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Horror’s Most Devastating Car Crashes!

In action and drama films, the car crash is often used to bring shock, surprise, and intensity to otherwise light, entertaining fare. Horror, on the other hand, doesn’t need help in creating shock and surprise; when horror films do have a sizable budget, they frequently choose to spend it on makeup, monsters, and gore effects rather than the expensive set-ups required for physical stunts and car explosions.

But on those rare occasions when a horror film decides to portray a car crash, those scenes are infinitely more harrowing and effective than in other films. In honor of this weekend’s release of Cars 3 (which looks decidedly darker than its predecessors, by the way) we’ve put together a list of horror films with spectacular, disturbing car crash sequences…


THE DESCENT


Though it is remembered for many things, including great performances from an all-female lead cast, Neil Marshall’s claustrophobic survival film opened with (SPOILER ALERT) the tragic loss of one character’s husband and child. The scene is brief, horrifying, and the aftermath of it hangs over the entire film. Nearly a decade later, a car crash would be used for similar story purposes in 2014’s The Babadook.


INSIDE


The opening of Inside echoes the tragedy of both The Descent and The Babadook, but directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury take it one horrifying step further by having the survivor of the opening car crash be a pregnant woman. The film is filled with a series of disturbingly memorable horror set pieces, and one of them is the uncomfortably quiet opening moments in the aftermath of a wreck – a single living person sitting in the totaled wreck of a vehicle next to her dead spouse.


CRASH


There were several films whose car crashes would have put them on the list if not for the fact that they weren’t genuine horror films. John Frankenheimer’s work in Ronin is unmatched in its intensity, and Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown is a brilliant post-Duel B-movie, but both fall more comfortably into thriller than horror. The only reason Crash received special consideration is because of its director, David Cronenberg, is an all-time horror great, and because the film itself borders on horror with its unflinching violence, haunting performances, and moody score.


ROAD GAMES


While Richard Franklin’s Road Games is mostly a highway-bound reinvention of Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window, the few sequences of car action and impact leave a definite impression. There is no doubt that the film spills into horror with its seediness, its garrote wire killer, and its performance from newly dubbed scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. The eighteen-wheeler landing atop the car it is pursuing is a particular highlight.


DUEL


There is little left to be said about Steven Spielberg’s first directorial triumph, painstakingly crafted from a taut short story by Richard Matheson. Brilliant themes and skilled filmmaking aside, the whole film builds inexorably to one expectation: the car being pursued by an evil truck will finally turn around and face its pursuer. It does so, and in spectacular fashion, as the truck smashes through the flaming wreck of a car only to find itself teetering on the edge of a cliff… and there is nowhere to go but down.


THE CAR


It is appropriate for Elliot Silverstein’s The Car to follow Duel on this list, because it takes every story beat from Spielberg’s mainstream breakthrough, Jaws, and sets it on land with a driverless black car instead of a shark. There are several attack sequences in the film and more than a few car wrecks, but it is the over-the-top end sequence that puts it on this list. The local deputy lures the car into a quarry, sends it over a cliff, and then blows up the quarry and the car in an explosion sequence that seems nearly never-ending.


THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS


Before director Peter Weir became known in America for his lyrical horror films Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave, he made this offbeat, darkly comic film about a town whose livelihood is based on the intentional destruction of tourists’ cars. The plot and characters are outlandish, as is the car violence; there are only a handful of genuine car mayhem sequences, but those sequences are a wonder to behold.


MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE

No list of films about car wrecks would be complete without the inclusion of Stephen King’s only directorial work. Based on his own short story, the film chronicles the growing war between people and the machines that have suddenly come to violent life. The film has its unique pleasures, from the AC/DC score to a committed performance from character actor Pat Hingle, but its vehicle carnage is what makes it most memorable.


RACE WITH THE DEVIL


This film has an impressive road movie pedigree: directed by Jack Starrett (who made biker film Run, Angel, Run and episodes of Dukes of Hazzard) and starring Easy Rider’s Peter Fonda and Two-Lane Blacktop’s Warren Oates, Race with the Devil combines the road film with the cult film to great and creepy effect. The final act of the film is a prolonged chase scene where two couples are trying to escape a group of backwoods Satanists, and there are a number of fantastic crashes along the way.


STUCK


It is a remarkable enough feat to create a devastating car crash whose impact is felt emotionally through the whole film. More impressive than that is the film whose entire story is about the painful physical aftermath of an accident, played nearly in real time. Stuck is real-world horror from Stuart Gordon, known primarily for his decidedly unreal H.P. Lovecraft adaptations. Stephen Rea’s performance conveys deep suffering, and there are moments of body trauma that rival the best and creepiest of Cronenberg.


THE HITCHER


Everything in crazed hitchhiker John Ryder’s wake is left in ruins. That includes lives, souls, and more than a few cars and helicopters. Robert Harmon’s direction of the relentless script by Eric Red strips the horror film down to its bare essentials, but still somehow manages to paint on a massive canvas. The wide-open deserts isolate the protagonist and antagonist in an eternal struggle, and the explosions of the vehicles are just more fire in their own personal hell.


DEATH PROOF


For the first half hour of Quentin Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse, a viewer would be forgiven for being confused and possibly a little frustrated with the pace of the story about a group of young ladies laughing, talking, and drinking over a fairly uneventful night. But at the end of the night, the drive home spins the film in a new direction with breakneck speed. Stuntman Mike offers one young lady a ride home in his “death proof” car, and it leads to one of the most spectacularly executed sequences of action in a major theatrical release of the last two decades. Watching the crash multiple times from various angles, the brief moment of impact echoes numerous times on the screen, imprinting itself in the viewer’s mind forever.


FINAL DESTINATION 2


Based on sheer carnage alone, Final Destination 2 is one of the most devastating car crashes of any film, horror or otherwise. Seeking to top the brilliant action of the original film’s airplane accident, director and stunt coordinator took advantage of his first major feature opportunity to create a Rube Goldberg machine of violence and mayhem. A loose tree log and a cup of hot coffee lead to one of the deadliest event chains in film history. The highway sequence alone was enough to secure Ellis (who we sadly lost in 2013) another directing gig later in the franchise with 2009’s The Final Destination.



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COMMENTS

21 Comments
  • J Jett

    DEATH PROOF’s crash scene is especially horrific to me since we see it 4 times with each of the 4 women’s deaths. also the fact the killer had just killed Rose McGowan’s character (her body was still in the car). Jordan Ladd is SO freaking adorable pre-crash when she’s jammin’ playing the drums. LOL. so cute!
    the crash pile up from FINAL DESTINATION 2 is extra horrific too.

    • Barry El Beardo

      I was just thinking how much I enjoyed those characters from Death Proof and could easily watch another film about them

  • Frank Popp Jr.

    There’s one very important crash left out… And I’m surprised it didn’t make this list because it should be at the top. This is actually a stunt driver in a single engine vehicle – I think it also made some kind of world record. @ 1:50 yo ucan atually hear the camera man saying “Jesus Christ!” as he watches the car fly through the air… lol
    From Phantasm 3.
    https://youtu.be/LzmTHp19iPQ

    • Frank Popp Jr.

      despite the newscast – I’ve heard the stunt man (Bob Ivy) was unconscious

    • Chris Vander Kaay

      Good catch, Frank. Can’t believe I forgot about this one. I rewatch the first two a lot, somehow this one completely snuck past me. Thanks for linking to it!

  • Christopher Perkins

    I’d add this to the list: Gage vs a Semi in Pet Semetary

    • Chris Vander Kaay

      I definitely would have added it if we got to see the crash, although extra points to them for the chutzpah to take out a kid like that in a mainstream movie!

  • gene wells

    2 very different movies that mainly start with a car crash that have always stuck in my mind are Dead Calm and Body Parts… rainy roads and 18 wheelers failing to stop are 2 big driving fears for me now because of these haha!

    • Russell Reball

      Yes, something very real about that Body Parts scene. I could imagine it happening to me.

  • Andrew Thompson

    I would’ve put Night Warning on my list. That crash is pretty insane.

    • Chris Vander Kaay

      Hasn’t seen it before, just watched it. Great sequence! With the log and the cliff fall, it seems like this film might have been influential on both Final Destination 2 and one of my favorite 90s films, Breakdown.

      • Andrew Thompson

        Yeah, I definitely think Ellis or Neil Marshall must have checked it out.

        The movie itself is definitely worth a watch too…

    • LastCubScout

      Yeah, “Night Warning” was impressive for such a low-budget film.

  • James Allard

    :No list of films about car wrecks would be complete without the inclusion of Stephen King’s only directorial work.” … the film being, in its entirety, a train wreck…

  • DBZEROGRAVITY

    I may catch some shit for this but as far as The Hitcher goes, the remake’s chase scene backed with NIN’s “Closer” was far better

  • Matt Miller

    The effects in the final destination scene are still amazing

  • Carl Chrystan

    Can we not have the bit with the fat woman flying through the windscreen at the beginning of ‘Zombieland’ in the list? It absolutely cracked me up the first time I saw it. Oh yeah, and all the carnage that happens in Piccadilly Circus at the end of ‘An American Werewolf in London’?

  • Necro

    1) The crash scene in ‘Scream 2’ was pretty horrific where the cop gets impaled by the steel bar that goes through the back of his head and comes out through his eye.
    2) Another for me is in the opening scene of ‘Constantine’ right after the Mexican dude finds ‘The Spear of Destiny’ and starts to walk away and the car hits him with such force it practically pushes the engine up to the windshield. And then he walks away without so much as a bruise.

    ‘Final Destination 2’ accident scene still ranks the highest for me though.

    • marshally

      Epic

  • RIB

    Final 2 was the best of the series. And is the best on this list. I used to rewatch that log carnage scene over and over again… It’s priceless. I was surprised as well that the American Werewolf In London scene wasn’t on here. It was pretty amazing to see. Also some original Mad Max. …(I’d suggest Fury Road… but then you’d have to put the entire film up) All in all a great list. Ive always been a fan of THE CAR.

  • Dan Warren (Forgottenretroworl

    There’s a few in the Maniac Cop series, I think, and a hilarious one in Evil Dead II where Ash crashes into a tree stump, sending him flying through the windshield.

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