October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best horror movie road trips is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Road trips are quite often a nightmare on rubber, and while I’m personally a fan, I can see why others might not be as enamored by the prospect. Multiple people crammed into a car, strangers and the unknown around every curve in the road, a lack of awareness and familiarity with the world outside your window — road trips can most definitely be terrifying. It’s no surprise, then, that so many genre filmmakers have hit the asphalt for inspiration and execution when it comes to their horror movies.
To be clear, we’re only looking at horror movies here, obviously, so with apologies to Chevy Chase and friends, Nation Lampoon’s Vacation will not be making an appearance. Our focus instead rests with the road trips that find death, terror, killers, monsters, murderers, and more bloody mayhem while people are trying to drive from point A to point B. Now please join me and the crew (Chris Coffel, Valerie Ettenhofer, Kieran Fisher, Brad Gullickson, Meg Shields, Anna Swanson, Jacob Trussell) as we buckle up, open the sunroof, and hit the highway for our look at the best horror movie road trips!
10. Road Games (1981)
If you want to understand purposeful isolation, make a trucker or a hitchhiker movie. These loners of the road have no use for society. They’ve turned their backs on it, choosing instead to explore the interior by facing the infinite horizon. The points on the map don’t matter; it’s the curvy line between A and B that gets their motor running.
Richard Franklin‘s Road Games is a thoughtful inspection of the mindsets of two characters: one behind the wheel of a mighty rig, and the other drifting the landscape toward wherever her thumb will take her. There’s a solid narrative simply in the performances of Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis, but when the plot drops a serial killer on that same stretch of tarmac they’re occupying, the film takes off as a lo-fi wannabe Hitchock thriller turned road trip horror. Road Games dares to propose intellect where wet, gooey kills would suffice. In its delusion of grandeur, the arty slasher thrives. (Brad Gullickson)
9. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
From Dusk Till Dawn is basically two different movies spliced into one. The first film is a road trip from hell that chronicles two criminal brothers as they make a dash for the border with their hostages. The second is a siege movie about vampires. While both merge together seamlessly, the road movie aspect is the most interesting part.
The tension in the RV scenes is palpable and uncomfortable, mostly due to the fact that Quentin Tarantino plays a homicidal sexual deviant who could pounce on his desired prey at any moment. Personally, I find that aspect much scarier than the vampire mayhem, which is, admittedly, more hilarious than terrifying. (Kieran Fisher)
8. The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Inspired by the true story of a 1950s spree-killer, The Hitch-Hiker is our oldest piece of road trip horror and follows two buddies on a boys’ trip to Mexico for a relaxing fishing excursion. The plan hits a snag when they pick up a drifter who’s on the run and has plans to take the men hostage. This landmark film noir makes the most of its open-road premise, with some brilliantly crafted suspense sequences and a taut execution from director Ida Lupino. (Anna Swanson)
7. Death Proof (2007)
Quentin Tarantino perfectly captures the high-speed essence of ’70s carsploitation films with his tribute to grindhouse cinema, Death Proof. Kurt Russell stars as Stuntman Mike (he’s a stuntman named Mike), a movie and television daredevil with a fetish for vehicular homicide.
Stuntman Mike hits the road in his 1970 Chevy Nova, complete with a roll cage to make it “death proof,” and uses it as a weapon to track down unsuspecting women traveling on the highway. One victim dies while committing the ultimate road trip sin — placing a barefoot up around the dash and slightly out the window. Mike’s fun and games are turned upside down when he attempts to prey on three badass ladies out joyriding in a 1969 Dodge Charger. This turns out to be one stunt that even Stuntman Mike can’t pull off. (Chris Coffel)
6. Breakdown (1997)
We’ve known for a long time, thanks to the scientists at the Walt Disney Center for Science n’ Stuff, that any film is unavoidably improved by the presence of Kurt Russell. It’s hard not to love the guy even when he’s playing a corrupt cop (Dark Blue), a sleazy salesman (Used Cars), or a guy who tricks a woman into thinking she’s his wife and mother to his children (Overboard). If we love him as those characters, imagine the power he wields when playing a truly good guy?
Jonathan Mostow‘s still under-appreciated Breakdown presents us with just such a scenario as Russell plays a man whose wife is abducted while on a road trip across the American Midwest. Think a more energetic, suspenseful, and crowd-pleasing take on The Vanishing and you’ll be in the ballpark as to what this top-notch thriller has to offer. Russell becomes a man possessed by the need to find his wife, and his quest sends him through all manner of chase scenes, brushes with the law, and violent exchanges.
Mostow crafts and captures it all with an eye for — and an appreciation of — practical effects and stunt work. This is an exciting action film that’ll keep your pulse up for the duration, and Russell is joined by the equally talented Kathleen Quinlan as his wife and the late, great J.T. Walsh as the man behind the abduction. It is stellar entertainment and an absolutely thrilling slice of road trip horror. (Rob Hunter)