This oddball existentialist drama pits a lone travelling salesman against a mysteriously menacing death-dealing tractor-trailer rig in the Californian desert.
Adapted by Richard Matheson from his own story (which he first published in Playboy), it is an immensely effective man vs machine thriller about the salesman (Dennis Weaver) – an average guy out making his rounds in his red Plymouth Valiant – who innocently passes a huge mud-spattered gasoline tanker trailer on a grade, then looks in his mirror to see the truck barreling down on him.
He gradually realises that he is being chased by the huge tanker truck – the driver of which is never seen – whose sole purpose seems to be to crush him and his car under its gigantic wheels.
At first, the cat-and-mouse game at 70 mph is just an annoyance. The salesman pulls off the road and stops at a diner to avoid the truck – but returns to find it waiting for him.
He tries to outrun the truck but cannot sustain speeds of 80 mph on the desert road and must slack off. He stops to seek help but bystanders think he is crazy. He phones for police assistance and barely escapes the phone booth before the truck crashes into it, forcing the salesman into a roadside ‘snakeorama’, a reptilian nightmare calculated to shatter his already frazzled nerves.
The story itself is so basic, so primitive – man fleeing a terrible menace – and there’s barely any dialogue – it’s all palm-moistening, tyre-squealing action – but once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it.
Talented 23-year-old director Steven Spielberg attracted a lot of attention for his flashy, highly edited style of direction in a film – shot on a shoestring budget with two cameras in 13 days on location in a desolate section of Soledad Canyon in the bleak desert area en route to Palmdale – which he originally made as a TV movie for ABC.
Remarkable notices (and admiring critics) resulted in the film being released on the cinema circuit – with 16 minutes of additional scenes filmed – and launched the young director’s career in movies.
The truck itself prefigures Spielberg’s shark in Jaws (1975) as a marauding screen monster with its own personality.
Man in cafe
Lady at Snakarama
Petrol station attendant