10 Craziest Killer Vehicle Movies Ever, Ranked
The late 1960s and early 1970s was a watershed period for many aspects of American cinema, and one big change was how cars were portrayed onscreen. Previously they had usually been seen in movies purely to get characters from one place to another, and often involved actors sitting in front of fake-looking projected backgrounds. But movies such as Bullitt and The French Connection showcased a thrilling new approach to filming cars. The modern car chase was born, as directors strapped cameras onto hoods and risked life and limb to get some amazingly exciting automotive action.
High-speed car mayhem wasn't just the domain of action movies. It started to be used by thriller and horror directors, who saw the vehicle as not just a tool, but as a threat in and of itself. And not just cars--huge thundering trucks, with their imposing height and size, became a genre favourite. Sometimes these vehicles had crazy drivers, and sometimes they were controlled by supernatural forces.
Of course, there's only so much you can do with a car or truck chasing innocent people down the road, and eventually many of the movies inspired by classics such as Duel and Christine became familiar retreads of what had gone before. And some vehicles will never be scary, as anyone who sat through the woeful British movie I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle will tell you. But at its best, the killer vehicle movie can be as effective as sharks, demons, or masked pyschos.
We've gone back through the last five decades of killer vehicle films to pick ten must-sees for fans of automotive mayhem. These films all take a different approach to the genre, and while not all are great movies, they all deliver where it counts--ie. scary cars and trucks out to maim and terrify their human creators. Hit it!
10. Killdozer! (1974)
Killer vehicle: Caterpillar D9
Killdozer! is surely a contender for one of the greatest movie titles of all time. Inevitably the film itself doesn't quite deliver on the promise of that name, but it's still good, silly fun. It was based on Theodore Sturgeon's short story and made for TV, and focuses on a bulldozer that becomes a metallic killing machine when it is used to shift a crashed meteorite. Of course, bulldozers aren't very fast, so director Jerry London has to invent reasons to have his victims (a construction crew) stand around while the giant glowing vehicle catches up to them, but it's still a massive and imposing "villain." The movie was subsequently adapted into a Marvel comic book and inspired the '80s rock band of the same name.
9. The Wraith (1986)
Killer vehicle: Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor
This VHS favorite features two iconic '80s stars of the era (Charlie Sheen and Sherilyn Fenn) and a super-fast Dodge Interceptor that takes out a criminal gang one-by-one. The car is driven by the ghost of a teenager (Sheen) who was killed by the gang, and is back for revenge with a helmet, leather jacket, and badass attitude. Sadly, while the car action is exciting, the movie's production was marred by the death of camera operator Bruce Ingram and the serious injury of seven others when an overloaded camera car crashed.
8. The Hearse (1980)
7. Joyride (2001)
Killer vehicle: Peterbilt 359 truck
Joyride was clearly influenced by Spieberg's Duel--even down to the Peterbilt truck--but while the driver in that earlier film was just a relentless psychopath, Joyride's villain "Rusty Nail" is given some motivation. He's a lonely long-distance truck driver who is the victim of a cruel prank played by a trio of kids (Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, and Leelee Sobieski) so decides that hunting down the trio in his massive vehicle is an appropriate response. We never see Rusty Nail, but an uncredited Ted Levine (Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill) gives the character plenty of menace over the crackly radio.
6. The Car (1977)
Killer vehicle: Lincoln Continental
Unlike Stephen King's similarly-themed Christine, which makes it clear straight away that the vehicle is the source of evil, The Car initially plays with the possibility that its death-dealing Lincoln has a murderous driver behind its blacked-out windows. In the end it doesn't--and ironically given the movie's tagline ("what evil drives this car?"), no explanation is given for the Lincoln's habit of mowing down anyone who gets in its way. The Car was panned at the time, but has since become a cult favorite. One of its biggest fans is Guillermo del Toro, who was inspired to build his own amazing life-sized replica of the vehicle.
5. Repo Man (1984)
Killer vehicle: 1964 Chevrolet Malibu
This wild cult sci-fi classic centers around Otto (Emilio Estevez) and Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), a pair of repo men in Los Angeles who are on the trail of a Chevy Malibu driven by an insane lobotomized scientist named Frank Parnell. While the car itself isn't dangerous, whatever Parnell has hidden in the trunk causes instant disintegration when it is opened. The contents of the trunk are never shown, but we learn that it might be alien bodies that Parnell stole from the government, and Bud and Otto must outwit rival repo men, UFO conspiracy nuts, and CIA agents to retrieve the increasingly-radioactive car without being painfully atomized.
4. Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Killer vehicle: Western Star 4800
Stephen King only directed one movie, and while few would argue that Maximum Overdrive is a particularly good film, it does have some highly memorable killer vehicles brought to "life" by a passing comet. The most famous is the Western Star 4800, better known as a "Green Goblin truck," which has a huge face of the iconic Spider-Man villain on its front grill. The Goblin face is "explained" by the fact that the truck is owned by the fictional Happy Toyz company (and approved by Marvel), but clearly it's just to give this thundering multi-wheeled menace a recognisable and scary personality.
3. Death Proof (2007)
Killer vehicles: 1970 Chevrolet Chevy II Nova and a 1969 Dodge Charger
Tarantino's contribution to 2007's Grindhouse double-feature features an insane former stuntman, played deliciously by Kurt Russell, causing loads of gory automotive mayhem in a pair of modified cars. These cars--a Chevy Nova and a Dodge Charger--were specifically altered to protect the driver when filming action scenes, and allow Stuntman Mike to hit his victims at extremely high speeds without risking his own life. That is until he meets a team of female stunt performers who are themselves experts at driving very, very fast.
2. Christine (1983)
Killer vehicle: 1958 Plymouth Fury
Perhaps the most famous killer car in horror, Christine is the vengeful Plymouth Fury from Stephen King's classic 1983 novel and John Carpenter's adaptation, which was released later the same year. While Christine's murderous deeds remain the same in both--killing the various bullies and cops that make the life of her new owner (nerdy teen Arnie Cunningham) a misery, the source of her evil differs. In King's novel, Christine is possessed by the spirit of her previous owner, the now-deceased Roland D. LeBay, who murdered his family and killed himself in the car. Christine in the movie is shown as evil from the very day it rolls off the lot, and it is the car itself that possesses both LeBay and subsequently Arnie. Either way, the scenes of Christine emerging from the darkness to pursue her hapless victims, as Carpenter's ominous synth score pulses on the soundtrack, are some of the scariest of the director's career.
1. Duel (1971)
Killer vehicle: Peterbilt 281 truck
Wildly considered one of the best made-for-TV movies, Duel introduced America to young director Steven Spielberg and delivered some of the scariest killer vehicle thrills of all time. In this case, it's a thundering Peterbilt 281 truck that relentlessly pursues a businessman played by Dennis Weaver in a Plymouth Valiant across the Mojave Desert, after it is overtaken by the Plymouth. Even though the rusty old Peterbilt is not supernaturally controlled, Spielberg stated that he wanted the vehicle to be seen as the movie's true villain, so deliberately avoided showing the driver beyond a few fleeting shots. "The unseen is always more frightening than what you throw in the audience's face," he said in the movie's DVD documentary.
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