Some of the best spooky movies have a car component

Melissa Preddy
Car Culture

One of the best things about October's frightful vibe is the array of spooky, scary and thrilling movies that get resurrected every year to coincide with All Hallow's Eve.

And interestingly, some of the best thrillers out there have an automotive component.

Sometimes it's just an iconic scene or two: Think of that "uh-oh" moment in "Psycho" when Marion Crane's white '57 Ford Custom 300 almost didn't sink below the surface of the swamp, while her killer nibbled nervously on his candy corn.

Sometimes the four-wheeled character is the star of the show, like the 1958 Plymouth Fury immortalized as Stephen King's "Christine" or the Peterbilt 281 Needlenose in Steven Spielberg's 1971 classic "Duel." (Needlenose sounds like a good moniker for an '80s slasher flick villain, when you think about it.)

What is it about cars and fear? Well, they're a big part of our lives, for one thing. And analysts say that the car is an extension of our home — a theoretically safe place — so any violation of it (or by it, in the case of the supernatural superchargers) is more shocking.

That's why so many folk tales involve automobiles (and before that, carriages) — think urban legends like "The Killer in the Backseat," where the gas station attendant alerts an unwary motorist of the danger lurking behind her. Another favorite is "The Hook," where a couple is scared away from a lover's lane by radio reports of a prosthesis-wearing madman; they make it home only to see a metal hook dangling from the door handle.

When good cars go bad, it's like your pet or a family member turning on you; far more demoralizing and terrifying than if a strange person or entity attacked. That's the premise behind "Christine" and more than a few other scripts.

Poking around the Internet, I came across the synopsis for "Rubber," a 2010 French production in which a rogue tire goes homicidal; the film earned surprisingly good reviews from a number of sources (including the trade journal Modern Tire Dealer) and the trailer, easily located on YouTube, is rather hilarious.

Other crazed car part sagas like "Odometer," "Manifold" or "Blinker" have yet to follow, but if you want to rev up the DVD player or streaming service for a high-octane movie fest, here are a few possibilities:

■ "Maximum Overdrive," another Stephen King fantasy about machines gone mad.

■ "The Hearse," a 1980s creeper on DVD and YouTube

■ "Dead End," the 2004 horror film about taking a wrong turn

And if you want to investigate — and perhaps be surprised by — just how largely cars figure in your favorite horror flick, or any film, check out the Internet Movie Cars Database.

Like the people-centered IMDB, the IMCDB cross-indexes the appearance of vehicles on film by make, model, movie and other criteria. And it's amazingly detailed with screenshots galore and a discussion forum. I never realized, for example, that "Psycho" featured a shot of Ma Bates' Model A Ford lurking behind the motel, or that Michael Meyers was cruising Haddonfield in a '78 Ford LTD wagon. A Pinto and Maverick appear in "Halloween," as well; I'm going to look for them during the traditional Oct. 31 viewing.

From 1973, "The Exorcist" was upscale with a vehicular cast from Mercedes Benz, Volvo and even Rolls-Royce. And older movies are well-represented; the sight of the '67 Pontiac Le Mans at the "Night of the Living Dead" graveyard delivers a chill, and the entry for "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is a bonanza of 1950s flair like the Chrysler Styleline De Lux and the Nash Ambassador.

The French classic "Eyes without a Face" features European classics from Peugeot and Citroen, in all their early 1960s glory.

Just beware: Once you fall into the clutches of the IMCDB, you may find yourself hard-pressed to escape.

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan based freelance writer. Reach her via