Although originally an ABC Movie of the Week on television, Duel did find its way to theatres in the UK and Europe, and as such could be said to be Spielberg’s first theatrical feature, having come from a background directing for television, through segments for the pilot of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery as well as the first episode of Columbo.
Duel, coming from a script by famed author Richard Matheson and starring Dennis Weaver, in no way feels like a television movie and feels every bit as cinematic as the classic run of films that were about to follow. Duel has a real edge to it and is without a doubt one of the best horror thrillers ever made.
Make no mistakes, this isn’t a bloody slasher movie or anything, it’s a man against a dark force movie, in this case the dark force being a truck, which may or may not be unmanned.
Director Spielberg, showing the first signs of ingenuity that we come to expect from a director who has given the world some of the greatest movies ever made, elects not to show us the driver that is tormenting David Mann throughout Duel’s run time. For all we know there could be no driver, that the truck is a literal monster with deathly designs on our besieged hero.
In its death throes as it plunges off a cliff, a sound of a roar is heard, or what seems to be a roar. Is it a literal monster? Who knows, but the question it raises is one of many things that makes Duel a must watch for fans of arguably one of Hollywood’s all time greats and for those who simply want to watch a classic genre movie.
Dennis Weaver puts in a great performance as a truly put upon character, his initial anger and attempts at getting one over his road rage nemesis giving way to genuine panic, fear and terror, the truck itself becoming ever more determined in its attempts to either push him over the edge or kill him.
The truck itself feels like a genuine character. Dust riddled and rusted, it puts across an aura that simply screams psychotic, and as such one can never just think of it as a truck. It truly is one of horror-thriller cinema’s all time most terrifying villains and characters.
The fear of the unknown is always the best, and it makes the best horror movies work triumphantly. That we sympathise with Mann even though we never see much of his life makes Weaver’s performance even better, his increasingly sweaty paranoia all the more palatable and convincingly played.
You cannot help but cheer in the final moments, and it comes through increasingly sweaty palms.
COMING SOON: “Yeah, but John, when The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”