The Cars That Ate Paris

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The Cars That Ate Paris
Cars that ate paris movie poster.jpg
Australian film poster
Directed byPeter Weir
Screenplay byPeter Weir
Story byPeter Weir
Keith Gow
Piers Davies
Produced byHal and Jim McElroy
StarringJohn Meillon
Terry Camilleri
Kevin Miles
CinematographyJohn McLean
Edited byWayne LeClos
Music byBruce Smeaton
Australian Film Development Corporation
Royce Smeal Film Productions
Salt Pan Films
Distributed byBritish Empire Films
Release dates
  • 10 October 1974 (1974-10-10) (AUS)
  • 11 June 1976 (1976-06-11) (US)
Running time
91 minutes
74 minutes (US cut)

The Cars That Ate Paris is a 1974 Australian horror comedy film, produced by twin brothers Hal and Jim McElroy and directed by Peter Weir. It was his first feature film, and was also based on an original story he had written. Shot mostly in the rural town of Sofala, New South Wales, the film is set in the fictional town of Paris in which most of the inhabitants appear to be directly, or indirectly, involved in profiting from the results of car accidents.


The film begins with an urban couple driving through the countryside in what looks like a cinema advertisement. The scene comes to a halt with a fatal accident. The rural Australian town of Paris arranges fatal accidents to visitors driving through. Townspeople collect items from the luggage of the deceased passengers whilst survivors are taken to the local hospital where they are given lobotomies with power tools and kept as "veggies" for medical experiments by the earnest town surgeon. The young men of the town salvage and modify the wrecked vehicles into a variety of strange-looking cars designed for destruction.

Arthur Waldo (Terry Camilleri) and his older brother, George Waldo (Rick Scully), drive through Paris with their caravan where they meet with an accident that kills George. Arthur is spared and looked after by the Mayor of Paris, Len Kelly (John Meillon), who invites Arthur to stay in his home as one of his family; his two young daughters have been "adopted" after being orphaned in motor accidents in the town.

Arthur unsuccessfully attempts to leave Paris but due to a previous incident where he was exonerated of manslaughter for running over an elderly pedestrian, he has lost his confidence in driving and there does not seem to be any public transport. Mayor Len gives Arthur a job at the local hospital as a medical orderly. Beneath the idyllic rural paradise of Paris is a festering feud between the young men of the town who live for their modified vehicles that they terrorise the town with and the older generation. When one of the hoons damages the Mayor's property and breaks a statue of an Aboriginal Australian the older men of the town burn the guilty driver's car as he is held down.

The Mayor appoints Arthur the town parking inspector complete with brassard and Army bush jacket that further irritates the young men. The situation reaches its boiling point the night of the town's annual Pioneers Ball which is a fancy dress and costume party. What was planned to be a "car gymkhana" by the young men turns into an assault on the town where both sides attack each other killing several of the residents. Arthur regains his driving confidence when he repeatedly drives the Mayor's car into his former hospital orderly supervisor who is one of the hoons. The film closes with Arthur, and the town's other residents, leaving Paris in the night.



Peter Weir got the idea to make the film while driving through Europe where road signs on the main French roads diverted him into what he perceived as strange little villages.[2] It originally started as a comedy to star Grahame Bond but later evolved.[citation needed] Piers Davies and Keith Gow also had input.[3] He then took the movie to the McElroy brothers, who had previously worked in a large variety of positions on a number of films. Most of the budget came from the Australian Film Development Corporation with additional funds from Royce Smeal Film Productions in Sydney. Shooting began in October 1973, primarily on location in Sofala, New South Wales.[1]


The producers unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate an American release for the film with Roger Corman after it was shown with great success at the Cannes Film Festival.[4] Shortly afterwards Corman recruited Paul Bartel to direct his Death Race 2000;[5] Bartel had not seen The Cars That Ate Paris but he was aware that Corman had a print of the film.[6]

The movie struggled to find an audience in Australia, changing distributors and with an ad campaign unsure whether to pitch it as a horror film or art film. However it has become a cult film.[1] In 1980, $112,500 had been returned to the producers.[3] It received an American release in 1976 by New Line Cinema under the title The Cars That Eat People with added on narration and other differences.[7]

In 1992, it was adapted as a musical theatre work by Chamber Made Opera.

Legendary director Stanley Kubrick included The Cars That Ate Paris on the list of his 93 favourite films.


As of 10 July 2021, the film holds a 60% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes out of 15 reviews.[8]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Gordon Glenn & Scott Murray, "Production Report: The Cars That Ate Paris", Cinema Papers, January 1974 p18-26


  1. ^ a b c Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998 p277
  2. ^ p. 41 Rayner, Jonathan R. The Films of Peter Weir Continuum, 2003
  3. ^ a b David Stratton, The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival, Angus & Robertson, 1980 p62-67
  4. ^ p.122 The Bulletin
  5. ^ pp. 54-55 Rayner, Jonathan The Films of Peter Weir 2006 Continuum International Publishing Group
  6. ^ p.64 Stratton, David The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival Angus & Robertson, 1980
  7. ^ "The Cars That Ate Paris".
  8. ^ The Cars That Ate Paris at Rotten Tomatoes

External links[edit]