For many people, their car is as dependable and loved as a faithful, old, Cocker Spaniel, but just like Cujo, TV and movies love to flip that on its head and make our vehicles into villains. We all need our cars, but deep down we also know that they cause pollution, traffic deaths, and the paved-over landscape stretching from sea to shining sea. Is it any wonder that they have been portrayed as a symbol of evil numerous times?
It is no coincidence that the 1970s and early 80s featured many killer cars, as it was also the dawn of the modern environmental movement and era of the oil crisis. The go-go muscle car era gave way to a realization that our cars may be killing us, and that we were addicted to oil. Just like zombies, vampires, and werewolves, the monsters that scare us are symbolic of something real we are afraid of, just below the surface of society’s collective consciousness.
Here are 10 of the most evil and malicious vehicles ever to menace the roads, in no particular order...
Christine - 1958 Plymouth Fury
This is it, the poster child for menacing, evil, killer cars, and of course it dripped from the pen of the master himself, Stephen King. Take one horror story about a Plymouth Fury possessed by a psycho killer, and have it directed by genre master John Carpenter, and you have a film and killer that stands the test of time. Like all horror movies, Christine is symbolic and the relationship between car and owner is like a self-destructive romantic relationship with an obsessive lover.
Duel - 1960 Peterbilt 281
This movie is nothing but road rage between a stressed out everyman and a maniac truck driver, stretched out for 90 minutes. Dennis Weaver is a mild-mannered salesman who has been on the road in his bare bone, underpowered Plymouth Valiant for too long. We never really meet the driver of the truck, but how can you ever forget that rusty and crusty semi, looming large in the rearview mirror? Like a lot of horror, stretching back to the original Frankenstein, here the killer truck represents technology gone out of control of humanity, whom it was created to serve.
The Hearse - 1951 Packard Hearse
There is just something menacing about a hearse, even when empty, and especially when it is one of the over-wrought, ornate, cars of the 1950s or before. If you drive a hearse, you ought to be extra careful if carrying the body of a devil-worshipping witch, lest you crash and forever haunt the town she died in, like in this film. Much like in Christine, the curvy, stylized cars from the 1950s convey evil to the modern eye like the ornate Victorian Gothic style of haunted houses.
The Car - 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III (customized by George Barris)
No explanation is ever given for how the sleek, black, luxury car that terrorizes the town in this film came to be. It appears to be driverless, supernatural, and indestructible as if a demon has somehow taken form in metal. It cannot cross sacred ground, but it can throw itself into barrel rolls, and leap into the air to crash through the windows of a house. Notably, in the show Futurama, when Bender the robot become an evil, killer “were-car”, the car he transforms into is the car from this movie.
The Wraith - 1986 Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor Concept Car
This car is long, low, and black, and kills plenty of people in this movie, but don’t worry, it is only out for revenge. The car in the movie is possessed by the ghost of a street racer killed by another driver in a race, or possibly it is the form gearheads take in the afterlife? Anyway, the car is supernaturally fast, and one by one kills the whole gang of racers responsible for the “accident”.
Maximum Overdrive - 1980 Western Star 4800 (with green goblin head)
This movie, based on a Stephen King story and directed by him as well, features plenty of autonomous killer machines, but the green goblin truck is their leader. Though it is more of a horror/comedy, who wouldn’t be scared by ten tons of truck trying to run them down and wearing a maniacal mask?
Knight Rider - 1982 Pontiac Trans Am K.A.R.R.
K.I.T.T. was a wisecracking robot car with a mind of its own dedicated to helping humanity, but the original prototype K.A.R.R. had some bad programming that made him evil. In every genre hero franchise, there are always evil twin stories to be told, and Knight Rider had both an evil twin of the car and an evil twin of Michael Knight himself. Virtually identical to the good version, he has a creepier sound and voice, and later a two-tone silver/black paint job, which makes it look even cooler than K.I.T.T.
The Love Bug - 1965 Volkswagen Beetle Horace the Hate Bug
Since the 1960s people have loved Herbie, the Love Bug from the Disney movies but it wasn’t until the 1997 TV movie that we found out his origins. In this installment we meet the German scientist whose love for his deceased wife gave Herbie his heart. Also in this movie, he is forced to create another autonomous bug, only fueled by evil and hate, who comes to be called Horace. All in black, covered in louvers and spikes, with blacked out windows, Horace is every bit as sinister as his brother is adorable.
Supernatural - 1963 Dodge D200 Powerwagon
Supernatural follows the adventures of two brothers who hunt ghosts and other mythical baddies. In an episode titled “Route 666,” they go up against a big, bad, racist pickup truck that has been hunting down and killing African-Americans in Missouri. For anyone from the big city, a big old pickup truck can be a bit frightening, but this particular one, jacked up on huge wheels and seemingly without a driver is seriously terrifying.
Killdozer - Caterpillar D9 Bulldozer
Six men on a deserted island building an airstrip uncover a meteor from outer space, and now are in a battle for their lives with a killer bulldozer. Semi trucks can be menacing, but bulldozers really do appear unstoppable, especially if one if trying to demolish your house or destroy a beloved strand of trees. One more symbol of the destructive march of progress from the 1970s.
(all images copyright their respective production companies)