a report by saying, “This is Janette Claussen for KXLA from the scene of the Freeway Fiddler’s latest attack, and not at all anxious to leave the scene, horrible as it is. Because when I do, I’m going to be like thousands of other women, in a car on Los Angeles’ 491 miles of freeway… all alone.” you’ll be riveted, wondering when the killer will strike next. Seriously, maybe it’s because I’ve spent the majority of a Sunday just allowing YouTube to randomly reward me with TV movies while I rest up and enjoy some magical napping, but I love this movie.

Of course, it’s not available on DVD. But you know, if you can get to this site, you can probably figure out YouTube? Am I right? I am!

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