Do you check your backseat before you get in to your car every night? Do you sometimes see scary shadows on the side of the road? Ever thought about giving a ride to that hitchhiker stuck in the rain? Well, here are thirty-five thrillers and horror movies that take place on the road. They might make you rethink going for a late night drive anytime soon.
The Hitcher (1986)
Starring: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh
A young man delivering a car from Chicago to San Diego decides to pick up a hitchhiker, hoping the stranger will help him stay awake. He soon regrets his own kindness when the hitchhiker reveals his psychotic ways. It is up to the young man to stop the madman as he leaves a trail of bodies in his wake.
This bloody road thriller has been thought to be a waking nightmare since many elements about it are outlandish, even by horror standards. Hauer's killer character is virtually supernatural in the way that he always knows where Howell's character is. There is also a strong sense of homoeroticism between the male leads. In the end, The Hitcher is a taut, sinister classic in road rage. The "ripped apart" death scene alone will haunt some viewers. A horrible direct sequel, The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting, was sent straight-to-video in 2003, and a serviceable remake where the protagonist's gender was changed to be a woman (played by Sophia Bush) was released in 2007.
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Starring: Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman
Two men pick up a hitchhiker that plans on murdering them when the ride ends.
This noir coasts on exceptional performances and direction.
Road Games (1981)
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Stacy Keach
A hitchhiker helps a truck driver track down a serial killer in Australia.
This is not often remembered as one of Jamie Lee Curtis' best horror films during the slasher boom of the early eighties. It runs a too long at 100 minutes, so pacing is definitely an issue. The tension in some scenes, though, is a saving grace.
Starring: Dennis Weaver
A lone driver is stalked by a maniac in a tanker truck on a long stretch of Californian canyon roads.
This Steven Spielberg directed TV-movie was based on a short story by Richard Matheson (whose works inspired episodes of The Twilight Zone) that was first printed in Playboy. Additional scenes were added, and the movie was released in theaters after airing on ABC as a movie-of-the-week. Duel is a staple in highway horror that can never be replicated no matter how hard one tries. Weaver carries the film acting wise as he is the only visibily seen character in it.
Race with the Devil (1975)
Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker, R.G. Armstrong
A group of people traveling in an RV escape for their lives after crossing paths with deadly Satanists.
Satanism was a hot topic in 1970s horror. The paranoia about Devil worshipping continued well into the eighties. Race with the Devil combines action and horror, but there are plenty of creepy scenes to be found here.
The Car (1977)
Starring: James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley
A small town's residents are terrorized by a mysterious black car and its unseen driver.
This is one of those really strange '70s movies that takes itself so seriously that it's actually hilarious. The finale's reveal, though, is spooky. The movie looks especially spectacular on the Blu-ray release.
Night Terror (1977)
Starring: Valerie Harper, Richard Romanus, Nicholas Pryor
When a housewife witnesses the murder of a highway patrol officer, she becomes the killer's next target.
The underappreciated Valerie Harper plays the heroine in this suspenseful made-for-TV thriller. Coincidentally, she and Dennis Weaver from Duel would star together in one of the most popular vintage TV-made horror movies, Don't Go to Sleep.
Death Car on the Freeway (1979)
Starring: Shelley Hack, Frank Gorshin, Peter Graves, Dinah Shore, George Hamilton
A news reporter investigates a string of unsolved murders where someone in a van is running women off the freeway.
Made-for-television movies from the seventies sometimes tackled with female empowerment in a way that theatrical movies at the time did not. Shelley Hack plays a headstrong reporter looking for respect at her job and in her struggling relationship while trying to stop a serial killer that no one else seems to think is a serial killer. She takes it upon herself to learn stunt driving from a professional, which plays into the rather fantastic finale of this forgotten thriller. Check it out on YouTube.
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Christopher Murney
A comet passing over Earth somehow causes many inanimate objects, including cars and machinery, to become sentient. A group of people then find themselves trapped inside a truck stop diner.
This was the first movie adaptation of Stephen King's short story, "Trucks," from his 'Night Shift' collection. Maximum Overdrive is cheesy and full of dark humor. It probably won't be in many people's top five for King movies. In 1997, there was a mediocre TV-movie simply called Trucks that was based on the same short story.
Death Valley (1982)
Starring: Catherine Hicks, Edward Herrmann, Peter Billingsley, Paul Le Mat
While traveling through Death Valley with his mother and her new boyfriend, a young boy enters into a cat-and-mouse game with a serial killer after the child obtains evidence linking the man to the crimes.
This slow burn thriller starring the mother from Child's Play and later 7th Heaven is backed by a fantastic score.
Starring: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul
A nerdy teenager's personality changes for the worse when it gets his hands on a demonic Plymouth.
The rights to Stephen King's novel of the same name were sold before the book was even finished, and the initial drafts were supposedly a mess. So, those factors may or may not signal the quality of the source material. That being said, the 1983 movie adaptation is a surprisingly well preserved classic in automobile horror. The characters aren't driving on desolate roads away from home, but that doesn't mean there isn't terror to be had.
Near Dark (1987)
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton
A small town man joins a group of nomadic vampires after he becomes infected.
There aren't many great contemporary vampire movies out there. And then when there is one like Near Dark, it never gets the love it deserves until years later.
The Wraith (1986)
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid
A murdered teen returns as a nearly invincible street racing ghost that takes revenge on a group of car thieves.
If you want something brain dead and totally '80s with a great soundtrack, check out The Wraith.
Dark of the Night (1984)
Starring: Heather Bolton, David Letch, Perry Piercy
A woman gains a ghostly passenger when she buys a used Jaguar.
This vehicular ghost story from New Zealand is also known as Mr. Wrong in some areas. The main character is a nervous one, hoping that getting her own car would give her the independence she so desires. This is one of those hidden gems that will likely never gain any kind of cult following, but it has an appealing, down-to-earth eerieness that should not go unappreciated.
Wheels of Terror (1990)
Starring: Joanna Cassidy, Marcie Leeds
A man in a blacked out Dodge Charger abducts and assaults kids in a small town. A bus driver sets out to save a victim as well as stop the assailant before someone else is hurt.
This TV-movie first aired on the USA Network. It is absolutely dreadful yet almost watchable in the way that many '80s/'90s telepics are. If you're brave enough for a ride, you can watch it on YouTube.
The Vanishing (1993)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, Sandra Bullock, Nancy Travis
Jeff's girlfriend goes missing at a gas station during their road trip. Three years have since passed, and the man secretly searches for his ex despite being involved with a new woman. The abductor makes contact with Jeff, and he wants to tell him what he did to his ex-girlfriend.
Critics did not care for this English remake of the popular 1988 Dutch-French movie, Spoorloos (literally "without a trace"). Many did not like the happy ending in the adaptation. While The Vanishing is indeed tedious, it has some good performances, especially from Jeff Bridges and Nancy Travis.
Starring: David Duchovny, Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, Michelle Forbes
In a drive to California, journalists share a ride with two strangers, one of which is a serial killer.
This movie did not fare well at the box office, but it is a well made, tense thriller with sexual tension between all four characters.
Joy Ride (2001)
Starring: Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski
Two brothers make the mistake of playing a misguided prank on a deranged truck driver whose CB handle is "Rusty Nail." The driver begins to stalk the brothers and their passenger on their road trip.
Joy Ride was targeted to the teen demo, but it really does not feel like a teen movie. It is a solid cat-and-mouse type horror movie where you never see the antagonist. His voice alone is chilling.
Black Cadillac (2003)
Starring: Randy Quaid, Shane Johnson, Josh Hammond, Jason Dohring
A pair of brothers and their friend get tailed by a black cadillac one night as they drive through a rural town.
Randy Quaid has such a strange career. He seems weird in real life, too. He headlines this B-movie as the creepy cop. It's an adequate late night watch if you're bored (or drunk) enough.
Say Yes (2001)
Starring: Joong-Hoon Park, Sang-mi Choo, Ju-hyuk Kim
A husband and wife encounter a dangerous man on their vacation.
This Korean movie owes a lot to The Hitcher, especially the actor playing the villain. Mimicry aside, Say Yes is very entertaining.
Starring: Shaun Evans, Scott Mechlowicz, Amelia Warner, Yvonne Strahovski
A British man vacationing abroad in Australia befriends a charismastic American tourist, even inviting him to tag along with him and his girlfriend that they eventually meet up with. The boyfriend starts to have suspicions about the American's true intentions, though, but by the time his girlfriend agrees, it is too late for either of them.
Gone takes the Single White Female formula and adjusts it accordingly to fit its story. Although there are no surprises in this supposedly suspenseful tale set in Australia, it manages to skirt by thanks to some decent cinematography and a short running time.
The Forsaken (2001)
Starring: Kerr Smith, Brendan Fehr, Johnathon Schaech, Izabella Miko, Simon Rex
A man en route to his sister's wedding gets mixed up with a vampire hunter and his prey, a group of homicidal bloodsuckers.
Critics and audiences have interpreted this 2001 box office bomb to be an obvious metaphor for the denial of homosexuality and to take it even further, HIV. The familiar WB era leads play well together in this generic vamp romp.
Dead End (2003)
Starring: Alexandra Holden, Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Mick Cain, Billy Asher, Amber Smith
The patriarch of a family decides to take a scenic route during their route to a relative's house on Christmas Eve. However, the trip never seems to end, and there are no other cars other than a hearse on the road. This creates conflict within the family as they search for answers as to why they can never reach their destination.
Ray Wise and Lin Shaye star in the underrated Dead End, a movie filmed in France. It was not a financial success by any stretch, but it is well executed indie horror-comedy that only suffers a marginal amount due to the hackneyed ending.
Wind Chill (2007)
Starring: Emily Blunt, Ashton Holmes Martin Donovan
A college student accepts a ride home for the holidays from another student that she doesn't know. They later get stranded in the snow, though, after getting lost in an area with little to no traffic. The two soon learn that they are not alone.
There are two things wrong with this movie: the two main characters. Emily Blunt plays an obnoxious person off the bat, and Ashton Holmes' character is a stalker pretending to be a Nice Guy™. It is very hard to care about either of them as the movie progresses. Which is a shame because the story otherwise could have been tolerable with some revisions.
Starring: Jim Caviezel, Rhona Mitra, Colm Feore, Frankie Faison
A serial killer who uses a car to murder faces off with the vengeful husband of one of his victims.
Not many people saw this movie, or even know that it exists. It is from the director of the original The Hitcher. It's well shot and it has some mild thrills.
A Bloody Aria (2006)
Starring: Ye-ryeon Cha, Suk-kyu Han, Kyeong-ho Jeong
An opera singer and his much younger female companion are toyed with by a group of sadistic locals out in the countryside.
This is not a torture porn movie. It is more of a black comedy where the torture is psychological rather than physical. There is violence, but it mostly directed at the villains, and it comes off as humorous and sloppy. A Bloody Aria has an assortment of strange characters, and you never really guess where the story is going. The ending is also bizarre considering who ends up dead and who doesn't.
Rest Stop (2006)
Starring: Jaimie Alexander, Joey Lawrence
A couple driving to California encounters the supernatural at a roadside rest stop.
How did this get made? Rest Stop is one of those truly awful straight-to-video torture porn horrors from the 2000s that makes one question how directors like this maintain a job. Unfortunately, there is a sequel: Rest Stop - Don't Look Back.
Starring: Shea Whigham, Jill Wagner, Paulo Costanzo
A couple's car gets hijacked by an escaped convict and his girlfriend. At a gas station, they all eventually battle a voracious parasite that reanimates its dead hosts.
The plot is admittedly goofy, but the practical special effects in this proto-zombie flick are better than you would expect in something so low-budget.
Road Games (2015)
Starring: Andrew Simpson, Joséphine de La Baume, Frédéric Pierrot, Barbara Crampton
Along with his French companion, a young British man backpacking in France is targeted by a dangerous couple.
Language plays a pivotal part in this French psycho-thriller. Without it, the story would not have progressed the way it did. Road Games is not a complex movie, but it has a good cast and an artful sheen to its appearance.
Road Train (2010)
Starring: Xavier Samuel, Bob Morley, Sophie Lowe, Georgina Haig
Four young people encounter a driver-less, demonic big rig truck.
Australia tends to come up with some unique horror movies. Alas, this was not one of them. The cast is attractive, but that's about all it has going for it.
Starring: William Ash, Christine Bottomley, Andreas Wisniewski
A man that replaces posters is working one night with his girlfriend at his side when they both see a chained up woman in the back of a truck. The girlfriend is eventually abducted, and the man must find her before she joins the lot of missing women.
There is being a good samaritan, and then there is just being stupid. It is a mix of both in this better-than-expected British motorway horror.
In Fear (2013)
Starring: Iain De Caestecker, Alice Englert, Allen Leech
In route to a bed-and-breakfast in the Irish countryside, a couple is terrorized by a stranger.
The movie wins no points for originality, but there is some nice scenery shots in yet another British yarn of urbanites venturing outside their habitat.
Penny Dreadful (2006)
Starring: Rachel Miner, Mimi Rogers
A psychologist helps a patient with an intense fear of cars. They have an uncomfortable situation with a hitchhiker, which leads into them getting a flat tire. The patient is left alone as her doctor leaves to find help. Or so she thinks. The remainder of the night, the young woman is taunted by someone outside the car.
Horror movies set in confined spaces have the potential to either be genius or patience testing. Penny Dreadful falls into the latter situation. The actor playing the patient is so bad that you really do not care if the killer gets inside the car or not.
Death Proof (2007)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoë Bell
A group of women out on the road for a fun day are being followed by a man named Stuntman Mike.
Death Proof is probably not Quentin Tarantino's best work, but it sure is fun even if it does flub a bit when it comes to Austin's street layout.
Wolf Creek (2005)
Starring: John Jarratt, Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi
Backpackers and tourists are abducted and killed by a maniac on a lonely Australian highway.
The 2000s was a dark time for horror fans. The torture porn game was at a record high, and it really soured the general public's outlook on the whole genre's resurgence. Wolf Creek was one of the few that elevated itself among the pack, but that does not mean it came and left without deserved criticism of the story and content. The movie has a sequel and a spin-off television series that was granted a second season.
Would you pick up a hitchhiker, ONTD?
Sure, why not?
No, I want to live
Yes, but only if they're hot
I'm a virgin that can't drive
Do you go on road trips, ONTD?
[Other entries in my ONTD Original™ - Halloween Edition series]