Like it or not, Holiday season is upon us and for many that means travel. Going to meet up with family or friends to celebrate the holidays together, either cross-country or even just a few towns away, can mean the opportunity to hit the road. A classic American pastime.
Forget the hassle of air travel; airfare, checking bags, going through airport security, tiny bathrooms, and annoying kid kicking the back of your chair. Take to the open road in the comfort of your own vehicle! See the sights along the way, stop at your leisure, pick up hitchhikers, get stabbed to death at a rest stop- Wait, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea…
Anyway, here’s a list of 10 horror movies about road trips gone wrong that will have you reconsidering that overpriced, overbooked flight.
10. Joy Ride (2001)
I loveJoy Ride. When it came out on home video I bought it and would bring it to every sleepover. Yeah, I was THAT kid. I forced all my friends to watch it because I was obsessed with this story and was sure Rusty Nail was the next great villain in horror. He should have been. The concept is excellent. Three friends are taking a road trip home for summer break, they play a prank and it goes profoundly wrong. They spend the rest of their trip in fear that their unknown stalker will catch up with them and do what he did to the man at the motel in room 17 (you’ll have to watch to see), or worse….
A game of cat and mouse on the highway is dangerous enough without the cat being a massively intimidating 1985 Peterbilt 359EXHD tractor-trailer truck with a total psychopath inside. So, if you do decide to take that road trip home, make sure to leave that CB radio behind.
9. Jeepers Creepers (2001)
Jeepers Creepers is another movie I fell in love with in 2001. Trish Jenner (Gina Philips) is driving her 1960 Chevy Impala home for spring break and her brother Darry (Justin Long) is tagging along. The car is a classic. And by classic I mean OLD. So, when the car doesn’t start reliably and the cigarette lighter is broken (can’t charge your early 2000s cell phone..) that’s just to be expected. They’re driving along some rural Florida backroads, so it’s also not unusual that long stretches of the trip are desolate and rustic.
Getting aggressively tailgated by a dude in a 1941 Chevy COE that’s souped-up and looks like it drove straight out of Hell is scary, but passing the driver further down the road as he dumps bodies down a hole is next level. The Jenner siblings find themselves on the run from a killer, and not an ordinary one at that. Jeepers Creepers is a bit of a surprise creature feature and also spawned multiple sequels, but the only one I’d recommend checking out is Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003), which also happens to qualify for this list.
8. The Hitcher (1986)
Everyone knows not to pick up hitchhikers, and this movie is a big reminder of why. The ’70s was the last decade in which it was perceived to be kind of safe, and if anyone was still considering it by the 80s, The Hitcher smacked that idea right out of their head. In one of his most chilling performances, Rutger Hauer plays a totally unhinged creep, and the exact person you are afraid every hitchhiker will turn out to be.
Our main character, Jim (C. Thomas Howell), is delivering a car from Chicago all the way to San Diego and he gets a little lonesome along the way. Why not pick up a hitchhiker for some company? Well here’s why Jim: The hitcher has no fear of death or prison, he’s suicidal, and he’s about to challenge you to stop him. We quickly find out that even children aren’t safe from this killer and by the time the action is at full speed, even the police can’t help. Not that you needed reminding to avoid hitchhikers, but DON’T LET CREEPY STRANGERS INTO YOUR CAR.
7. The Houses October Built (2014)
What could be more fun than a Halloween road trip tour of America’s spookiest haunted attractions? The documentary filmmakers in this movie are on a quest to find the ultimate haunted house: The Blue Skeleton. Sounds like a great idea until they start to get stalked by actors from the seedy small-town haunts.
When you’re road-tripping, nowhere really feels completely safe and this movie does an excellent job highlighting that feeling of vulnerability. There’s no telling what is a light-hearted Halloween prank and what is a serious threat. The feeling of unease permeates the vibe of the whole film, aided by the use of found footage cinematography. The Houses October Built is a perfect Halloween-time watch and a perfect reminder of the dangers of the open road.
6. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Hot at the Shop:
Every horror fan knows this one and many consider it one of the best horror films ever made because the sensation you get watching this one is unique. It makes you feel dirty, and sweaty, and will damn near have you spraying air freshener around. People often call movies of the 1970’s gritty but this one takes it to another level.
Our main characters are on a road trip to check up on some old family property. They pick up a hitchhiker along the way (it’s the 70’s, peace and love man, everyone’s cool right?) and he gets really weird, real quick. He’s the most normal person in his whole family though and his brother, Leatherface, starts disposing of the mains one by one until it’s time for family dinner. Surprise! Our final girl is the guest of honor. This is probably a worst-case scenario for what could go wrong when you take a little detour on your road trip… but let me tell you about a few more movies that are actually way worse worst-case scenarios.
5. House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Similarly gritty, Rob Zombie’s first major motion picture features a group of road-tripping young adults on a mission. But (of course) on some out-of-the-way country backroad, they make the eternally stupid decision to pick up a hitchhiker. The difference here is the hitchhiker is Sherri Moon Zombie and, I’m not going to lie, I’d definitely consider picking her up too. She seems like a lot of fun and she’s very cute, and bonus! she’s taking the gang home to meet her family. Unfortunately, her family and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) family have plenty in common and this Halloween road trip ends up much more trick than treat.
4. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
The Hills Have Eyes might be up there with one of the absolute worst things that could happen to a family on a road trip. It really came as no surprise when all my horror friends recommended it for this list. The empty, winding desert roads of Nevada are the perfect spot to get lost and never found. Especially if there’s nothing left of you to find…
Wes Craven hit it out of the park with this, his second major film project, and cited The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as one of his influences in making the film. It certainly does have that 1970s gritty, gross kind of feeling that Tobe Hooper brought to the horror table and I am all for it. This film is a major benchmark for the genre and one I (and apparently everyone else) would recommend checking out before embarking on that road trip with the family and their delicious- I mean- defenseless baby.
3. Highway To Hell (1991)
This might be one of the most creative and fun films on this list. It’s almost more Fantasy than Horror, but hear me out. The two mains in this story are road-tripping to Las Vegas to elope when they accidentally drive into the jurisdiction of a demon cop who’s on the lookout for pretty girls to steal away to Hell.
The pretty girl in this scenario is Kristy Swanson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and her boyfriend ventures into Hell to get her back (wouldn’t you?). While in Hell, we encounter most of the film’s horror elements and they range from cool and funny to fully terrifying. While I don’t think you’ll accidentally run into a demon policeman on your road trip, don’t forget to really listen to what that gas station attendant tells you when he offers a stern warning about the road less traveled. Maybe it’s less traveled for a damn good reason.
2. Uncle Peckerhead (2020)
Suppose you’re not hitting the road to visit family, maybe you and the band are finally going on that tour you’ve always talked about! Well don’t worry there’s a cautionary horror tale about that too. Uncle Peckerhead is a horror comedy that asks “if the roadie driving the tour van turned into a murderous demon every night, would it be worth it to just finish the tour and not worry about it?” and the answer is kinda yeah, let’s just ignore that little hiccup. Uncle Peckerhead is a great character and his demon form is horrific, but it’s what he does to his victims that makes the movie scary. With a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes as a major endorsement, Uncle Peckerhead is definitely worth checking out.
1. High Tension (2003)
May the horror gods bless the New French Extremism movement for bringing us films like High Tension. It’s an absolutely brutal, bloody, gnarly slasher film and it all starts with a road trip home to visit the fam. Intense violence ensues and then our heroine is back on the road again, on a mission to save her best gal. This one hits all the staples of road trip horror that you might assume to be purely American: car chase (with a cool crash), gas station carnage, and a girl being chased into the street with a concrete saw. Just a reminder that even road trips in France are risky.
What are your favorite road trip horrors? Have you ever encountered a creepy gas station attendant that warned you about staying on the main roads? Share your survival stories with us over on Twitter or in the Nightmare on Film Street Discord!