Similar to the way a character dresses or phrases their words, what they choose to drive says a lot about them. For filmmakers and regular folks alike, cars can often act as an extension of their personality. While some may choose something practical, efficient, or environmentally responsible, some lean more towards literal curb appeal, societal connotations, history, or horsepower. There’s a sensual nature innate in a lot of cars and its an extremely powerful one both on and off-screen.
The smooth lines and cool steel that flows over fenders, hoods and tail lights lay enticing to the touch. The carnal roar of a revving engine engages responses both visceral and physical. The glint of street lights off a pristine paint job under the dark of night sparks sentiment both foreboding and serene. And once known, one can never forget the potent and lingering smell of leather, oil and gas. Cinema has always had a fascination and affinity for showcasing cars at their finest and horror has certainly never skimped with its seductive automotive offerings. So today, for your viewing pleasure, I present 10 of horror’s most eye-catching, head-turning, double take inducing cars.
10. Upgrade (2018) – 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
Through Grey‘s (Logan Marshall-Green) interaction with the beautiful Firebird in the movie’s opening scene, we quickly learn a lot about his character. He is a talented mechanic. He is patient, methodical, and passionate. He is an old school guy in a modern, tech-savvy world. As he slams the hood shut and successfully turns the engine over, his reaction is visceral and sensual. Even though the car is not his to keep, there’s a special kind of love for the machine that many car enthusiasts can relate too. The choice of utilizing this particular Firebird is also especially interesting due to the pop culture association it has with Smokey and the Bandit. Like Bandit, part of Grey‘s identity is tied to his dedication and love of cars. Although subtle, it’s a powerful connotation and most certainly not accidental. More than simple set dressing, Upgrade‘s cars help establish the film’s world and more importantly, Grey‘s place in it.
9. The Car (1977) – 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III Barris Custom
When it came time to create the mysterious killer Lincoln, it made total sense that the filmmakers would call upon renowned custom car builder George Barris. Due to The Car‘s simple plot, lack of exposition and small town setting, it was important to have a strong visual component to help *ahem* drive the story and build suspense. A Hollywood celebrity in his own right, Barris was responsible for creating famous cars like the Munster Koach and the 60s era Batmobile. With its tinted windows, custom grill and modified fenders and side panels, The Car‘s appearance matches its sinister persona. Loud, abrasive and violent, there is absolutely nothing subtle about The Car and its intense visual impact leaves no doubts about its bloodthirsty intentions.
8. Blade (1998) – 1968 Dodge Charger
One of the most common and iconic muscle cars in film and television, the Dodge Charger remains a popular choice for a reason. With its sleek and sexy profile, intimidating front end, beefy low rumble and all-around badass attitude, this classic piece of machinery adds even more gravitas to the infamous daywalker. Despite the character never having the car in the comic books, the addition makes total sense for the Blade‘s big-screen debut. More than just an eye-catching mode of transportation, Blade‘s Charger comes equipped with UV lights, a holster to hold his shotgun loaded with garlic laced silver bullets and speed-boosting nitrous. Featuring the same exact car in all three Blade films, the car becomes an extension of Blade himself and remains as recognizable, tough, intense, and powerful as he is.
7. Dead End Drive-In (1986) – 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible Coupe
There’s something so romantic about the idea of taking a classic car to a showing at the local drive-in. The shimmer of the neon lights glinting off a freshly buffed paint job. A smooth bench front seat perfect for sharing snacks and the inevitable cuddling. Warm summer air invading the cab as the convertible top folds back. These ideas and more are what motivate Jimmy (Ned Manning) and his fellow young adults in this dramatic spin on the subject. Wanting to impress his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry), Jimmy borrows the stunning Bel Air for a classic night out. However, once they enter the drive-in, they soon learn they are not allowed to leave. Full of awesome cars for obvious reasons, Dead End Drive-In balances comedy, nostalgia and horror with ease as the cars play an intricate role in the film’s overall tone, mood and atmosphere.
6. Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988) – 1959 Ford Thunderbird
With her dark aesthetic, vintage flair and giant…personality, not just any car would do for the iconic Mistress of the Dark (Cassandra Peterson). Handpicked by Peterson herself, this customized Thunderbird acts as an extension of the famous horror host’s larger than life personality. After filming was completed on the movie, the Thunderbird was sadly sold at auction. Never getting over the loss, when the opportunity arose years later, Peterson bought the car back despite its poor condition. After an expensive trip to George Barris’ garage, the Macabre Mobile was back in action and looking as classically iconic, timeless and stunning as Elvira herself.
5. Sometimes They Come Back (1991) – 1955 Chevrolet
Being haunted by bullies from your past who were responsible for your brother’s death is bad enough, let alone their fire-spewing, murderous ghost car as well. Matching the bullies and their leather-clad, greasy hair aesthetic, this Chevy exudes bad attitude and toxic bro culture. A classic and common car, the choice to use this particular vehicle makes sense in both logical and narrative ways. Moderately priced, easy to find and easy to work on, it would take only a few moderate alterations for these local bad boys to transform this normal family car into a harbinger of doom. Tough, durable and iconic, it clearly takes more than a speeding train to keep this bad boy down.
4. Hobo With A Shotgun (2011) – 1975 Bricklin SV-1
Of course the pretentious, entitled and awful characters Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) of Hobo With A Shotgun would drive a super rare, super flashy sports car. After all, for them it’s all about appearances and showing everyone how much better they are than them. That all set aside, this unique piece of machinery is awesome. A very short-lived creation, the Bricklin was manufactured from 1974-1975 in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. Named after its designer, the Bricklin’s futuristic aesthetic, gull wing doors and flip-up hidden headlights all hint at where car design was heading and still remains a highly collectible car. Clearly a deliberate choice by the filmmakers, this Bricklin adds so much to both the characters and the film, instantly imbuing both with humor and atmosphere in equal measure.
3. Phantasm (1979) – 1971 Plymouth ‘Cuda
Phantasm is one of those films that certainly has a lot of iconic imagery going for it. There’s the Tall Man, the flying silver death sphere, the marble mausoleum hallways and of course, Jody‘s ‘Cuda. A prime example of a classic muscle car, the decision to integrate the stunning vehicle into the film came directly from writer and director Don Coscarelli. Inspired from his memories of high school and salivating over a classmate’s ‘Cuda, Coscarelli jumped at the opportunity to realize a long time dream. However, this was no simple stock ‘Cuda. Seriously fat tires and chromed wheels required customized rear flared fenders. A sunroof was needed to allow a particularly awesome scene involving Jody and a shotgun. Interior and exterior colors were altered along with moderate engine tweaks. All in all, the decision would choose to be a smart one. As the Phantasm world developed and expanded, the ‘Cuda would prove to be a uniting character, present and accounted for in every installation of the iconic horror franchise.
2. Death Proof (2007) – 1971 Chevrolet Nova
It’s no secret that Quentin Tarantino is a fan of film. Each and every movie he creates stands as a testament to influences, creators and icons of cinema that have come become for him. For Death Proof, loads of influential automobiles can be found if one knows where to look. Perhaps most notably and most recognizable is Stuntman Mike‘s (Kurt Russell) Chevy Nova. Modified both internally and externally to become ‘death proof,’ this instantly recognizable car screams intensity. Despite its clear and unique identity on its own, Tarantino couldn’t help but squeeze in a little cinematic Easter Egg. Paying tribute to Steve McQueen’s 1968 car-centric film Bullitt, the Nova shares the same license plate number as McQueen’s Mustang. Similarly, later scenes involve a 1969 Dodge Charger, another iconic car from Bullitt in one of the most famous car chases in film history. The Ford Mustang in the film? An ode to 1974’s Gone in 60 Seconds. And the white Dodge Challenger? Just like the one in another classic car film, 1971’s Vanishing Point.
1. Christine (1983) – 1958 Plymouth Fury
Not only the most iconic car in horror history, Christine is arguably one of the most iconic characters in horror history. With her stunning looks, rich backstory, sinister capabilities and a hair-trigger temper, Christine transcends simple categorization. And while her origins and motives are shrouded in mystery, the relationship between Christine and Arnie (Keith Gordon) is one that many passionate car enthusiasts can relate to. Long hours in the garage can steal time away from family and friends. Money becomes earmarked for alternators, weather stripping and gaskets rather than food or bills. Images of the end product overshadow the reality and often becomes difficult for outsiders to relate to. What others see as simple steel, glass and rubber can never match up to the personality and potential revealed to the owner. A powerful entity all to herself, Christine holds her title for a reason. And may pity fall upon any car who dares to challenge her position.
Want more? Here’s some smokin’ hot honorable mentions:
- The Birds – 1954 Aston Martin DB2/4
- The Evil Dead Franchise – 1974 Oldsmobile Delta 88
- A Nightmare on Elm Street – 1958 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible
- Highwaymen – 1968 Plymouth Barracuda
- Death Race 2000 – All those insanely awesome custom cars
- Kung Fury – 1978 Lamborghini Countach LP 400 S
- Get Out – 1983 Porsche 944
- Society – 1988 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z28
What are some of your favorite eye-catching cars in horror? Which one would you choose to get behind the wheel of? Talk all things spooky automotive with us over on Twitter, Reddit, and Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!