Best friends Roger (Peter Fonda) and Frank (Warren Oates) are a motorcycle racer and a motorbike garage owner respectively, and the pressures of the business are considerable, especially when Roger's bike doesn't perform as well as he thinks it should. To get away from it all, the duo decide to take Frank's new mobile home and head off to Colorado to enjoy themselves in a skiing holiday with their wives, Alice (Loretta Swit) and Kelly (Lara Parker), a journey that will take them through Texas. All is going well when they two couples stop off at a secluded riverside spot, but what they don't realise is that by accident they have made the biggest mistake of their lives...
The belief that there is a network of Satanists at large in the United States is one that refuses to go away, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, but back in the seventies such worries of God-fearing folk were fuel not to news headlines, but to the entertainment industry. Blame Rosemary's Baby for the vogue for devil-worshippers in big screen fiction, and it was an idea that horror movie makers in the U.S.A. capitalised on pretty extensively. One entry into this genre was Race with the Devil, which was lumped in with the Satanism pictures, but was actually closer to the era's equally popular fashion for road movies.
The spot that Roger and Frank have chosen is coincidentally one which, across the river and in full view of the men that night, is the location a coven of Texan Satanists use for their human sacrifices, one of which is being put to death as they watch. At first they think it's an orgy, but when the knife is plunged into the young victim they immediately understand they are in danger and wake their wives, then zoom off. Naturally there is a bit of bother when the mobile home's wheels get caught as they drive through the river and the coven are running after them, but thereafter that signature feeling of this decade's thrillers, the mounting paranoia, goes into effect.
This is because everyone they meet once they report the incident to the police seems to be in league with the Satanists, not that our heroes can be sure. But the most intuitive characters, who turn out to be Kelly and her little dog Ginger have the sense that the bad guys are closing in on them even before they do, and while the notion that so many people would be in on the black arts is hard to believe, it is a nice twist on the Easy Rider version of travelling through America's South where everyone was a redneck whose conservatism pitted them against the lead characters. It's not long before Kelly's teary suspicions are confirmed, of course.
Race with the Devil could just as easily have been the story of two holidaymaking couples who stumbled across a Ku Klux Klan lynching, or some other non-supernatural event, but it's the Devil they are to race, which does make for a more acceptable and fantastical explanation for why they are so hounded across so wide an area by these sinister strangers. The police are not much help (could they be in on it?), and every telephone they try to call the authorities on is out of order, so after a while it appears as if there is a conspiracy against them. It's interesting to see Fonda and Oates, who we are so used to starring in roles of capable men, have their solid worldview twisted into something menacing, but not much is made of it and after a while it grows clear what the filmmakers were really looking forward to was the lengthy and stunt-filled chase sequence that climaxes the movie. Still, as it stands it's nicely done and amusing, if not particularly scary. Music by Leonard Rosenman.