It’s Halloween, and like many of our American readers, I refuse to be an adult for the whole month of October. Skeletal decor, excessive amounts of sugar, creepy music and, most importantly of all for the childless millennial, horror movies, are all on the menu.
My goal every year for the last five years or so is to watch 31 horror movies in 31 days. Some years I don’t quite make it, but after playing catch up on the weekends, my husband and I should squeak in on Oct. 31 with a few hours to spare. Of course, while watching all of these fantastic/chilling/campy movies, I notice the cars. The rest of the staff does too. We put our heads together to come up with a list of some of our favorite horror movie moments, when the frights took a backseat to some stellar car casting.
Night of the Living Dead is the genre-defining zombie flick and one of the first wildly successful films made outside of the big studios. The tale of a group of strangers attempting to survive a zombie apocalypse is also notable for casting a Black actor as the heroic lead, fairly uncommon in 1968 America. The film happens to start with a cheerful road to the cemetery in a 1967 Pontiac Le Mans. The entire movie is now public domain, so if you’ve never seen this horror classic you can find in on YouTube here.
1983 Porsche 944 - Get Out
A much newer film, but just as sure to become a classic as our previous entry, Get Out begins with the terrifying kidnapping of a Black man on an empty neighborhood street. The dastardly suburbanites who snatch him are at least rolling in a very slick classic Porsche 944. Prices have gone sky-high for the little rear-drive beasts, but it was once a fun and affordable way to get into Porsches. Get Out was filmed in just 23 days at a budget of only $4.5 million, proving once again the little films can produce the biggest frights. It also established Jordan Peele as the new king of the psychological horror thriller — a crown he maintains five years after Get Out was release.
1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7-From Dusk Till Dawn
It’s no surprise that a film with a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez would show up on this list. These masters of modern Grind House often make cars sort of secondary characters in their films (the Chevy Nova in Death Proof, the “Pussy Wagon” in Kill Bill) and the classic 1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7 driven by George Clooney’s character is no exception. While later models of the Cougar were certified boxy grandpa cars, the first gen Cougar was a Mustang-fighter worthy of only the classiest muscle head. This particular Cougar is witness to plenty of horrors as two criminal brothers head to Mexico to escape the long arm of the law.
1958 Plymouth Fury - Christine
Old cars have made many of us consider homicide in the past, so Stephen King’s classic story about a car that turns a nerd into a murderous wrencher is one that we can definitely relate to. I love an old Fury, mostly because they aren’t the near-ubiquitous Bel Aires of my childhood but also because the badge is in a fantastic font. Master of horror director John Carpenter used 16 different Furys in the filming of Christine. While not many survived shooting, a few did and can still be found in private collections.
1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 - Evil Dead Series
Bruce Campbell, the chin that launched a thousand B-films got his start in a little student film called Evil Dead. Once again, our horror tale opens with a few friends taking a road trip to a cabin in the woods. Instead of s’mores and alcohol abuse around a camp fire, the friends accidentally summon an evil older than man. Director Sam Rami’s dad bought the Delta 88 when it was brand new in 1973. Rami loved it so much the car has appeared in almost every film in Rami’s long and storied career. It even appeared in all of the Spiderman movies directed by Rami and even appears in the most recent MCU flop, Dr. Strange and the Multiverse in the Madness.
1971 Chrysler Newport - Joy Ride
A Paul Walker vehicle, Joy Ride is dripping with early aughts charm and suspense. It’s a simple premise—two brothers head out on a road trip to a romantic interest when they encounter one of my favorite villains from the era, a character named Rusty Nail. It’s a good brain-off, fear on thriller that features a car deemed “sexy” by the used car salesman in the film — a Chrysler Newport. I’m not here to tell anyone how to float their boat/tickle their fancy but I’m not sure if a Newport has been described as sexy before or since. It’s a brick of a Malaise Era vehicle. Being a road trip movie however, there are plenty of other fun cars on display, like several Mustangs from multiple eras, Thunderbirds and a few BMWs and Porsches as well.
1972 Ford Club Wagon - Texas Chainsaw Massacre
It doesn’t get more classic than the slasher flick to end all slasher flicks, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s a movie that meets every promise its title provides the audience. It’s in Texas, there are chainsaws, and it is a massacre. It’s also yet another horror movie that begins with a road trip. What is it about road trips? Something deep about how America’s romantic notions always have some sort of darker, more sinister undercurrents. Out of all our ill-fated horror movie characters, these plucky and doomed travelers at least are heading down the darkening road in a comfy giant Ford van. Perfect for road trips, or escaping human skin-wearing psychos.
1955 Peterbilt 281 - Duel
Another absolute banger of a road trip horror classic, this made-for-TV movie was directed by Steven Spielberg of all people, and it’s another on you can sit down and watch for free right now. It was so good it eventually got a theatrical release. It manages to be scary, thrilling and occasionally funny all in the bright light of day—a pretty incredible feat. The hero of the story, a cross country salesman trying to escape a semi truck driver out for blood, also drives a great car—a 1971 Plymouth Valiant De Luxe. But if you’ve seen the movie, it’s not the Plymouth that haunts your dreams. The faceless big rig manages to be just as threatening and terrifying decades later. This is another film you can watch right now in its entirety on YouTube.
1966 Ford Mustang - Misery
Listen, I love an OG Mustang as much as the next red-blooded Detroiter, but even I have to admit that it probably isn’t suited for snowy mountain driving. That’s what the fiction writer in the film Misery quickly learns after his car flips, leaving him to the mercy of a rabid fan. This film may be the last entry on this list, but it’s certainly not the least. Everyone has their froth-at-the-mouth fandom, and seeing it pushed so far to the limit is terrifying precisely because we can see a little of ourselves in Kathy Bates’ chilling character, Annie. This Stephen King tale is one of the most terrifying films ever, and will definitely convince you to put on those snow tires come winter.
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