There are a few different kinds of road trip horror movies. There are films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) that begin with the characters on a road trip, but the bulk of the horror in the film comes from the dark place they have discovered. In other road trip horror movies such as The Hitcher (1986), the horror comes directly from the open road. There are also films such as Hostel (2005) and An American Werewolf In London (1981) that fall into other categories such as travel horror and hotel horror movies. This list will discuss both types of road trip horror movies and where possible will note how much of an impact the road trip setting has on the film as a whole.
What all scary movies about road trips have in common is that they are about the fear of the unknown. This is in contrast to other films horror movie fans love such as The Exorcist (1973), Halloween (1978), and Scream (1996), where a demon or serial killer stalks a familiar suburb. Those movies play on insecurities about danger lurking in “safe” surroundings. We expect to encounter danger when we travel, and many people even plan ahead or take precautions so they aren’t stranded in a sundown town or targeted by predators looking for women traveling alone.
Classic/Old Road Trip Horror Movies
A crime film noir by Ida Lupino, The Hitch-Hiker follows Roy and Gilbert as they set off from southern California toward a fishing trip in Mexico. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker who then takes out a gun and holds the two friends hostage. The hitchhiker savagely forces one of the friends to shoot a tin can out of the other’s hand and tortures the men, even forcing them to continue with him on foot when their vehicle breaks down.
Psycho begins with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) stealing $40,000 from her employer and driving from Phoenix to California. Along the way she stops at a roadside motel called the Bates Motel, where she meets the proprietor Norman Bates. It is at the Bates Motel where Marion is murdered in the famous shower scene.
Night of the Living Dead starts off with a sibling road trip to a rural cemetery in Evans City, Pennsylvania. Johnny and Barbara plan to visit their father’s grave but instead encounter a zombie that kills Johnny. Barbara flees the cemetery and takes shelter in a nearby farmhouse, where she is joined by other survivors including Ben, who takes the lead in securing the farmhouse against the zombies.
This is an action thriller that was Steven Spielberg’s feature debut. It follows David Mann (Dennis Weaver), a salesman driving through the desolation of the Mojave Desert. He encounters a tanker truck that begins to dangerously antagonize him on the open road.
A classic road-trip-gone-wrong horror movie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre begins with a group of friends driving their van through Texas to check on the grave of Sally and Franklin Hardesty’s grandfather, which is said to have been vandalized. Along the way they pick up a frightening hitchhiker who leads the group to his “whole family of vampires.” Bookending this road-trip horror movie is the famous final scene of TCM in which Sally becomes a hitchhiker and rides away in the back of a truck, screaming.
Race With the Devil is an action horror movie about two couples traveling from San Antonio, TX to Aspen, CO in an RV for a ski vacation. While camping along the way in Texas, the group witnesses a Satanic sacrifice. The Satanists then chase them down as the group struggles to make it to Amarillo to get help and report the crime.
Written and directed by horror master Wes Craven, The Hills Have Eyes follows the Carter family as they take a road trip to Los Angeles. In Nevada, the family crashes and their dog runs off and is found mutilated. The group learns that there is a family of cannibalistic psychopaths who live in the hills and cannibalize travelers as they pass through the area.
A group of friends traveling through the desert get stranded at a malevolent tourist trap in this supernatural slasher movie. While the proprietor “helps” the gang with one of their vehicles, the group explores a waxwork museum and one of the girls is strangled by an unseen entity and turned into a mannequin. The rest of the group tries to outsmart a masked killer and mannequins that come alive to find their way back to the highway and survive.
Motel Hell is a low-budget horror comedy about a sadistic family of cannibals who operate “Motel Hello.” Farmer Vincent Smith and his sister Ida trap motorists to harvest them and sell human meat at their motel. When Farmer Vincent kills a woman’s boyfriend, she recovers at the hotel and eventually agrees to marry him.
Pat Quaid (Stacy Keach) is a truck driver in the Australian outback who is suspicious of a van driver he encounters and believes they may be the serial killer who has been preying on hitchhikers. Quaid picks up a hitchhiker named Pamela (Jamie Lee Curtis), and the two discuss the serial killer. When the two are separated, the truck driver isn’t sure if Pamela got another ride willingly or if she is the killer’s latest victim.
A woman, her new boyfriend, and her son Billy are driving through Death Valley on their way to Arizona. Billy takes a frog pendant when he stumbles across a camper that belongs to cowboy serial killer twins while stretching his legs. The killers then chase the family through the desert.
Vicky and Burt are driving through Nebraska on their way to Seattle when they hit a child who has run into the road; they seek help in a town called Gatlin. They find that the town has been abandoned for three years and is now run by a cult of creepy children. Led by a boy named Isaac, the children worship a corn god they call He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
The Hitcher is a road thriller and a cult classic about a man named Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) who is driving a car from Chicago to San Diego. Bored on the long road trip, he picks up a hitchhiker in West Texas. The hitcher (Rutger Hauer) says his name is John Ryder and pulls out a knife before threatening Jim in a very memorable scene. Jim is able to force the hitcher out of his car, and a cat-and-mouse game ensues. The Hitcher was remade in 2007.
A young vampire turns a small town-boy named Caleb into a vampire at the end of a steamy date. She belongs to a drifter coven of vampires led by the violent Severin (Bill Paxton). Caleb must prove that he can belong, or the coven will kill him.
A nine-year-old boy named Travis Knight has to turn his kidnappers (Cohen and Tate, the title characters) against each other as they hold him hostage on a road trip. Travis is in the Witness Protection Program after witnessing a mob hit. His kidnappers murder his parents before driving him from Oklahoma to their boss in Texas.
A woman disappears at a gas station during a road trip with her boyfriend. For three years he searches relentlessly for her, even appearing on TV to appeal to her kidnapper. Finally the kidnapper makes contact and says he will reveal the missing woman’s fate, but only if her boyfriend will agree to experience the answer firsthand.
An action thriller about a housewife named Lara (Savina Gersak) who leaves her cop husband, Lawson (Michael Dudikoff). One the road to a friend’s house, Lara takes pity on a hitchhiker named Justin (Mark Hamill) and picks him up. It turns out Justin is a seriously disturbed man in the midst of a murder spree. The misogynistic moral of Midnight Ride is that Lara was safer at home in an unhappy marriage than as an autonomous woman out in the world.
Highway to Hell is a B-movie horror comedy about a young couple, Charlie Sykes (Chad Lowe) and Rachel Clark (Kristy Swanson), who take a road trip to elope in Las Vegas. While taking a back road, Rachel is kidnapped and taken to hell to be the bride of Satan. A gas station attendant gives Charlie a special gun and car so that he can go to hell and rescue his fiancée.
A road thriller with an all-star cast of Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, David Duchovny, and Michelle Forbes. Duchovny plays a journalist on the road with his girlfriend (Forbes) to research serial killers. The couple pick up a pair of hitchhikers (Pitt and Lewis), who turn out to be pretty demented.
Another cult classic with George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino playing fugitive brothers on the run from the law. They kidnap a family traveling in an RV and force them to smuggle the brothers into Mexico. There, they stumble upon a strip club run by vampires led by everyone’s favorite female horror villain, Salma Hayek as Santanico Pandemonium.
Jeff (Kurt Russell) and Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) are on a cross-country road trip from Boston to San Diego when they almost get in an accident with another driver. Road rage ensues at a nearby gas station and after getting back on the road, their car breaks down. Jeff realizes their vehicle was tampered with, but not before Amy disappears.
New Road Trip Horror Movies
Inspired by a true story shown on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, Trish and Darry Jenner are a brother and sister traveling home from college on a road trip when they have a creepy encounter with the driver of a dilapidated old truck. Later, they happen upon the driver and it looks like he is disposing bodies into a pipe. The siblings decide to investigate and learn that they have indeed stumbled upon a supernatural killer. Unfortunately, the killer notices the two poking around and becomes intent on chasing them down.
Brothers Lewis (Paul Walker) and Fuller (Steve Zahn) Thomas are driving from Salt Lake City home to their parents. To make the road trip more interesting, Fuller installs a CB radio in the car, and the two play a cruel prank on a trucker who goes by the name “Rusty Nail” before picking up Lewis’s crush, Venna (Leelee Sobieski), in Colorado. The brothers learn that they messed with the wrong trucker when Rusty Nail comes after them and reveals he has kidnapped Venna’s friend Charlotte.
A South Korean thriller about a married couple who pick up a hitchhiker. When the hitchhiker turns violent, a cat-and-mouse game ensues. Eventually the hitchhiker forces the couple to choose between safety and each other.
A horror movie about a family driving together on Christmas Eve who take a shortcut through the woods. The shortcut takes them on a never-ending road. They meet a woman in white with a baby and attempt to give her a ride to a nearby house. It’s not until the family separates that she reveals the baby she is carrying is actually dead.
Marie and Alex are best friends who take a road trip to visit Alex’s parents at their rural farm. When a mysterious stranger arrives and kills Alex’s family, Marie evades the killer by making it it seem like the guest bedroom was empty. The intruder then kidnaps Alex, and Marie gives chase and tries to rescue her friend.
A group of friends take a road trip on Halloween eve hoping to write a book about creepy roadside attractions. The gang is lured to the Firefly residence by Baby Firefly posing as a hitchhiker. They are treated to a Halloween show by the family before the real show begins.
The main premonition in Final Destination 2 takes place at the beginning of a road trip undertaken by Kimberly Corman and her friends on spring break. When Kimberly is meant to pull onto the highway, she has a premonition of a gruesome multi-car wreck and instead exits her vehicle, blocking those behind her from being involved in the accident. As in the first Final Destination film, Death then comes back around for the survivors of the would-be pileup.
Wrong Turn is a slasher film following two groups of people who were on a road trip and end up stranded on a West Virginia back road. Medical student Chris Flynn (Desmond Harrington) and a group of friends including Jessie Burlingame (Eliza Dushku) figure out that they’ve been sabotaged and are being hunted down by a group of inbred mountain people. Together the group tries to outsmart the skilled hunters and make it back to civilization.
Based on a true story, Wolf Creek follows three travelers on a road trip across the Australian Outback. After stopping at the Wolf Creek Crater, the site of an ancient meteorite impact, the trio returns to their car to find the battery dead. A local stranger appears in the darkness to offer his free help, and it turns out he is a sadistic psychopath who drugs and tortures his prey.
A direct-to-video horror movie about a couple, Jesse (Joey Mendicino) and Nicole (Jaimie Alexander), on a road trip. When Nicole goes inside a rest stop she comes out to find Jesse has disappeared. Nicole and a truck driver play a game of cat and mouse as he terrorizes Nicole at the rest stop and taunts her with evidence of Jesse being tortured.
Quentin Tarantino’s exploitation slasher film follows a stunt man who murders women with his “death proof” cars. Kurt Russell stars as the killer and Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Zoë Bell are his prey. Death Proof was originally part of the exploitation thriller Grind House (2007) but was released for horror fans as its own film.
A remake of the 1986 movie, this version follows a couple of college students, Jim Halsey (Zachary Knighton) and Grace Andrews (Sophia Bush), driving in New Mexico on their way to spring break. They pick up a hitchhiker (Sean Bean) who turns out to be a sadistic murderer who hunts the duo down, even after they are able to literally kick him out of their car. Deciding to continue with their trip, the couple then finds the hitchhiker in a family’s vehicle they pass, knowing he plans for the family to be his next targets.
A bickering couple, David (Luke Wilson) and Amy Fox (Kate Beckinsale), on a road trip to a family party experience car trouble and decide to pull into a roadside motel for the night. Once inside, they discover snuff films in the hotel room’s VHS collection that appear to have been made in that very room. When the couple tries to escape, masked men appear outside and the couple realizes that they are trapped in a snuff film of their own.
Two college students (Ashton Holmes and Emily Blunt) share a ride home from school on a holiday break. When car breaks down in a snowy and isolated area, the students worry about their safety. However, the appearance of other spirits who have lost their lives on the road appear and make the situation much more terrifying.
Seth Belzer and Polly Watt are on their way to a romantic camping trip in Oklahoma when they are carjacked by an escaped convict and his girlfriend. At a gas station, the convict’s girlfriend discovers the body of the attendant after an attack from a splinter-covered animal who then appears and attacks her. The girlfriend becomes a reanimated splinter creature herself and attacks her friends.
The Human Centipede is a hellish nightmare about the absolute worst-case scenario of a road trip. Two American tourists in Germany, Lindsay and Jenny, get a flat tire and seek help at a nearby home. The house happens to be owned by a demented German surgeon named Josef Heiter who drugs them. When they wake up, Lindsay and Jenny enter a horrifying waking nightmare where they are transformed, with another victim, into a human centipede.
The Cabin in the Woods begins as a college road trip movie with a group of friends on their way to a remote cabin. When they discover the cabin is in the middle of zombie-infested woods, the friends return to their RV and unsuccessfully attempt to outrun the zombie villains. The climax of the film takes place in an underground office building/warehouse for monsters.
A particularly scary found footage film about a group of five friends on a road trip who stumble across an RV filled with nomadic cannibals. When they realize they are in over their heads, the friends try to escape. Unfortunately the RV dwellers seem to be all-knowing and remain one step ahead of the friends as they try to get back to civilization.
Another found-footage horror movie about a group of friends traveling the country in search of the ultimate haunted house attraction, “Blue Skeleton.” When they ask too many questions about underground haunts, the group begins to be stalked. The group isn’t sure if they’ve found what they are looking for or if they are in serious peril.
Road Games is a scary and violent British-French mystery thriller about a British hitchhiker named Jack who meets a French hitchhiker named Véronique. The two decide to travel together for safety as there is a serial killer on the loose in the area. A man named Grizard stops and offers the two a ride and upon learning Jack is English, invites them to dinner to meet his English wife. After dinner, Grizard is reluctant to let the couple go and insists they spend the night.
Southbound is a horror anthology that takes place mostly on the open desert road. The five interwoven stories deal with men on the run from the law (and supernatural monsters), traveling musicians, a brother searching for his missing sister, and a family on vacation. Viewers have compared the anthology to old pulp horror like episodes of Tales from the Crypt.
The long-awaited sequel to The Strangers (2008) takes place in a mostly empty mobile home park during the off season. This is a fun twist on the home invasion subgenre where the characters don’t have a fortress-like home to retreat to. Instead, the targeted family run through mobile homes, cars, and open parks as they are chased by The Strangers.
Jessica is a single woman traveling alone, trying to deal with her husband’s recent death by suicide. On the road, she keeps encountering a strange man whose attention she rebuffs. When Jessica is in a car accident (due to her vehicle being sabotaged), the man abducts her and holds her hostage at his cabin where he reveals she is not the first woman he has abducted.
Darby Thorne runs away from rehab to drive to Salt Lake City and see her mother, who is on her deathbed. While en route, she is warned that a massive winter storm is imminent and she must take cover at a nearby rest stop. Inside, she meets two men and a married couple who are also waiting out the storm. Outside, she finds a kidnapped girl in a van who says her kidnapper is inside the building.