Pit Stop, a 1969 collaboration between B-movie king Roger Corman and director Jack Hill (renown primarily for his work across a number of Blaxploitation titles), represents something of a dream pairing for trash cinema aficionados. With its intriguing Faustian-like plot, stunning stock car racing footage and memorable performances, including a young, very beautiful Ellen Burstyn (credited here as Ellen McRae), Pit Stop proves to be a cut about the usual low-grade genre works from that period in US cinema. Weathered James Dean lookalike Richard Davalos plays Rick Bowman, a young tearaway (at 39) who has a penchant for fast cars and a talent for pushing them to their extremes.
Sprung from prison after a particularly messy suburban drag race, he’s offered the chance to drive a souped-up motor belonging to a rich businessman (Brian Donlevy). Bowman soon excels in the destruction derby-inspired ‘Figure Eight’ race circuit, much to the annoyance of racing bad boy and daredevil, Hawk Sidney (Rob Zombie regular Sid Haig). Nabbing Sidney’s girl and continuing his swift ascent to the big league, Bowman will seemingly stop at nothing to get to the top. What’s immediately clear with Pit Stop is that Hill (a former film school classmate of one Francis Ford Coppola) is following the low quality/cheap thrills exploitation film mandate laid out by his producer. However, the director also manages to imbue the material with more personality and style than would be expected.
Shot in stark black and white and featuring a fantastic bluesy guitar score, the film exudes an effortless cool and excitement, right down to the exhilarating race footage, which has a wonderfully grainy, vérité authenticity (intercut with those cheesy, visibly artificial back-projection shots of the main characters in the driver’s seat). Unsurprisingly, the film is a little rough around the edges, but the aim to entertain and astound at all costs is first and foremost on Hill’s mind (the frenzied axe attack by a manic Haig on Davalos’ motor mid-way through has to be seen to be believed). Pit Stop certainly couldn’t be accused of being high art, but it’s a helluva lot of fun, offering an entertaining snapshot of that schlocky, drive-in era, complete with an unexpectedly dark ending which flies in the face of the usual heroic cinematic conventions.