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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ter­ry Gilliam Reveals the Secrets of Mon­ty Python Ani­ma­tions: A 1974 How-To Guide

Ter­ry Gilliam’s Lost Ani­ma­tions from Mon­ty Python and the Holy Grail Are Now Online

Watch Ter­ry Gilliam’s Ani­mat­ed Short, The Christ­mas Card (1968)

4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

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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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.