Monday, 22 April 2013

Blood on the Windscreen: The Cold and Violent World of the Driver's Education Film 1959-1975 
by John Harrison



Melbourne horror and pop-culture buff John Harrison’s booklet Blood on the Windscreen provides the reader with an informative, entertaining overview of the Driver’s Education film genre. These short films were originally intended as scare fodder for American high school students in an attempt to kerb the rapid increase in road fatalities, often involving young people behind the wheel, in the 1950’s. Dozens of these threadbare, ultra-low budget productions were churned out until the late 1970’s, screening in high schools and other educational institutions to an estimated audience of over 40 million. Today the films have gained a cult following for their kitschiness and ham-fisted, moralistic re-enactments. On the other side of the coin, the use of graphic real-life footage of car accidents – the camera often dwelling on decapitated, mangled bodies, ghoulish narration and grainy, washed-out cinematography still manages to pack a grim punch today.
Blood on the Windscreen features a summary article on the genesis, success, and subsequent downfall of Drivers Education cinema. Much of the genre’s output originated from an Ohio-based company, ‘Highway Safety Films, Inc’. A supposedly non-profit, community-focused organisation, Highway Safety Films, Inc was behind the scenes a hotbed of bribery, fraud and alleged side-ventures into pornography. This background information adds to the overall scuzzy, seedy feel of these truly unique ‘period pieces’.
Harrison has also compiled a handy A-Z filmography providing capsule reviews of key genre titles. An ideal introduction to these vintage educational films, Harrison’s selection ranges from the sublime (The Third Killer “...is set up like a bleak fairytale, with a mean spirited salesman named Rellik (say it backwards) trying to convince his boss that the company’s ‘third account’ will become its biggest and most profitable within a matter of years...it soon becomes clear that Rellik is a grim reaper, and the company’s third account is highway accident deaths (their first and second deaths being heart failure and cancer respectively”) to the ridiculous (Traffic Rules, an animated short which inexplicably has “very demonic, evil looking eyes” drawn on the two lead characters at various points). Not to mention the outright disturbing (Ride to Live, Live to Ride “...a nasty and thoroughly negative piece of work...including the kind of grisly footage which even the Ohio films had the good taste to withhold...a teenaged boy literally torn in half (with both pieces of his body strewn across the footpath) and another young woman who apart from being nearly decapitated, has had both her arms and most of her legs torn off in the accident”). Also included is an in-depth interview with the director of the feature documentary Hell’s Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films, Bret Wood.
The publication’s layout is clear, clear and easy to read, its style and format inspired by vintage educational booklets from the 1960’s, and overall is a definite must-read for both Driver’s Ed film aficionados and novices alike. A steal for only $6, grab your copy from Amazon today!!!


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