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Horror movies have long relied on the ordinary-gone-bad scenario to scare you. Childhood playthings create havoc in movies like Demonic Toys and the Chucky series. Household pets like Cujo go on rampages. Even houses themselves turn on people, crushing them in two with their gates and boiling them in showers like the one in This House Possessed. Movie makers know that audiences can identify with the story, and thus be more frightened if they own the object in question. "Hey, I have a doll like that," you might think. And your next thought is, "Uh oh."
It was only natural that makers of movie horror would eventually get around to the car as a vehicle (pardon the pun) for demonic possession. Just about every adult drives one, and their potential for destruction is huge. It’s not surprising that somebody thought a possessed car would make for a good scare. What is surprising is that more than one person did. Here is a timeline history of cars that went fiendishly bad on film.
'You Drive' (1964)
The first crazy car with a mind of its own appeared on television screens in the early 60s (but you can watch it on DVD today). Like most Twilight Zone episodes, it is well crafted. "You Drive" stars Edward Andrews (whom you might recall as the Grandpa in Sixteen Candles) as Oliver Pope, the typical businessman-in-a-hurry. Driving while distracted, Ollie plows into an unfortunate kid on a bicycle. Having much more important things to worry about, Ollie speeds away without so much as stopping to see if the boy is hurt (which he is). When a co-worker of Ollie’s is under suspicion for being the hit-and-run driver, he goes along with the idea in an attempt to make sure he himself is in the clear. His family and co-workers notice that he is becoming jumpy and strange—his conscience getting the better of him.
It’s at this point that Ollie’s car decides to intervene. If he’s not going to turn himself in, then his vehicle will have to do the right thing according to the demonic car code of ethics. But first, it gives him a last chance to confess. The car tries to get Ollie’s attention, honking its horn in the middle of the night and flashing its lights. When that doesn’t work, the car drives Ollie’s wife to the scene of the crime and then conks out. Although the car can’t speak, it’s pretty much saying: "Hey, check this out, lady." Eventually, Ollie is forced to confess the crime, driving himself with resignation to the police station.
This Twilight Zone episode was obviously the inspiration for later cars-gone-mad thrillers, despite the fact that it seemed to have good morals. The car was certainly not a pal to Oliver Pope, and one can’t help but wonder ... If Ollie hadn’t confessed when he did, how far would the car have gone to torture him?
Duel was an early effort of Stephen Spielberg, a movie made for television that was later released in theaters following the success of E.T. With a story by Richard Matheson (author of I Am Legend), Duel is a genuinely scary battle between a regular guy in a car and the driver of a huge semi with a case of serious road rage. While the truck is not actually possessed (it has a driver), it deserves a mention in the history of demonic car movies because Spielberg makes the choice to never actually show the driver of the truck. The result is that the victim appears to be terrorized by the truck itself. The truck is distinctly the aggressor. To find a true demonic car possession in this decade, we have to look to a bulldozer.
It took a decade after Twilight Zone’s "You Drive" for a filmmaker to re-examine the vehicle with a mind completely of its own, and this time some genius writer thought, "What the heck. Let’s make it a bulldozer." In the tried and true fashion of made-for-TV movies, Killdozer featured a motley cast of unknowns beefed up with one semi-star, Robert Urich.
The movie tackles the weighty matter of just exactly what makes a vehicle come to life, by having a group of construction workers on a Pacific island uncovers a mysterious meteorite with, apparently, powers of an ancient evil. When one of the workers accidentally rams the big blue rock with his ‘dozer, a D-9, the ancient evil infects the equipment. Needless to say, a rampage ensues, a rampage that can only be caused by a hulking D-9 with the forces of a millennia-worth of evil driving it. One of the workers sums it up tidily, "Too heavy to hang. Won’t fit in a gas chamber."
'The Car' (1977)
If anyone had any doubts about what a devil-possessed car was really capable of, this film made it crystal clear. Cited by many as the best-possessed car movie ever (yes, even better than Christine), The Car created havoc like a true movie monster. The black sedan mows down everyone in its path indiscriminately, from sheriffs and biker gangs to kids on bikes. Even a tuba player is not safe from the road rampage. The true target is James Brolin, whom the demon vehicle hunts with stalker-like intensity.
The Car is often called "Jaws on Wheels," and it has a lot in common with the classic shark thriller. Many of the movie’s shots are from the title car’s point of view, just as in Jaws, so we see the predator take his prey. Other scenes show the sedan cruising the desert streets on the hunt for victims. The desert is the killer car’s ocean, where it attacks with a bumper rather than teeth, emanating an evil "Hoooooooonk" as it smashes its victims to their deaths.
Does it sound silly? It’s surprisingly good! In fact, it’s better than a movie about a driverless killer car ought to be. The comparisons with Jaws aren’t just a joke. The Car is a finely crafted thriller that’s also a lot of fun. In fact, one New York critic declaimed, "If Ingmar Bergman had made a horror movie about a murderous automobile, he would have made The Car."
If The Car is the Jaws of devil car movies, then Christine is its Citizen Kane, the best-known and probably the best. Directed by John Carpenter and based on a short story by Stephen King, Christine takes the possessed car story up several notches, and this time we get an explanatory backstory that is much more satisfying than a random meteorite infected with an ancient evil.
Christine belonged to one very bad man, Roland LeBay, who violently abused and terrorized the people around him. We learn that his daughter died in the car and that his wife ultimately committed suicide inside of it. After eBay's death, the car was sold to a high school student, Arnie, a nerdish type. It’s uncertain if the car was demonic all along or if LeBay’s spirit has possessed it, but it hardly matters: Christine is evil.
As Arnie sets about transforming Christine from a hunk of junk, he himself transforms. It’s as if part of the car’s personality is transferring over to him. Arnie becomes more sure of himself, more aggressive, and even secures a pretty hot girlfriend. Unfortunately, the car is not happy with the girlfriend, and Christine starts to terrorize her, locking her in the backseat as she chokes on a hamburger, just like LeBay’s dead daughter. Even though she survives, other’s don’t. After Christine is vandalized by a gang of school bullies, she goes on a thug-killing rampage.
The ending is sheer Hollywood, sheer Stephen King, and sheer horror. While I won’t give it away, I’ll only say that it takes a lot to even attempt to bring down a huge chunk of metal like Christine, and a lot more to kill the spirit of evil. How can you be sure that you’ve successfully done either one? That’s the beauty of the horror movie and the beauty of Christine. A car like that could be tearing down your road at this very … What was that honking sound?
Christine marked the apex of possessed car movies, and it was never matched again. Movies like The Wraith and Murdercycle feature vehicles that terrorize the road, but they have actual drivers rather than evil minds of their own. Stephen King revisited the theme again with trucks in Maximum Overdrive, and occasionally you see a haunted ship or aircraft, but the possessed car genre seems to be dying. Who knows? Perhaps it could awaken any moment. All we need is a big blue meteorite.
I am Joseline Burns. I am a big fan of fantasy and horror movies, science, and psychology. Also, I am a teacher and PhD writer at research paper service with over 9 years of experience in the educational field. I led my own blogs for 5 years. I have many hobbies and I can write about everything.