Hey there, horror fans! Welcome to another edition of Underrated Horror Movie of the Month. Here is a quick intro for any newbies joining us. Twice each month, I come here and talk about a horror film I feel is underrated and underloved. Entries may come from any subgenre, decade or anywhere in the world. In this edition, I present a 1971 classic thriller, Duel. Stick around to see why I think this movie deserves more love.

About Duel

While traveling for work, a businessman, David Mann (Dennis Weaver), passes a massive tractor-trailer on a two-lane highway. This seemingly simple act lands Mann in a battle of wits, a duel to the death. Nothing but an empty road stands between the truck driver and Mann, and things quickly escalate. As a cat-and-mouse game ensues, Mann must find his inner warrior to survive.

RELATED: Underrated Horror Movie of the Month: Valentine

Duel stars Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott and Eddie Firestone. Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay, and Steven Spielberg directed the film. The movie has a runtime of one hour and 35 minutes.

A red car is driving down the road with a large truck coming up behind it in the distance.

This film has an 89 percent Tomatometer Score and an 84 percent Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Facts: Duel is a made-for-television movie from Universal Television. Another interesting fact is that this was Spielberg’s first film.

My Thoughts

Duel walked so Joy Ride could run. Over the years, many evil truck/trucker films and TV episodes have graced the horror genre. Some, of course, are better than others. It is my considered opinion that Joy Ride is one of the best films in its niche. That said, Duel is a formidable forerunner. Rusty Nail could not exist without David Mann’s battle against a vindictive tanker driver.

As always, I went down the rabbit hole of random reviews to see what viewers disliked about this film to create a discussion of those points. From all of my extensive perusing, there were only two complaints that kept creeping up time and again.

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The first topic I want to discuss is how many times I saw viewers call Duel boring and uneventful. I believe the primary reason people see this film as boring is the illusion of repetitiveness. Because a large portion of the movie takes place on the road, many scenes can seem the same. However, it is the nuances that make all the difference. Mann’s terror ebbs and flows; it peaks and drains. At times, it is an annoyance that peaks, and at others, fear permeates the screen. Sometimes, it is Mann’s anger that bubbles to the surface.

Along the same line of consideration, I loved the moments of inner dialogue. This technique was not commonly used in early ’70s horror, but it is impactful.

A view of the road ahead from Mann's passenger seat

Another point I want to make about whether or not the film is boring is the road rage itself. If you have ever been on the receiving end of another driver’s rage, it is bone-chillingly frightening. Recent news stories lend to that narrative as well. Even witnessing a road rage situation can leave a person feeling terrified.

RELATED: Movie Review: Knock at the Cabin

Several reviews that mentioned Duel being boring also said the film is unrealistic. Having had a driver’s license for an undisclosed amount of time and seeing firsthand how angry and aggressive people can be on the road, I do not see any unrealistic notes on that count. I will admit the oversized tanker truck sometimes seems more maneuverable than the car. Mann’s car also seems magical in some instances, starting when it shouldn’t, etc. Of course, it is essential to remember that things of this nature are always a bit out of reality.

The last thing I want to get into is Spielberg’s directing. It is clear how he ended up where he is today. The movie has a constant stream of raw emotion, epic view switches and Spielberg’s influence is evident.

Final Thoughts

If you have not seen Duel, I encourage you to try it. While I do not want to give spoilers, I can’t end this without mentioning the end. It is not the one I expected, but it is the best the film could have.

There you have it, horror fans, another underrated horror in the books. Have you seen this one? Do you think it’s boring? Let me know in the comments. Also, let me know which movie you think I should feature next. Until next time, stay spooky and watch more horror movies!

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Becca Stalnaker
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