NASCAR Meets the Paranormal in Terry Gilliam’s Short Film, The Legend of Hallowdega

I think we here at Open Culture can freely own up to a deficiency in our content: despite its outsized presence in American culture, we’ve really neglected to post much about NASCAR. Luckily, film director, animator, and Monty Python member Terry Gilliam has given us reason to change our ways by shooting a short film at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway, one of the best-known venues for NASCAR races. But The Legend of Hallowdega, made to promote something called AMP Energy Juice, tells not a straight (or rather, constantly left-turning) story about racing, but adds another layer of intrigue: the paranormal.

That might sound like a random conceptual mashup, but a little bit of research reveals Talladega as a regular Overlook Hotel, what with its history of mysterious compulsions, freak injuries and deaths, and unexplained acts of sabotage. (Some even chalk all this up to a curse placed on the Talladega’s valley by its original Native American inhabitants, driven out for their collaboration with Andrew Jackson.) Enter tattooed, Fu-Manchu’d, bead-festooned ghost hunter Kiyash Monsef, here to answer the question, “What is the truth? And what is truer that the truth?” — the words of the khaki-wrapped host of World of the Unexplained, the fictitious, highly sensationalistic, and not especially competent television show that frames The Legend of Hallowdega‘s story.

Nothing in the first few minutes of the film gives it away as a Terry Gilliam project, but as soon as it enters Monsef’s elaborate yet makeshift, thoroughly analog lair — located underneath Talladega itself — the famously imaginative director starts making his touch apparent. We could easily dismiss David Arquette’s performance as Monsef as over-the-top, but to many of us, he surely comes off as no more unfamiliar than some of the locals providing their own testimony about the curse in the interview segments. Where has the oft-lamented “old, weird America” gone? In (the American-born but British-naturalized and thus sufficiently distanced) Terry Gilliam’s eyes, it lives on, especially in places like Talladega.

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Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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