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Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Road Less Traveled: 15 Road Trip Horror Movies You Maybe Haven’t Seen

Unsuspecting drivers and passengers in horror movies can count themselves lucky if they only experience bad food and boredom during road trips. The itineraries or routes may vary, but one thing is for certain: these long, lonely stretches of asphalt and concrete can lead to terrible things.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hitcher, and Wrong Turn have all shown audiences the perils of driving in unfamiliar territory. However, the following less-seen movies do just the same. And, each one will surely drive viewers to an early grave…

Midnight Ride (1990)

Mark Hamill is unforgettable as the deranged villain in this 1990 thriller. His devilish laugh is good practice for his forthcoming role as the Joker. The movie begins with an unhappy wife (Savina Gersak) leaving her cop husband (Michael Dudikoff) after feeling he loves his job more than her. She soon crosses paths with Hamill’s character, a deceptively harmless hitchhiker, while driving towards a new life. In due time, the passenger reveals his true, murderous colors. It’s up to the woman’s husband to save her before they reach a dead end. 

Not a lot of logical choices to be found here, but it’s clear Hamill is having a blast playing a bad guy. Although Dudikoff is best known for his action and martial arts roles, he spends more time here playing the spree killer’s punching bag.

Say Yes (2001)

An unaware couple makes a regretful choice in this bloody South Korean suspenser.

To celebrate Jung-hyun’s (Ju-hyuk Kim) manuscript being published, he and his wife Yoon-hee (Sang-mi Chu) go on a weekend trip together. Along the way, they pick up a strange man, simply named “M” (Joong-hoon Park), in need of a ride. As expected, the traveler means harm to anyone who offers him a lift.

Blood Salvage (1990)

A family traveling by RV falls victim to Jake (Danny Nelson), a backcountry madman who abducts people off the highway so he can harvest their organs for the black market. He almost gets away with it when he takes the Evans family, but the daughter, April (Lori Birdsong), proves she’s more determined to live than Jake ever expected.

Blood Salvage is a straight-to-video nasty that goes by the name of Mad Jake in other territories. The Evans patriarch is played by John Saxon, and boxer Evander Holyfield not only has a part in the movie, he’s also the executive producer.

Reeker (2005)

If there was ever a modern slasher in need of a sensory gimmick, it’s Dave Payne’s Reeker. The first in a duology of movies cleverly remixes well-known tropes while also delivering a game changer of an ending. Don’t be fooled by the simple premise as things are not what they seem.

It all starts out familiarly enough: college students heading for a desert rave are forced to hang back at a motel after experiencing car trouble. There, they’re then attacked by a mysterious killer whose presence is signaled by a foul smell of decay.

The Locals (2003)

Compared to other parts of the Western world, New Zealand isn’t as prolific when it comes to horror movies. What they do make, ends up being rather memorable. Case in point: Greg Page crafts a touching story about the power of friendship and how far one will go to uphold it.

In Page’s director’s debut film, Paul (Dwayne Cameron) helps his friend Grant (Johnny Barker) get over a breakup by taking him on a road trip. As night falls, the pair gets lost in the countryside. It’s there they meet two women and a gang of aggressive locals. Escaping this rural hell will be near impossible.

Criminal Lovers (1999)

Another precursor to the New French Extremity movement, this transgressive film follows two teenagers covering up a vicious crime. After Alice (Natacha Régnier) and Luc (Jérémie Renier) kill a classmate, they travel to the deep woods to get rid of the evidence. They end up being captured by a hunter living nearby; he plans on eating them both. As Alice remains chained up down in the basement, Luc conceives a plan to escape their captor.

François Ozon pens a psychosexual reimagining of “Hansel and Gretel” that often borders on sex-negative, but this skewed coming-of-age story is undeniably compelling.

Evidence (2013)

A group of strangers, traveling by bus to Las Vegas, is stranded at an abandoned gas station. As they wait for help, they are picked off by a killer wearing a welding mask and armed with a cutting torch. All that’s left behind from the massacre is footage recorded by one of the victims. With the culprit still at large, two detectives, Daniel (Stephen Moyer) and Alex (Radha Mitchell), sort through the video.

Evidence was generally panned back when it came out, but it’s a functional thriller that combines multiple horror subgenres — found-footage, procedural drama, slasher — and provides a cunning twist ending.

Black Cadillac (2003)

A pair of brothers and their friend are having one last hurrah on a snowy, Midwestern night before going their separate ways. When C.J. (Josh Hammond) makes trouble at a rural bar, he, Scott (Shane Johnson), and Robby (Jason Dohring) drive away into the night without realizing they’re being followed. They unexpectedly pick up a stranded cop (Randy Quaid) before engaging with the threatening driver who has been tailing them.

Although the three main characters are pursued by the film’s ominous namesake, the more pressing threat appears to be the young men’s inability to be honest with one another.

Midsummer (2003)

A high school graduate, Christian (Kristian Leth), is haunted in more ways than one after his younger sister Sofie (Lykke Sand Michelsen) dies of suicide. Despite how Christian and his friends feel right then, they all agree to fulfill their annual tradition of driving to a Swedish cabin to celebrate midsummer. There, bizarre things happen that lead Christian to believe Sofie is still with them.

The Danish Midsummer is a somber slow burn with a rewarding and cathartic ending. It was remade in English as Solstice in 2008.

Far From Home (1989)

One look at the poster for Far From Home and someone might expect a romantic teen movie. On the contrary, this is a low-key horror movie where young Drew Barrymore is stalked by a trailer park slasher. Not to overlook any valid criticisms there are about fourteen-year-old Barrymore’s scandalous depiction, but the film sports colorful characterization and an ideally creepy setting.

On the eve of her fourteen birthday, Barrymore’s character, Joleen, and her divorced father Charlie (Matt Frewer) are returning from vacation when they’re suddenly stranded in a podunk. As they wait out their car troubles in a trailer park, an unseen murderer lurks nearby.

Detour (2009)

This Norwegian survival-horror, originally titled Snarveien, plays like a faster-paced Vacancy. Couple Lina (Marte Germaine Christensen) and Martin (Sondre Krogtoft Larsen) are driving back to Norway when they’re advised by a cop to take a detour through the dark Swedish forest. By doing so, they become exposed to a family of local voyeurs with a depraved hobby.

With its brisk runtime, Detour cuts right to the chase. Typically bucolic scenery is transformed into one’s greatest nightmare.

Night of Fear (1972)

In the anticipation of Australia’s budding horror renaissance, short film Night of Fear predates similar movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. This fifty-minute movie lacks dialogue or character names, and it actually began as a television pilot.

A nameless woman, driving home from a tennis match, is accidentally run off the road. After her totaled car is detected by a sadistic hermit living in the adjacent woods, she’s taken back to his home and tortured.

Husk (2011)

A solid companion piece for the 1988 hidden gem Scarecrows, Husk features friends driving through Nebraska when their SUV is unexpectedly wrecked. While the party wanders across a nearby cornfield in search of help, they are besieged by sentient scarecrows. 

What the movie lacks in comprehension, it makes up for in pace and eeriness. Husk is based on Brett Simmons’ short of the same name; the director has gone on to make other horrors like The Monkey’s Paw and You Might Be the Killer.

Penny Dreadful (2006)

Named after but otherwise having nothing to do with cheap, serialized 19th-century literature, Penny Dreadful concerns a young woman with a debilitating aversion to cars. As part of her treatment, Penny (Rachel Miner) and her therapist (Mimi Rogers) drive to a resort in the mountains. They come across a hitchhiker who later turns out to be dangerous. With the therapist out looking for help, Penny hides in the car as the hitcher torments her from outside.

Even with a limited cast and location, this is no penniless horror movie. The tension is palpable, and the fear is overwhelming.

Highwaymen (2004)

Rennie (Jim Caviezel) has embarked on a harrowing road trip, but not one of leisure. He is tracking the man (Colm Feore) who wantonly ran down his late wife. In his journey, Rennie comes to the aid of motorphobic Mollie (Rhona Mitra), the killer’s next target.

Director Robert Harmon (The Hitcher) hits the road again with Highwaymen, a high-speed thriller. It’s a vengeance tale that never eases up on the brakes.


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