Well, it’s October and it’s time to scare yourself. Sit yourself down on the couch and pull the blanket up over your eyes and watch movies through your hands.
The best part of movie-watching during this time of year is that you really shouldn’t watch any of these movies by yourself. You should be snuggled up with a significant other or a friend. (Okay, a small dog and a bottle of Merlot will suffice if you must resort to half measures.)
Today, we’re going to look at horror movies with terrifying car scenes. For some reason, this logical mode of escape is often the last place you want to be in a horror movie. The cars themselves can even turn on you.
And remember, the purpose of these movies is not to create great art and cause you to reflect on the nature of human existence and its meaning. The goal here is to get you to jump and pull the blanket over your eyes. Nightmares afterwards? Just an added fun bonus.
Quentin Tarantino is first and foremost a lover of movies of all types. Death Proof was part of a double feature bill he released with director Richard Rodriguez’s film Planet Terror as their tribute to the Grindhouse subgenre of horror films. Grindhouses were movie theaters that started up in the 1920s and showed movies—usually not very good ones—all day long. You bought your ticket and sat there for as long as you wanted. Cheap thrills aplenty was the goal. In Death Proof, Kurt Russell plays an evil stunt man/serial killer who kills young women in staged accidents using his supposedly “death proof” stunt car. Also features Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, the scream queen Jordan Ladd, and Rose McGowan.
Set in the California desert, the premise of this French horror film is that a tire comes alive and goes on a murderous rampage. I’m not kidding; that is the premise of this movie. The movie is filled with a galaxy of B-Movie stars, including one of my favorites, the consistently-terrible Wings Hauser as “Mr. Watchom, the Man in the Wheelchair.” The movie has some genuinely scary parts, and a soundtrack I love, by Gaspard Auge and Mr. Olzo.
This remake of a 1986 slasher classic of the same name stars the always-menacing Rutger Hauer, plus it was produced by Michael Bay, so it is reliably over-the-top. Which is okay by me in this case. Set on a dark and rainy night in New Mexico, the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense but there are plenty of scare-the-pants-off-you moments as an innocent couple drive around New Mexico fleeing the evil Hitcher.
This movie is one of Steven Spielberg’s first feature films. (Okay, it’s actually a made-for-TV movie, but I’ve seen it a couple of times in revival houses.) And it is fantastic. Dennis Weaver plays a man driving through the California desert (always a great location for a horror movie!) in his Plymouth Valiant—as undistinguished a car as was ever made in America—when he is inexplicably pursued by a black and dusty Peterbilt semi that is, of course, menacing. Do not miss this one. It’s a classic chase movie where you keep asking yourself, “Why won’t that truck just leave Dennis Weaver and his crappy Plymouth Valiant alone?”
The great actor Harry Dean Stanton died in September at the age of 91, and that alone is reason to watch this horror movie about a murderous 1958 Plymouth Fury (a really outstanding Plymouth, I might add, with tail fins and everything). Based on a Stephen King novel of the same name. It was directed by horror movie master John Carpenter, who also made such classics as Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, and Assault on Precinct 13. If you’re looking for a horror movie, you’re in good hands with John Carpenter.
Unlike most of the other movies mentioned here, this movie actually has artistic aspirations…and achieves them. Based on the actual events of the Zodiac Killer, a serial killer who drove around the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1970s and committed random murders, it is a taut and terrifying thriller. Directed by David Fincher (Gone Girl, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), it stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey, Jr., Mark Ruffalo (one of my favorite actors of all time), and Anthony Edwards. If you want a break from the horror genre and are looking for a great thriller, this is it. The case of the Zodiac Killer was never solved, by the way.
This is the English language remake of the marvelous Swedish horror movie, Let the Right One In (2008). The terrifying car scene in this one is a carjacking, as once again we find ourselves in rural New Mexico (like in The Hitcher) with a murderous man on the loose. Directed by Matt Reeves, who also directed the tremendous recent Dawn of the Planet of the Apes movie.
Not so much a sequel as a completely different story with the same scary bad guy/monster as the original. A high school basketball team is coming home from a road game when they are menaced by The Creeper. Supposedly, this film takes place in the same town just three days after the original movie occurred, but the countryside now looks a lot like the Central Coast of California and not Florida and…oh, wait. This is a horror movie. The goal isn’t art or even logic. It’s to scare you. Jeepers Creepers 2 does that well, thank you very much.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.