Death Car on the Freeway
The Fan Site
On the evening of Tuesday, September 25, 1979, CBS Television aired the made-for-TV movie Death Car on the Freeway. Directed by Hal Needham and written by William Wood, the movie had a lot of well-known actors and actresses in its cast and featured some impressive stunt work. It was also known as Death Car and Wheels of Death.
Jane is hospitalized and tells her husband and Jan that there was wild country fiddle music coming from the van during her attack.
The movie begins as Los Angeles commuters go about their normal routine navigating LA's maze of freeways.
Becky Lyons (Morgan Brittany) pulls into a gas station to get some gas, stopping to talk with a friend before hitting the road.
Getting on the freeway, she tries to merge into traffic in front of another car. The driver doesn't let her merge in front of him, forcing her to slow up and cut into traffic behind him.
Once on the freeway, she quickly accelerates until she sees a CHP cruiser coming up behind her. She lets up on the gas to keep from getting a ticket, speeding up again as the trooper exits the freeway.
Seeing that she is coming up on her exit, she begins to merge over. However, a dark blue van pulls up alongside her on the right. She shouts for the driver to let her over and then cuts in front of him. He then pulls up alongside her again, forcing her to miss her exit.
As Becky recovers from the shock of what happened, the driver of the van wipes off his steering wheel, pulls on a pair of driving gloves, and puts an 8-track tape of wild fiddle music into his stereo. The driver then hits the gas as he weaves wildly through traffic to catch up to Becky.
Meanwhile, Becky sees another exit approaching and merges over to get off the freeway.
Suddenly, the van is alongside her again on the berm. This time, the driver swerves into her, ramming her smaller car back out into traffic. Becky tries to accelerate away from her attacker, but the driver rams her again, sending her car up onto the concrete guardrail of an overpass where it comes to rest.
(Click here to watch Becky's attack.)
Becky is interviewed by Ace Durham (Alfie Wise) from KXLA TV. The footage of the interview is then reviewed by him as well as Jan Clausen (Shelly Hack), Ralph Chandler (Frank Gorshin), and Rosemary (Barbara Rush) at the KXLA studio. Ralph and Rosemary aren't so sure about Becky's story, believing her to have exaggerated her claims since she's an actress.
Jan, however, feels that there is more to the story and calls her ex-husband Ray Jeffries (George Hamilton) at her last job at KTNS to review a story they did together before she left three months ago. While reviewing the video of the story, Ray tries to talk Jan into dinner, trying to talk her into coming back into his life since their separation.
Jan finds the part of the video she was looking for: Lynn Bernheimer (Dinah Shore) describes how she was run off the road by a black van that she'd cut in front of on the freeway so that she could make it to her exit. Jan meets with Lynn, and Lynn tells Jan about how the van had one-way glass, preventing her from being able to see the driver.
After talking with Becky, Jan confirms that the van in both attacks had one-way glass. She contacts Lieutenant Halloran (Peter Graves). He goes to the KXLA studio to discuss the matter with her. However, he does not believe that the two incidents are related because of the van being a different color in each case. He believes that Lynn's recollection of the incident is probably hazy from happening six months prior. He also doubts Becky's story because of her being an actress. He also tells Jan that he believes she's creating a story out of nothing to help her along in her new job.
Meanwhile, nurse Jane Guston (Tara Buckman) is just finishing her rounds at work, talking with a patient (Abe Vigoda), and heads onto the freeway to pick up her husband at the airport so that they can go to Las Vegas for their anniversary.
Coming up behind the blue van that ran Becky off the road, she blows her horn for the driver to go faster. She then goes around the van in the left lane. The driver puts in the 8-track and accelerates into the left lane behind her.
Ramming her car from behind, the van's driver pushes Jane's car into the emergency breakdown lane past other traffic. Jane accelerates, pulling away from the van and swerving to the right, cutting off other drivers who begin swerving to avoid colliding with the two vehicles. The van is clipped by another car, slowing the attacker down, but he soon catches up with Jane again.
Repeatedly ramming her car, the driver of the van spins Jane sideways across the freeway in front of other cars, two of them slamming into her car, which explodes on impact. The driver of the van then speeds off the road and onto another stretch of freeway to make his escape.
(Click here to watch Jane's attack.)
Jane dies from her injuries. The police are now acknowledging that there is a psycho that they have nicknamed the Freeway Fiddler who is attacking women driving alone on the freeways. Several more attacks occur, and several more women are killed by the Fiddler, who then begins repainting his van and changing his license plates to throw the police off his trail.
Jan interviews psychologist Dr. Rita Glass (Gloria Stroock) to get a psychological profile of the Fiddler based on what is known about him. Dr. Glass believes the Fiddler was dominated or abused by a female authority figure in his past and is possibly unsure of his masculinity, feeling threatened by the women who are performing aggressive maneuvers before he attacks them.
Jan is then invited to take driving lessons by driving instructor Mr. Blanchard (Hal Needham) and begins filming her experience for her news broadcasts.
Meanwhile, Christine Anthony (Nancy Stephens) is working in her shop at home when she receives a call from her son's school that he has come down with the flu. She heads out onto the freeway to pick him up, finding herself behind a gray van.
The Fiddler is going slower than other traffic, and Christine begins blowing her horn for him to go faster. She merges over go around the van on the left, and he cuts her off. She tries to go right to go around him, and again, she is cut off. She merges right again and comes up alongside the van only to get stuck behind a slow moving camper. Unable to cut in front of the van, she again begins blowing her horn for the driver of the camper to speed up.
The Fiddler puts in his 8-track and begins to speed up. Christine sees this and merges in behind him. The Fiddler then slams on his brakes, catching the front bumper of Christine's car on his trailer hitch. The Fiddler then accelerates, pulling Christine through traffic as she helplessly tries to hit her brakes to get loose.
A police officer in his cruiser sees what is happening and chases after them. The fiddler makes a sudden turn across the freeway, causing other cars to nearly hit Christine, and then leads the chase onto an unopened section of freeway. Two more officers join the pursuit, one in a cruiser and one on a motorcycle.
Leading the police down an on ramp, the Fiddler hits his brakes and then his accelerator, causing Christine's car to break loose and go sideways across the ramp. The first police cruiser slams into her car, exploding on impact. The second cruiser swerves to avoid the wreck and rolls over. The officer on the motorcycle crashes as well.
The Fiddler then nearly collides with two cars at the intersection at the bottom of the ramp before speeding off.
(Click here to watch Christine's attack.)
At a press conference with Lieutenant Halloran, Jan gets into an argument with him when he brings up that several of the victims have been cited for traffic violations in the past and that women should be aware of their actions. During the heated exchange, Jan accuses him of not being able to catch the Fiddler and shifting the blame onto the victims.
Ray then tries to charm his way back into Jan's life, saying that he is worried that she is going too far with her reports on the Fiddler and that she may soon be a target. Jan discusses the issue with Rosemary, who tells her that she needs to make it on her own before she can make it with anybody else.
Afterwards, Jan is seen on the road, getting off the freeway onto a two-lane road with a white van quickly coming up from behind her. The van begins hitting her back bumper.
Swerving off the road, both vehicles come to a stop, and the driver of the van gets out, revealing that it was Mr. Blanchard. The chase was their practicing her new driving skills.
Back at the KXLA studios, Ralph tells Jan that the people above him are talking about taking her off the Fiddler follow-up stories. Apparently, Lieutenant Halloran has requested that KXLA send somebody else out on the Fiddler news conferences. Several auto makers have also pulled their ads because of Jan's accusing them of recklessly advertising their new vehicles.
While Jan is following up with Lynn on the Fiddler story, Ray takes her to lunch, trying to tell her that she's getting close to getting fired and that she should come back to working and living with him because he doesn't believe she can make it on her own.
Jan then does an editorial during the news broadcast on the Fiddler and her views on how the auto makers are glamorizing speed and recklessness in their advertising.
Jan is fired. Ray tries to talk her into moving back in with him and working with him at KTNS, telling her that he's already talked with his bosses and that they want her to come back to KTNS to work with him.
A Bobby Hill (Robert Lyons) then calls Jan and tells her that a friend of his possibly knows who the Fiddler is. She goes to meet Bobby, and he introduces her to his friend Maurie (Sid Haig). Maurie tells Jan that a while back there was a guy named John who used to hang around their club who drove a black van and used to play a lot of bluegrass fiddle music.
Maurie tells Jan to talk with Eddie (Roger Brown) because John used to hang out with him a lot. When Jan goes to meet with Eddie, he gives her a magazine with an address sticker on it for John Evans.
Jan drives to the address on the magazine and meets Helen Sheel (Harriet Nelson), who has been renting a room to Mr. Evans for some time. Though blind, she confirms that he always has spent a lot of time off in his van. She then gives Jan the key to the room that she's been renting to Mr. Evans.
Jan checks out the room, and she determines that Mr. Evans is possibly the Freeway Fiddler. Jan calls Lieutenant Halloran. The police arrive, and he promises to let her know as soon as they have any new information.
Jan heads home, unaware that the Fiddler is now following her onto the freeway.
Jan then realizes that the Fiddler is right behind the back bumper of her car. She accelerates some to pull away from him. He then pulls up behind her again and then swerves left into the next lane, forcing another car into the emergency breakdown lane. He flies past Jan and then cuts across all lanes of traffic, taking the off ramp. Jan relaxes, believing that she's now safe.
On the off ramp, the Fiddler doesn't slow his van and instead speeds through the stop sign at the intersection, nearly colliding with four vehicles, and accelerates onto the on ramp.
The Fiddler roars back onto the freeway, slamming into Jan from the side, hitting his brakes, and then cutting in behind her. He begins ramming her car and pushing her through traffic. Swerving wildly, both vehicles weave around other traffic, forcing other drivers to swerve to avoid hitting them.
Seeing the last exit before the end of the freeway approaching, Jan tries to exit the freeway to safety. However, the Fiddler is still pushing her car through traffic, cutting off other cars and causing crashes behind them.
They exit the freeway, speeding through the intersection at the bottom of the off ramp. Jan's car clips the back of another car, causing it to spin sideways in front of another car, which slams into it.
Pushing Jan's car through the barricades, the Fiddler chases Jan onto the on ramp and onto the closed section of the freeway that hasn't been opened. Jan tries desperately to swerve away from the Fiddler but is unable to.
Speeding straight for the barrier across the end of the freeway, Jan sees her one chance at escape. Waiting until just before they reach the barrier, Jan performs a bootlegger's turnaround. Her car spins out, and the Fiddler's van smashes through the barrier and through some barrels, causing it to explode as it goes airborne off the end of the freeway. Jan watches as the flaming van crashes and tumbles to the ground, never getting to find out who the lunatic was who had been pursuing her.
(Click here to watch the final chase.)
Who was the Freeway Fiddler?
So, who was the Freeway Fiddler? While Death Car on the Freeway does not say who the Fiddler is, it does give clues as to who might be the killer.
Early in the movie, Dr. Glass said that she felt the killer was abused or dominated in the past by a woman, which may be true. However, the Fiddler doesn't just go any woman on the freeway. He only targets women who drive aggressively (cutting him off, tailgating, blowing their horn, etc.). To me, that indicates that the Fiddler has had an encounter in his past with an aggressive female driver and is now lashing back at women driving aggressively on the freeway.
If that is the case, I believe the movie may have actually introduced the audience to the killer.
When Jan was talking with Maurie, he said that the person who he thought was the Fiddler hung around with Eddie a lot. He also said that Eddie had a scar on his face and that he used to be a driver. When Jan met with Eddie, he didn't say his name. She simply asked him "Eddie?" to which he replied "Yeah." He also didn't appear too happy to see her. While waiting for him to get the magazine, Jan noticed the paint gun on the car. Also, one would have to wonder why Eddie would still have a magazine with John Evans' address on it since Mr. Evans was last around about a year prior.
There is another clue to the killer's identity that briefly comes into view after the police chase. After the crash, the Fiddler goes into an intersection, nearly colliding with a couple cars. For a brief moment, we see the view from inside the van as a car spins out in front of it. For a couple frames, you actually see the side of the driver's head. The driver's hair looks very similar to Eddie's hair style.
It is my opinion that Eddie was actually the Freeway Fiddler. He "used to be a driver" but now has a scar on his face, indicating that he was in an accident. He never said that his name was Eddie, only saying "yeah" when Jan asked him. He obviously knows about painting vehicles since he had a paint gun and respirator. He also had a magazine in mint condition with John Evans' mailing label on it, indicating that it was a new magazine. After giving Jan the magazine, he quickly walked off without a word.
I believe that Mr. Evans wanted to end the murder spree (or his friends talked him into turning himself in). Maurie and Bobby's story that Mr. Evans used to hang out could very well have been made up to throw off the lead on the killer's identity. I believe that Eddie's real name was John Evans. I believe that he wanted Jan to lead the police to him. However, rather than go into police custody, I believe he then decided to go after Jan out of anger. I believe he also intended to end his own life, which is seen when the van crashes through the barrier at the end of the freeway at the end of the movie. Before the explosion, the Fiddler actually hits the gas, apparently to ensure that he would die.
Road rage before the term was created?
The term "road rage" was first used around 1984, five years after Death Car on the Freeway was released on television. While the term might not have existed when the movie was made, road rage certainly existed at the time.
At the time the movie came out, aggressive driving was the term used for some of the behavior seen by impatient, careless, or reckless drivers.
However, I believe there is a distinction between aggressive driving and road rage. To me, an aggressive driver is one who speeds, tailgates, cuts off other drivers, etc. Road rage, to me, goes beyond that to where a driver tries to get back at another driver, possibly intending to cause harm to the other driver or vehicle.
In Death Car on the Freeway, the women who are attacked by the Fiddler perform what would be considered aggressive driving maneuvers. In the case of Becky's attack, she was in a hurry to get to her exit. Rather than let the van pass and merge behind him, she began shouting for the driver to let her over and then cut very closely in front of him. In the cases of Jane and Christine, they both came up behind the van, which was moving a little slower than other traffic. Rather than just merging over and passing the van, both women began tailgating and blowing their horns before attempting to go around.
What the Freeway Fiddler did in each attack would definitely be considered road rage. He was not just driving aggressively. He was deliberately going after the women who had cut him off or tailgated his van while blowing their horn to either run them off the road or cause them to collide with other vehicles.
While the women didn't deserve to be attacked by the Fiddler, their actions did have a contributing factor in each attack.
Today, road rage and aggressive driving have become commonplace. With our busy lives, people seem to have forgotten how to drive or are busy doing everything but drive when they are at the wheel. People talk on their cell phones, send text messages, read, eat, put on makeup, and other activities that should be done before or after getting in the driver's seat.
In the past few years that I have been taking the freeways to get to work, I am always amazed (and sometimes scared) at what I've seen. Anymore, the most common things I have seen are people talking on their cell phones. I have lost track how many times I have been cut off by a cell phone driver, and if I hit my horn, they often give me the finger. Some of the other things that I have seen are:
Let's face it. Our driver's licenses are not an excuse to get on the road and do as we please. When we are on the road, we need to focus on our driving, obey traffic laws, and be mindful of those around us. If we need to do something (like talk on the cell phone), we need to either do it before or after we drive or at least pull over to the side of the road so we are not posing a hazard for ourselves and others. And do not get behind the wheel if you are upset. If you are upset and need to drive, calm yourself first so that you do not take things out on other people who probably do not even know you. And if you need to be somewhere in a hurry, give yourself some extra driving time and do not wait until the last second to prepare for your turn or exit. It would be better to be a little late than to wind up in the hospital or worse.
- A woman doing 50 MPH in the left lane (speed limit is 65) while reading a romance novel.
- A guy talking on his cell phone while reading through a notebook, drinking a cup of coffee, and smoking a cigarette.
- A woman putting on makeup while holding the steering wheel and her makeup mirror in one hand and swerving like she was drunk.
- A guy on a motorcycle while talking on his cell phone and popping a wheelie.
- People who get on the freeway and cut across all lanes of traffic at once to get in the left lane.
- People who wait until the last second to try to merge over for their exit and cut across all lanes of traffic.
Why a Death Car on the Freeway site?
I first saw Death Car on the Freeway when it first aired on CBS in 1979. A few years later, I saw it on TV again when it was being shown as a late-night movie.
After that, I never saw the movie on TV again.
However, I always remembered the movie. When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of "CHiPs", which is probably what first got me hooked on this movie. For years, I kept looking off and on for this movie whenever looking through new issues of TV Guide or through my cable company's channel guides. One thing I think has always appealed to me about this movie is that, like in "CHiPs", real cars were being crashed, not the CGI stuff like we see today that looks so fake.
In early 2004, I began looking online to see if this movie had been released on video or, preferably, DVD. Looking on E-bay, I found a copy of the movie that had been released on VHS by Videoform Pictures in England.
Around that time, a friend of mine was going to transfer a couple home videos that I had onto DVD for me. Since Death Car on the Freeway was not available on DVD, I asked him to transfer it for me as well since it was going to be for my own personal use and not for sale, and I was afraid of my VCR deciding to eat the hard-to-find video I had just purchased.
Four years went by, and my friend kept putting off my VHS-to-DVD transfers, coming up with excuse after excuse for not getting them done, even though I had paid him for the work beforehand.
In February 2008, I got a DVD recorder that could record from my VCR. I asked for the movie and other video back, as well as the money that I had paid my friend. I got the money back. Two months later, I got the other video along with a check for covering replacing the movie.
My friend had lost it.
I began searching online again for the movie, eventually finding it on E-bay again and finally getting it transferred to DVD.
In the process of looking for the movie online, I discovered that there are a lot of places online that are selling "legit" copies of this movie on DVD. However, these bootleg editions of the movie are not what I would call quality, typically having poor picture and sound.
I also found during my search that there were no websites that went into great detail about this movie. They all seemed to have the same general synopsis from the Internet Movie Database and that was it.
As I said above, I have always enjoyed this movie because of the stunt work that went into it. It also appeals to me now since over the past few years I have had to drive on a freeway to get to and from work. I am always amazed at how impatient some people can get on the road and how rude and dangerous some people can be. I have seen aggressive driving. I have also seen road rage.
Is Death Car on the Freeway on DVD?
The movie has only been released on VHS overseas. It has never been commercially available here in the United States. So, the chances of fans of this movie ever seeing a legit copy of this movie on DVD are probably pretty slim.
However, with the 30th anniversary of this movie coming up in 2009, we can only hope.
Kevin L. Wagner
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