It’s July and at long last summer has officially arrived. The sun is out and it’s time for barbecues, lazy beach days, and—most importantly—summer road trips. What better way to spice up a road trip with a good old fashioned spine-tingling, blood-soaked horror novel?
Allow me to elaborate. Recently, Joe Hill (horror novelist extraordinaire, who also happens to be Stephen King’s son) published a new book. NOS4A2 is an epic doorstopper of a novel about a brave young woman named Vic who faces an evil that feasts on the lives of young children with the help of his 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith. Per usual, Joe Hill’s work is deeply unsettling, beautifully written and scary as hell. That 1938 Wraith, with its iconic license plate NOS4A2 (that’s Nosferatu, in case you were wondering) got me thinking about other books and films with killer cars and destinations—especially as folks are getting out this week and hitting the road. (Hopefully you won’t be taking a trip to NOS4A2’s Christmasland.)
So, as you are celebrating this nice, long 4th of July weekend—maybe even hitting the blacktop for a nice long road trip—here’s our list of favorite horror stories featuring some truly terrifying cars.
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
The book that inspired this list, NOS4A2 (NOS4R2 in the UK) features a big, bad Rolls Royce driven by a man named Charles Talent Max, who abducts little children and takes them on a one-way trip to “Christmasland.” You see a ’38 Wraith bearing this license plate? You run away, kids.
Bonus points for heroine Vic McQueen and her sweet Triumph motorcycle, as they stand against Manx and his Rolls.
Christine by Stephen King
THE ultimate horror novel about a truly killer car, Stephen King’s Christine is a sweet 1958 Plymouth Fury that lives up to her name. Possessed by the spirit of her previous owner, the twisted Roland LeBay, Christine consumes the soul of not only her new owner, teenager Arnie, but anyone else that gets in her way.
The movie adaptation from John Carpenter ain’t too shabby, either.
Duel by Richard Matheson
At 11:32AM, Mann passes a truck on the highway. The truck—a grimy tanker with a trailer full of gasoline in tow and a faceless drive—takes offense. A life and death duel of road rage, taken to the ultimate extreme, ensues. Matheson’s short story (available in its entirety online here) inspired the movie from Stephen Spielberg of the same name, starring a 1955 Peterbilt 281 Tankertruck and a terrified Dennis Weaver.
Duel, published as a short story in 1971 Playboy, also inspired the recent e-novella Throttle from—yeah, you guessed it—Stephen King and Joe Hill.
Killdozer! by Theodore Sturgeon
It’s World War II, and a group of guys building an airstrip accidentally unearth an ancient spirit that possesses their construction bulldozer and starts killing people (get it, KILLDOZER?). You’ll never look at a Caterpillar D7—or “de siete” (nicknamed by the guys as “Daisy Etta” in this story)—the same way ever again.
“The Road Virus Heads North” by Stephen King (Everything’s Eventual)
This particular story, originally published in the anthology 999 and later in King’s collection Everything’s Eventual, features a famous writer who purchases a painting of a young man driving a t-top Grand Am—the only surviving painting from an artist that killed himself. As the writer gets closer to his home, however, he notices that the painting is changing, and that the man with the pointy-filed teeth is following him. Do yourself a favor and read the short story; ignore the Tom Berenger TV episode of Nightmares and Dreamscapes.
Road to Nowhere by Christopher Pike
As kid born in the ’80s, I grew up on Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine (of course, I always, always preferred Pike’s books). Road To Nowhere isn’t one of my favorites, although it did hammer home the message that one should never, ever hit the road in one’s Mazda 626 late at night and pick up hitchhikers. Especially not ones with names like “Poppy Corn” and “Freedom Jack.”
From a Buick 8 by Stephen King
I’m going to level with you. This is a weird book. A really weird book. Including “lightquakes,” bat-creatures, alternate dimensions (into what I suspect is somewhere in The Dark Tower’s Mid-World), From a Buick 8 stars a supernatural car that isn’t really a car. I’d steer clear of any early ’50s model Buick Roadmasters, just in case.
Friday the 13th: Road Trip by Eric Morse
Anyone else ever get into books based on movies or TV shows? The Friday the 13th Camp Crystal Lake novels (of which there were 4) were pretty solid in my opinion (I wish I still had my copies)! Jason doesn’t drive the car in this book, but the horror all goes down on a road trip—in which a bunch of football players in a big red van come face-to-hockey mask with Jason Voorhees himself. That counts. Right?
And...that’s all I’ve got.
This exercise has certainly been eye-opening—I can think of a number of TV shows and movies that star iconic killer cars and deadly road trips, but can’t think of many books that follow the same theme (that last title on the list is a stretch, I know). On the TV front, there are episodes of The Twilight Zone (“You Drive” or “The Hitch-Hiker” immediately come to mind), or those episodes of Knight Rider with K.I.T.T. versus his evil sibling car, K.A.R.R. (both Pontiac Trans Ams). On the movie front, there’s the Lincoln Continental Mark III that served as the phantom car from The Car; the sweet, one-of-four ever made 1984 Dodge M4S prototypes in The Wraith; the ’73 yellow Delta Oldsmobile 88 in all three Evil Dead films (and cameo in Drag Me To Hell). There’s Death Proof and Stuntman Mike’s nearly-invincible matte black ’71 Chevy Nova SS. There’s The Creeper’s rusty truck—BEATNGU, in the spirit of NOS4A2’s vanity plate twist—in Jeepers Creepers. There’s Maximum Overdrive (yes, Stephen King again) and that deliciously, ghoulishly wonderful Green Goblin Truck.
The list goes on. So what am I missing? Are there any other iconic cars in horror novels that I’m forgetting or should check out this fine long weekend?