Just in time for Halloween, we count down the most hair-raising, creepy, scary car movies in Hollywood history.
For car folks, scares come in many forms. That first driving test can induce heart palpitations. Narrowly dodging a deer on that moonlit highway can leave you pale as a banshee. For DYI mechanics, the frights of a cracked cylinder head or sparkles in your transmission fluid can turn your hair white. It’s only natural then, that our favorite cinematic terrors involve cars, too, like a haunted ‘50s classic car with eerie powers of regeneration or an armored Olds 88 doing battle with a horde of zombies. This is our top 10 favorite scary car movies.
This Paul Walker car movie is far scarier than any from the Fast and Furious films, and not just thanks to Steve Zahn’s acting. In Joy Ride, two buddies out on a road trip start pranking people with a CB radio, or as Zahn’s character in the movie puts it “a prehistoric internet.” Unfortunately, they’ve trolled a homicidal truck driver who goes by the handle “Rusty Nail”. This psycho trucker welds his imposing 1985 Peterbilt 359 like Michael Myers’ butcher knife. The 2001 film was co-written and co-produced by Lost’s J.J. Abrams.
Best Vehicle Feature: CB voice modulator. Rumor has it “Rusty Nail” was actually play by Betty White.
A tale of back-from-the-dead vengeance meted out by a mysterious teen played by Charlie Sheen. Chock full of ‘80s movie tropes (including appearances by Clint Howard and Randy Quaid), this movie isn’t really all that scary, but the hero car is notable because it was a fabrication built from the Dodge M4S prototype. This mid-engine concept could reach 194mph. The bad guys didn’t stand a chance.
Best Vehicle Feature: Wearing all black long before Jay-Z made it cool.
The second killer semi on our list was featured in a young Steven Spielberg’s 1971 movie Duel. Road rage is never the answer to stress on the road and nowhere is the lesson clearer than when Dennis Weaver’s character, David Mann, crosses the wrong truck driver. In a running battle between a Plymouth Valiant and a hulking ’55 Peterbilt 281, the outcome feels as inevitable as it is terrifying.
Best Vehicle Feature: Terrifyingly ugly brown paint job on the psycho semi.
You’re familiar with haunted houses, but for real vehicular terror, try a haunted car. The Car starred James Brolin and a heavily modded, black Lincoln Continental Mark III. The killer car was designed by George Barris, the same Hollywood car designer that created the Lincoln Futura based Batmobile from the Batman TV series. The car from The Car was also the model for Bender’s werecar transformation in Futurama’s “The Honking” episode.
Best Vehicle Feature: Those scowling headlights.
One of two Stephen King adaptations on the list, Maximum Overdrive starred Emilio Esteves and featured possessed machines, including yet another killer semi. But the truck in Maximum Overdrive was no ordinary Western Star 4800 semi but a “Happy Toyz” truck complete with a giant Green Goblin face on its grille. As scary as the truck was, as a kid, I was most frightened of the killer toaster.
Best Vehicle Feature: The grin of the Green Goblin.
It’s hard to know which was more grotesque, the creepy bat-winged monster dude or his rusted 1941 Chevy cab-over-engine. Either way you’ve got to admire the Creep’s work modifying his truck for mayhem.
Best Vehicle Feature: The license plate BEATGNU. Seriously, the truck is legally registered.
Yes, I know this is more of a monster movie, but the 1963 Jeep Gladiator J-200 driven by Val and Earl in Tremors is one of my favorite movie cars of all time. Plus, this Jeep truck was tough enough to tear off a tentacle from one of the “Graboids.”
Best Vehicle Feature: A picture of Tammy Lynn Baxter behind the sun visor.
Death Proof is director Quinton Tarantino’s homage to grindhouse horror and Hollywood stunt work. In it, “Stuntman Mike” terrorizes a group of young women with a pair of classic muscle cars, a 1971 Chevrolet Nova and a 1969 Dodge Charger. Both are designed to be “death proof” for the driver, but don’t worry, “Stuntman Mike” gets his just desserts.
Best Vehicle Feature: Being, yah know, death proof.
Ash’s 1971 Oldsmobile Delta 88 was actually a recurring cameo of director Sam Rami’s own car. Through three films the Olds 88 does more than its fair share killing skeletal zombies, finally morphing into an all-out monster mashing machine in Army of Darkness.
Best Vehicle Feature: Giant drill in the grille, flaming exhaust pipes, bulldozer attachment, armor, whirring blades of death, time travel capabilities, I mean, take your pick.
No scary car movie list would be complete without Stephen King’s tale of automotive love gone wrong, Christine. Though some question Arnie’s choice of a ’58 Plymouth Fury, he can’t really be blamed for the adoration, evil possessed car notwithstanding. This classic case of automotive fatal attraction was doubly scary because of Christine’s uncanny ability to rebuild herself. As the trailer asks, “How do you kill something that can’t possibly be alive?” (Possible answer: skip your oil changes for 100,000 miles?)
Best Vehicle Feature: Auto-auto-restoration, complete with new car smell.