Movie Review: "Wheels of Terror" (1990)

1 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of Wheels of Terror
This car is a close relative of the evil car from "Wheels of Terror". If you were a kid, wouldn't you be scared to get the mail if this thing was parked outside your house?
This car is a close relative of the evil car from "Wheels of Terror". If you were a kid, wouldn't you be scared to get the mail if this thing was parked outside your house? | Source

Here we have a made-for-TV horror movie from 1990. Are TV movies ever good? Rarely. Should you expect anything different this time around? Nope. "Wheels of Terror" tries too hard to wear the "Duel" outfit but it doesn't work (that movie was just so much better and it made more sense too). "Wheels of Terror" is about a small town community that is terrorized by a filthy looking '74 Dodge Charger that is kidnapping their young children -- more specifically, pre-teen girls. Whoever (or whatever?) is operating this evil-looking car is the big question.

Our hero is Laura, a female protagonist who drives a school bus. She moved to small town Arizona with her one and only daughter, Stephanie, so that they could get away from all the noise of Los Angeles. Let me make something clear right now before going any further -- Everybody in this movie is dumb, including the villain whom gets away with everything a little too easily.

The look of the car definitely works and has that evil persona going for it. Basically, it's got a good premise but beyond that, the execution and the script is done incorrectly. It's like the filmmakers slapped "Wheels of Terror" together in five minutes and just thought they would have a dynamite TV movie. As a matter of fact, I think the only message that this movie gets across is: Don't live in small town Arizona where many kidnappings and deaths take place due to the stupidity and carelessness of its townspeople.

The Invisible Villain

The villain(s) driving the ugly beat-up black car in "Wheels of Terror" get away with so much that it's difficult to comprehend. Mind you, such a criminal existed in the real world, he would have been caught within the next day. Talk about being wreckless.

Gee, where to begin? First and foremost, not only is the driver of the car kept well-hidden from our eyes, but it seems that everybody in the movie acts like the car is invisible when it's like right there in front of them or beside them in broad daylight.

Here's a few examples:

  • There's a scene in the school's yard where the car is passing by and we see things from the driver's point of view as he eyes Stephanie in the yard (mind you, she's pretty close by). However, Stephanie never even acknowledges the car's presence.
  • In another scene, one of Stephanie's friends, Stacy, has been dropped off in front of her house which has a ditch covered by a grille followed by a long driveway before actually reaching the front door. The evil car shows up and encircles her, throwing dirt everywhere, making a big ruckus. It's actually surprising that this poor girl's parents (whom I assume are probably home) don't hear any of this from inside the house. Jesus, somebody has to be home. Finally annoyed by the car, Stacy decides to make a run for it... back the way she came. Big mistake. This results in her shoe getting stuck in the grille and her getting kidnapped. Why not just run to the house instead? Better yet, tell the bus driver to drop you off right in front of the house.
  • During the chase at the end, the car speeds past a motorbike cop hiding just off the road but he doesn't move a muscle. Immediately afterwards, Laura speeds past him in the school bus and then the cop decides to act by pulling her over instead. Gee, I guess this car must really be invisible.

To sum it all up, the car has no license plates, there's two girls who survived the kidnappings (one being catatonic, the other which there is no mention of) whom have been sexually harassed, this car has been parked and hanging around school grounds, there's tire tracks left over at every crime scene, and the car has even tried to attack a school bus full of children.

How come nobody is looking for this car? And even when Laura finally decides to go to the police station (a bit too late I might add), the cops act like they know nothing (how cliche) and tell her they can't find anything information at all on this alleged vehicle. I guess Laura is pretty dumb if she can't give these guys the make and the year at least. It's a beat-up and crap-looking 1974 two door sedan for Christ's sake, how many of them could possibly be in this town? Oh and the fact that it has no license plates should narrow the list down even more.

NASCAR School Bus

Laura's mechanic friend, Luis, installs a race car engine in the school bus at some point early on in the film. "What the hell, right?", Luis replies to Laura after she finds this out.

Well, I actually couldn't agree more with that witty remark. Now, I'm not an expert mechanic, but I'm pretty sure a race car engine and a school bus doesn't exactly make a lot of sense. Wouldn't the engine not be compatible with the bus itself? And why would Laura approve of such a thing to begin with? She's driving a bus full of kids, not participating in some NASCAR competition... at least not until the final act of "Wheels of Terror".

Speaking of the final act, this plot point with the engine is nothing more but another set-up that leads to that.

Random Things That Make No Sense

  • In the opening scene of the movie, a father and his daughter are on the side of the road having car trouble. The evil car approaches, dad tries to call out to it for help yet it continues to steer towards him with no sign of slowing down. With all the time in the world to get away from this impending doom, he just stands there and lets it run him over as he screams.
  • After the scene mentioned above, the next shot is a quarry where a lot of construction is going on, lots of men and machines at work. This is where we get out opening credits. What does this quarry have to do with the movie other than the fact that its the same setting as the film's finale? Pointless foreshadowing at work.
  • Why is it that Laura appears to be the only school bus driver in this town? One scene makes it apparent that her daughter goes to a very big school. Nevermind, I guess that's why they brought the evil car into this to help her out.
  • When one of Stephanie's friends, Kim, gets abducted right outside the school, Laura is the first to realize her absence and one of the kids on the bus says he saw her parents pick her up in a *car*. Is this kid retarded? When was the last time you saw a parent violently snatch a child into a vehicle? If this kid saw an adult choking another kid, he'd probably think he was giving the kid a hug.
  • Ah yes, how's about that scene where Laura and Stephanie finally decide to go to the police all last minute. Instead of inviting them both into his office, Detective Drummond decides to have Stephanie wait outside with a clerk so she could learn how a police computer works. What!? First and foremost, Stephanie would be considered as a witness to this vehicle at this point in the story, wouldn't it make sense for her to be in the office as well? Secondly, why would a detective allow a 12 year old girl to look at the police department's confidential computer files?
  • Furthermore, in that very same scene at the police station, while Laura and Detective Drummond are speaking, we cut back really quick to Stephanie and the clerk. The both of them seem frozen in place, unchanged from the last shot we saw them in. So we have two silent idiots who are not moving a muscle and gazing away at a blank computer screen. Interesting film direction we have here.

NASCAR School Bus vs. '74 Dodge Charger

Now we have come to the big finale aka the 30 minute long chase sequence. While dropping the kids off from school, Laura witnesses her daughter get kidnapped by the Dodge Charger and immediately pursues it. This is where Laura's race car engine comes into play... well, not exactly. See, the thing is that much of this sequence is shot in slow motion in order to hide the true speeds of each vehicle.

I've already gone over the bit with the motorcycle cop. After the car runs him over, it stops to roll down window so that Stephanie could peep her head out to call out to her mother before she is pulled back in and the chase resumes. The way that she is pulled back in doesn't seem forcibly done at all, considering the situation. Wouldn't Stephanie be struggling to escape? There's certainly no signs of that. This also opens up a brand new question: Is the driver of the car operating the vehicle and holding Stephanie all at once? She's obviously not restrained. Unless there is a second assailant in the backseat who is holding her, but then again even that doesn't make sense because why is she not in the backseat and in restraints? Talk about confusing.

Moving forward, the chase takes a break at a seemingly abandoned gas station. Laura lets the last two annoying kids off the bus to go call for help in one of the trailers nearby. Meanwhile, the car drives out from hiding and starts ramming and destroying everything in sight -- Throwing dust and debris into the air, smashing the pumps, and spilling fuel all over the place. Laura just sits there and awaits the fireworks that are about to come... KABOOM! We are treated to one of the most awesome TV movie explosions ever thought up (seriously). Gee, I hope those two annoying kids are okay.

Fast forward moments later, the bus and the car are driving along a cliff for the lazily-written and half-baked showdown that is about to occur. Having no idea how to end the chase and have Laura safely get her daughter back, the writer decides to have the car drive alongside the school bus and open the sunroof, allowing Stephanie to climb onto the roof of the car. Laura manages to grab Stephanie to safety and taps the car off the cliff.

  1. Why is the car making it easier for Stephanie to escape by driving alongside the bus and opening the sunroof?
  2. Why is he letting her go to begin with? If that was his intention, then why bother going through all the trouble to kidnap her and engage in a 30 minute-long chase in the first place?

So, right after the car goes off the cliff, it somehow magically appears once again and is about to ram the bus. Laura drives away just in time, letting the car free-fall (again) off the cliff and into a wooden shack that has "Explosives" written on it. What is this, a cartoon? They might as well have Tazmanian Devil falling off the cliff and into the wooden shack, it wouldn't make a difference.

Anyway, all is safe and well now that the car and its driver are dead. Stephanie doesn't appear to be in shock, not even one bit. Who (or what) was driving that car? Was it more than one person? We never find this out because Stephanie doesn't open her mouth. The both of them just drive off back home and live happily ever after.

What's even more questionable is the fact that, all throughout this half an hour chase, the police department didn't bother lifting one finger to intervene despite the amazing trail of attention that was left: A traffic accent on a crowded street, enormous dust trails, close calls with many vehicles along the countryside, trespassing through an occupied quarry that is under construction, the destruction at the gas station, and let's not forget the motorbike cop who was brutally smashed.

What Should Have Been Done

This could have been a decently interesting film if only more thought and creativity had been given to it. They already had an awesomely evil-looking vehicle and then there's the whole mystery surrounding who or what is actually in that car, but none of this was well thought-out.

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