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Hit the road, Jack
by T.J. Tranchell

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Horrors appearing in this mirror are closer than they appear

Horrors appearing in this mirror are closer than they appear
The lure of the open road calls to the summertime American like few things in our culture. Strange roadside attractions, cheap greasy food, and radio stations that lose their signals during your favorite song are all part of the mystique.

So, too, is the dark side of road trips.

There is always the possibility that a deranged, faceless trucker will stalk you for 500 miles like in DUEL, the 1971 debut of Steven Spielberg. Grand Master of horror Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay based on his own story. Right from the beginning of his career, Spielberg knew suspense and tension. He holds out on us the entire length of the movie, never revealing the face of the truck driver. This turns a dilapidated Peterbilt into one of the scariest villains ever. If you've ever had a large truck behind you on a two-lane highway, you know how Dennis Weaver felt in DUEL: scared out of your mind.

I might be courting danger, but I have the recently released audio version of DUEL
Hey, Paul. That isn't Vin Diesel behind us.

Hey, Paul. That isn't Vin Diesel behind us.
ready to go on my iPod. Tragically, half of my trip will be on blank, mindless interstate. Any semis on the road will be able to pass me without a problem.

Apparently J.J. Abrams thinks truckers are scary, too. One of his early writing credits is the 2001 Paul Walker film JOY RIDE (also known an ROADKILL). I saw this when it was released. Walker was hot after THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and Steve Zahn stars as his quirky brother. I like Zahn. He makes me laugh. Walker, on the other hand, is a stone. I cheered for him to get caught by the mad trucker they pissed off by fooling around on a CB radio.

I might have to watch JOY RIDE again. I just looked at a plot synopsis that states the two brothers are driving from Colorado to New Jersey. Below that, two actors are listed as playing characters from the Salt Lake City Police Department. Last time I checked, Utah was not on the way to Newark.

Proving that Abrams is not the only Hollywood success story to start with a
The only thing worse than Hell is watching this movie.

The only thing worse than Hell is watching this movie.
really crappy road movie, the 1991 cable staple HIGHWAY TO HELL was written by Oscar winner Brian Helgeland. Gives a guy hope.

You've probably seen HIGHWAY TO HELL and didn't know it. I didn't the first time I saw it. For years I thought it was called HELLCOP or PIECE OF CRAP WITH A CERTAIN CHARM. The original vampire-slaying Buffy, Kristy Swanson, is in it. She plays a girl who is kidnapped by the Hell Cop to be the next bride of Satan (or Beezle, in the film), played by Patrick Bergin.

It gets better. Richard Farnsworth, Lita Ford, Gilbert Gottfried and the Stiller clan (Amy, Jerry and Ben) all make cameos. Ben Stiller appears as Attila the Hun and Gottfried plays Hitler.

HIGHWAY TO HELL isn't a road movie in the same sense as DUEL of JOY RIDE, but there is a journey with a purpose and I think that's all that counts. It does incorporate the single basic premise of a road horror movie: interruption of the trip. My favorite interruption is The Creeper from
The Creeper assists Justin Long for his role as a chipmunk.

The Creeper assists Justin Long for his role as a chipmunk.

Admit it, you try to figure out the vanity plates you see. Some of them are crazy, some are lame. BEATNGU is a classic. I've always wondered, though, how did the Creeper get a vanity plate? Did he apply for it himself or did he steal it from another car? Creeeeeeeeeppppyyyy.

In addition to some great effects, a bad ass creature and the introduction of Justin Long, JEEPERS CREEPERS also sports one of the all-time great final frames. The Creeper is sewing, there's some screaming and, of course, "Jeepers Creepers," that old standard from the 1930s. The camera pulls back and we see Long's skin, minus the eyes. Roll credits.


With that in mind, I'm hitting the road. I have my DUEL reading, plenty of road music and maybe even a CB. I know some people who would not like it if I had my own road horrors, but I am hoping for some adventure.

If you never see this column again, you'll know something happened. Just kidding. I'll be fine.

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Mike Thomas
Mar 12, 2010 2:06 PM
[X] delete
One of my favorite car movies is a 1977 James Brolin thriller, simply titled THE CAR. It can best be described as an automobile version of THE BIRDS. It appears out of nowhere, terrorizes a small, one-horse town, does its carnage and is "destroyed" in a fiery blaze I say "destroyed" because I'm not entirely convinced they did so). The scene that is worth the price of admission is when it takes out two police cars, and drives off unscratched.

Definitely a "B" movie, definitely worth seeing.

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The Show Begins at 10:31.
Every other Friday

Take my hand and follow me to the darkest corners of the theater. All your favorite monsters, psychos and masked killers are here, waiting for you to say hello.

Other Columns
Other columns by T.J. Tranchell:

Feeling (Rob) Zombie-fied

Camcorder Carnage

The scariest movie of all time

Universal's forgotten fiend

Home is where the horror is

All Columns

T.J. Tranchell
Born on Halloween and raised in a single screen theater managed by his grandpa, T.J. now spends more time than should be healthy staying up past midnight reading Stephen King and watching Friday the 13th movies. Part 3 is the best one.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to T.J. Tranchell by clicking here.

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