‘They run on blood.’
The Cars That Ate Paris – aka The Cars That Eat People – is a 1974 Australian horror comedy film directed by Peter Weir (The Last Wave; Picnic At Hanging Rock), making his feature debut. It stars John Meillon, Terry Camilleri, Chris Haywood and Bruce Spence.
Lying in a gently rolling range of hills, the town of Paris has prospered from the hunting and destruction of cars: the road into Paris is a death trap.
Into this trap drive George and Arthur Waldo. George is killed; Arthur survives and is pronounced harmless by the mayor. Although unaware, Arthur is a prisoner. He must never leave Paris. But the town that lives by the car shall die by the car, and eventually the hunters become the hunted..
The producers unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate an American release for the film with Roger Corman after it was shown with great success at the Cannes Film Festival, being the first Australian film to gain international recognition at the Festival.
Shortly afterwards Corman recruited Paul Bartel to direct his Death Race 2000; Bartel hadn’t seen The Cars That Ate Paris but he was aware that Corman had a print of the film.
The movie struggled to find an audience in Australia, changing distributors and with an ad campaign unsure whether to pitch it as a horror film or art film. However, it eventually become a cult film. It received an American release in 1976 by New Line Cinema under the title The Cars That Eat People with added on narration and other differences.
In 1992, it was adapted as a musical theatre work by Chamber Made Opera.
“Starting out creepy and soon moving on to full-on violence, The Cars That Ate Paris shifts gears with ease […] Effortlessly employing surrealist and fantasy tropes in a story that is, ultimately, never very far from the possible, Weir steers us on a dizzying journey through autophilia, survivalist politics, and the darker side of human nature.” Eye For Film
“Like a wily magician, Weir hints at hidden horrors (the late night car raids, the infirmary full of “veggies”) and never lets his story get overly expositional. Many things are implied here and it takes an alert viewer to catch them all.” DVD Verdict
“After a wickedly funny start, graced by some of the eerie lyricism of Weir’s The Last Wave and Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Cars That Ate Paris loses some of its allegorical grip in the second half, when the younger generation breaks off into lawless, terrorizing motor clans.” The A.V. Club