Top Five Car Horror Movies for Halloween
There aren’t a whole lot of good horror movies about cars, because, well, frankly cars aren’t that scary. Any horror movie villain that can be defeated by Eddie Murphy stuffing bananas up its tailpipe is not that terrifying. But gearheads who are looking for a way to make today’s spooky celebrations a bit more automotive-themed may want to check out our picks for the top five car horror movies for Halloween, which we’ve ranked from worst to best.
This is the only film ever directed by gajillionaire horror author Stephen King, and according to the cheesy trailer, he decided to get behind the camera for this 1986 bomb because after watching the film adaptations that others had made of his stories, he finally decided, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” Well, if Brian De Palma and Stanley Kubrick got King “wrong” with Carrie and The Shining, and King got himself “right” with Maximum Overdrive, then maybe King’s work was meant to be butchered.
Based on his own mediocre short story “Trucks,” King’s film depicts cars, semi trucks, and other machinery coming to life and killing people, apparently because of a passing comet (although it’s later revealed in a terrible anti-twist that it was actually a UFO that caused all the craziness). This movie is big, dumb, and loud, though not quite as much fun as a big, dumb, loud movie should be. King has claimed he was “coked out of [his] mind” when he made Maximum Overdrive, but then again, he was also a raging addict when he wrote masterpieces like The Stand, too, so that may just be a lame excuse.
Before Christine, there was The Car. This 1977 camp classic stars James Brolin as the deputy of a small town that’s being terrorized by the titular car, which is killing bike riders and hitchhikers in the area. Although you can’t really tell because of its tinted windows, the car—which is actually a heavily customized 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III—has no driver (dun-dun-DUN!). It’s some sort of demonic sedan that has come straight from Hell to run over a couple people and make an annoyingly loud honking noise (Church of Satan leader Anton LaVey got a “Technical Advisor” credit on the film, so he must have been the expert who confirmed that that’s what cars from Hell sound like).
The driving stunts aren’t half bad, and the cheese factor is high enough to make this a pretty fun beer-and-pizza movie. Invite some friends over and enjoy watching a car try to kill Josh Brolin’s dad.
Quentin Tarantino’s least successful film (both commercially and critically), Death Proof is actually an entertaining-enough slasher film that stars the eternally awesome Kurt Russell as a retired stunt driver named Mike, who still rides around in his old 1971 Chevy Nova SS 396. The vintage stunt car is rigged with a safety cage that makes it “death proof,” though only for the driver (hint hint).
Released in 2007 as a double feature with the admittedly superior Planet Terror, this movie includes some good action, more than an earful of Tarantino’s trademark dialogue, and fun tropes lifted from the exploitation films of the 70s. This movie also comes highly recommended for automotive enthusiasts, who will definitely share the main characters’ love of muscle cars.
Oh look, another Stephen King movie! And fortunately, this time it’s a better one. In fact, back in 1983, Christine was a pretty huge deal for horror fans: it tasked one of the genre’s favorite directors (John Carpenter) with bringing to life a classic tale from its most prolific writer (King). Christine tells the story of a nerdy kid by the name of Arnie who gets his hands on a decrepit 1958 Plymouth Fury, the titular Christine, and sets about toward the goal of restoring her to her former glory. Christine is cherry all right, but that’s largely because she has the ability to regenerate herself to showroom quality…as well as track down and brutally murder the bullies who vandalized her.
Christine is an appropriately spooky yarn that’s capably directed by Carpenter (here clearly closer to his prime than, say, Ghosts of Mars form). The acting verges on hokey more often than not, but the presence of Harry Dean Stanton manages to balance a lot of that out (since he’s always a welcome presence). The score, as in every Carpenter film from the ‘80s, is great, and there’s more than enough ‘50s nostalgia to go around. Long and short: Christine has a little something for everyone, and it’s well worth a look.
Based on a short story by Twilight Zone writer and I Am Legend author Richard Matheson, Duel was originally produced as a made-for-TV movie, but the director did such a good job that the studio had him add on some more footage so that they could release it theatrically in Europe. That talented young director was none other than Steven Spielberg, and Duel became the then-25-year old film school dropout’s first feature length film.
The story of a mild-mannered man on a business trip being relentlessly pursued by a gigantic 1955 Peterbilt 281 tractor unit, Duel ratchets up the suspense by never showing us the face of the maniacal trucker; only the monstrous truck itself. To read more about our pick for the best car horror movie to watch this Halloween, check out our full review of Duel.
Patrick Grieve was born in Southwestern Ohio and has lived there all of his life, with the exception of a few years spent getting a Creative Writing degree in Southeastern Ohio. He loves to take road trips, sometimes to places as distant as Northeastern or even Northwestern Ohio. Patrick also enjoys old movies, shopping at thrift stores, going to ballgames, writing about those things, and watching Law & Order reruns. He just watches the original series, though, none of the spin-offs. And also only the ones they made before Jerry Orbach died. Season five was really the peak, in his opinion. See more articles by Patrick.