Synopsis by Michael Hastings
As the 1950s drew to a close, high school hygiene films and VD cautionary tales gave birth to another, far more graphic sort of fear-inducing curriculum: the driver's-ed movie. Bearing such titles as Signal 30, The Third Killer, Wheels of Tragedy, and Highways of Agony, these films -- usually produced by the Highway Safety Foundation -- intercut staged, fictional tales of impudent hot-rodders and drunk-driving, non-safety-belt-wearing teens with actual accident footage. Director Bret Wood chronicles the history of this grisly subgenre with Hell's Highway, a documentary that details the growing need for teen-cautionary films in the late-'50s/early-'60s and the man who fulfilled it, Richard Wayman. Wayman, Wood learns, was an armchair policeman who liked to drop in on the scenes of various crimes, taking snapshots and other amateur-forensics data. He turned his hobby into a profession, however, when he hooked up with another accident-obsessive, Phyllis Vaughn, her sister, and a newspaper photographer. Pitching their idea to the Ohio Highway Patrol, the foursome went around to give lectures and slideshows to high schools; as their revenues and budgets grew, they began pre-packaging their worst-case driver scenarios in short films that were distributed nationwide throughout the '60s and '70s.
archival-footage, driver's-ed, highway, highway-patrolman, pop-culture, propaganda, school-system, short-films