The Van (1977) – By Matt Singer

A Dollar Store in the mall does not sound like an
ideal place to find movies. But at most of these
stores you can find classic films for just a buck; for
instance, a classic about an incredible crime-fighting
wagon aptly named SUPERVAN. There’s just one catch.
Buy SUPERVAN at a dollar store and you’ll likely end
up with a choppy, hacked up version of a film entitled
THE VAN. Yes, that’s right. When you buy a film for a
dollar you run the risk of getting a completely
different film than the one you asked for. In
fairness, it’s easy to confuse a movie about a
Supervan with one about a really big, but fairly
mediocre, van. Thankfully, if you watch THE VAN (also
available under its proper title from camp masters
Rhino) you’ll get a ridiculous trip to the
hard-driving, hard-loving decade of the 1970s where
the bigger your van, the better your love life.

The owner of the titular van is Bobby. He just
graduated high school and works at the car wash (at
the car wash, yeah!). Bobby’s life is a series of
increasingly pathetic episodes. The opening credits
find him bouncing up and down in his car like a moron
to “Chevy Van,” playing on the soundtrack. At his job,
his foot gets caught in the car wash, and he gets
dragged through, soaked, then stripped of all his
clothes. That debacle is sandwiched between a
hilarious session of poking Danny DeVito in the ass
with a needle and a meeting with a car salesman with
the fashion sense of Colonel Sanders where he buys his
fantastically amazing van. All in all, a good day for
Bobby.

This van, by the way, is bright yellow, with several
phallic arrows painted on the side, with the phrase
Straight Arrow sprawled across each side. The back
half of the van is hollowed out and the walls are
covered with shag carpeting, and additional features
include a waterbed, a mirrored ceiling, and a toaster.
A toaster! I’m guessing the toaster wasn’t standard.

In the world of THE VAN, a fine lookin’ van is
vehicular Spanish fly. The hottest woman in town is
shacked up with a bully named Duggan, simply because
he has big van. The man is a jerk, a drunk, and has a
mole the size of Alaska on his left arm. But he’s got
a van, so women are helpless to resist his oily charm.
Bobby ends up alone after a failed date and ends up
peeping on Duggan’s lady from his van. She catches
him, but she sleeps with him anyway. The van comes
with a toaster, but not self-respect.

There isn’t really more to the plot than what’s
revealed in THE VAN’s title. In the same way BREAKIN’
2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO manages to tie every single human
concept into break dancing, THE VAN manages to include
vans in every scene. Lovers walk hand-in-hand at the
beach, but instead of going swimming, they admire they
dozens of customized vans parked in rows along the
edge of the water. The film ends in a AMERICAN
GRAFFITI-style drag race, but with vans. Can you feel
the excitement people?

Once Bobby buys his van he doesn’t go to work, or
sleep, or eat. He just drives in his van, cruising for
chicks. This movie takes place in the 1970s. Wasn’t
there an oil crisis? Given his gas-guzzling ways, I’m
inclined to suspect Bobby was the main reason for the
shortage.

Like other classics of cinema, THE BICYCLE THIEF for
example, you don’t just watch THE VAN; the complex
images it presents stir questions that bring the
viewer deeper into the moviegoing experience. As I
watched THE VAN, I pondered the meaning of life and
other important queries like “Why is ‘Chevy Van’
played a dozen times on the soundtrack?” and “Why did
Danny DeVito agree to start in THE VAN? Did he have
gambling debts?” “Are women really attracted to big
yellow vans?” and “Can I afford to buy a big yellow
van?”