Road trips are great in theory. But as anyone who has ever frantically searched for a rest stop or sweated through changing a tire on the side of the highway knows, even the most successful road trip can be an endurance test. And the 12 road trips featured on this list are anything but successful.
The following road trip horror movies prove that sometimes, the open road can be a path straight to hell. Filled with violent hitchhikers, cannibalistic locals, maniacal truckers, and sadistic serial killers, these movies will make you think twice before letting wanderlust get the best of you.
1. Wolf Creek
Where are we going? We’re headed out for a backpacking trip across Western Australia stopping only for alcohol-soaked pool parties, and a visit to Wolf Creek National Park, known for a giant crater formed by a meteorite.
British tourists Ben and Kristy are joyriding across the country with their Australian friend Ben when they stop at Wolf Creek for a night. When they run into car trouble, they reluctantly accept help from a local man who call himself Mick. Despite reservations, they allow Mick to tow their car back to his rural home for repairs. But after he drugs the three of them and they wake up trapped, their trip is all downhill from there. A grisly grindhouse film that might turn even the most callous stomachs, this distinctly Australian horror story is loosely based on real-life murders of tourists in the outback.
2. The Hitcher
Where are we going? We’re leaving Chicago to drop off a car in San Diego.
Look, we know picking up a hitchhiker is code for: Yeah, sure, you can murder me. But when it comes to taut highway thrillers, by all means, pick up this ’86 classic! Rutger Hauer stars as the eponymous terror who stalks and frames a kid for his murderous crimes.
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Where are we going? We’re moving from Pittsburgh to Cali.
Short on dough for their cross-county tour of infamous murder sites, Brian and his girlfriend, Carrie, accept gas money from a couple of vagabonds who answer their ride-share ad. Whoops. Their next speed bump: the real-life serial killer sitting in the backseat (played by Brad Pitt).
4. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Where are we going? We’re headed to the Old Hardesty family homestead by way of some random graveyard in South Texas.
When an afternoon drive through the sweltering armpit of the Lone Star State turns some of Sally Hardesty’s fellow passengers into road kill, she spends the night outrunning a chainsaw-wielding maniac and the backwoods fellers he calls family. Like Leatherface’s skin mask, this splatterfest only gets better with age.
5. Death Proof
Where are we going? Wherever the hell Stuntman Mike wants.
Always wear your seatbelt! Quentin Tarantino’s contribution to the Grindhouse double feature with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror kicks off in Austin, Texas, where Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike plays a deadly game of chicken with a carful of boozy barflies. The movie picks up 14 months later – this time in Tennessee with a foursome of tough women who aren’t as keen on Mike’s violent games.
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6. The Hills Have Eyes
Where are we going? We’re taking a family vacay to sunny Los Angeles.
Learn from the Carters: Take the scenic route through an Air Testing range and you may just find yourself stuck between a rock and a bunch of feral cannibals. Though Wes Craven’s road rager was made back in 1977, it doesn’t skimp on exploitation: Rape, torture, murder – it’s all there.
7. Jeepers Creepers
Where are we going? We’re heading home for spring break via the back roads of Florida.
College kids Darry and his sister, Trish, are keeping each other entertained on the road with number-plate wordplay, when they get interrupted by a crusty truck with plates reading BEATNGU trying to run them off the road. And then the fun begins.
Where are we going? We’re getting the hell outta dodge.
The Birds, North by Northwest, Vertigo – you’d be hard-pressed to find an Alfred Hitchcock film that doesn’t dedicate at least one tense scene to the road. Here, Janet Leigh takes the wheel as Marion Crane, a newly minted outlaw whose fatal mistake is checking into the Bates Motel.
Where are we going? We’re headed out on a romantic camping trip in the wilderness that is Oklahoma.
While the great outdoors of the Sooner State is rarely seen in this creepy crawly indie horror film – much of the action takes place inside a gas station – the jagged editing and jolty scare tactics utilized by director Toby Wilkins is sure to get under your skin.
Where we going? Hightailing it to Crazy Town, USA.
John Cusack drives this psychological thriller and all of its moving parts. Ten motorists find themselves being picked off one by one after being stranded at a motel during a torrential downpour that has flooded all the exits.
11. Joy Ride
Where are we going? Boulder, Colorado, to pick up a college girl.
Lewis and Fuller hit the road with a CB radio and a case of highway boredom, which leads to pranking. Big mistake. Soon Lewis’s 1971 Chrysler Newport is in the headlights of an ice truck driven by a lunatic who goes by Rusty Nail. Should have gone with a mix tape.
Where are we going? On a not-so-leisurely business trip through the California desert.
You can’t have a road trip roundup without the one film that very well inspired everything else on the list. One of Steven Spielberg’s first directorial contributions comes in the form of a 1971 made-for-TV movie about a traveling salesman whose latest client is a demented truck driver trying to kill him.
Feature still from 'Wolf Creek' via 403 Pictures