David Paul Cronenberg.
The man who gave ex-pornographic actress Marilyn Chambers a vampiric armpit. The man who made us lifelong fans of Micheal Ironside (John Saxon, Part Deux!) when he exploded his head via psychic brain waves. The man who knew we couldn’t pass up a film where Oliver Reed causes Samantha Eggar to “birth” an asexual dwarf-child. The man who turned James Woods into a human VCR. The man who dared adapt William S. Burroughs. The man who gave us “Brendel-Fly,” James Spader sexually aroused by car crashes, and made us lifelong Jeremy Irons fans by splitting him into twin gynecologists.
There wasn’t a body part, bodily function, brain wave, or hunk of technology Cronenberg didn’t like — and worked into his scripts. And when you take the mad Canadian’s “body horror” oeuvre into consideration, it’s not a wild stretch to realize that, in his spare time, he loved cars, racing bikes, and machinery. In fact, over the years, Cronenberg was — following in the burn marks of Steve McQueen and Paul Newman (and Tom Cruise) — a part time race car driver.
Look at that one-sheet! Now how can you pass up a cast (not in this neck of the Allegheny woods, buddy!) starring William Smith (Grave of the Vampire, Invasion of the Bee Girls), the late John Saxon (see our “Exploring” featurette on John), and Claudia Jennings (Unholy Rollers, Truck Stop Women, ‘Gator Bait, Sisters of Death, The Great Texas Dynamite Chase, Moonshine County Express, and Deathsport — yeah, we love our Claudia ’round ‘ere!).
Directing a screenplay written by Phil Savath (Big Meat Eater and Terminal City Ricochet), Cronenberg quenches his love for the scent of well-weathered leather, hot metal and oil in this tale of veteran drag racer Lonnie “Lucky Man” Johnson (William Smith). Driving for the Fast Company Oil team, Lucky deals with Phil Adamson (John Saxon), the “corrupt” team owner who’s more concerned with sponsor dollars and could care less who drives the car — provided he’s winning.
The always divine Mr. Jennings is the screenwriting androgyny-troped “hot chick with a guy’s name” (e.g., Alexandra = Alex, Charlotte = Charlie, no, not another “Frankie,” please!, etc., here, it’s Samantha = Sammy) playing up the romantic angle. The always-welcomed Nicholas Campbell (who went onto appear in Cronenberg’s The Brood, The Dead Zone, and Naked Lunch) is the ubiquitous protégé, Billy “The Kid” Brooker, who ignites a new sense of competitive spirit in Lucky to take on Adamson’s new hotshot driver, Gary “The Blacksmith” Black (iconic Canadian actor and voice artist Cedric Smith).
While this was filmed a few years earlier — around the time Cronenberg made Shivers (1975) and before he gained notice outside of his native Canada for Rabid (1977) — courtesy of Burt Reynolds’s redneck rally Smokey and the Bandit (be sure to check out our “Top 70 Good Ol’ Boys Film List: 1972 to 1986“) creatin’ a need for that good ol’ southern speed, Fast Company, made its way to receptive Drive-In audiences in 1979. And while Roger Corman’s Deathsport (1978) served as her final casting, this Cronenberg race tale served as Claudia Jennings’s final film; she perished in a car accident a few months after the film’s release.
I was funny car crazy in ’79, with centerfold tear outs of Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen on my walls, right alongside magazine rips of champion motorcrosser Roger De Coster. So I got my dad to take me to see Fast Company at the local-quad Drive-In. So — as with all of my reviews for these “classics” from the bygone days of UHF-TV and VHS-shelved dust bunnies — take my nostalgia into consideration when I say that, when compared against most of the ’60s “Fast and Furious” precursors we reviewed this week, this exhaust thrower is one the better racing flicks from the lost Drive-In era.
We found a very clean, four-part upload to enjoy on Daily Motion. You can also get this on a nicely packaged Blue Underground DVD. And be sure to join us for our “Phil Savath Night” as part of our weekly Drive-In Friday featurette.