13 Great Travel Horror Movies

Lists: Eva Holland and Eli Ellison sift through the carnage to pick their favorites -- and lose a little sleep doing so

10.29.08 | 4:43 PM ET

imageEver check into a run-down, rural motel and find yourself double- or triple-checking the lock on your door? Maybe sleeping a little more fitfully than usual? You have the travel horror movie to thank for that nagging fear. From haunted hotel rooms to roadside serial killers and even snakes on planes, Hollywood has put several generations of unlucky fictional travelers through a lot of punishment over the years.

We sat through dozens of bloody murders—and weirded-out at least a couple video store clerks—to find our favorites. A brief note about the genre, as we’ve defined it: “Travel” here is defined fairly loosely—even space travel is included, although space travel movies could fill an entire list of their own. As a general rule, the better the film, the more willing we were to include it if it had even a tenuous travel connection.

Without further ado, and in reverse chronological order, 13 great travel horror flicks:

1408 (2007)

Mike Enslin is a cynical hack, a one-time novelist who now makes a living writing paperback travel guides: 10 Haunted Hotel Rooms, 10 Haunted Mansions, 10 Haunted B&B’s, and so on. He’s the furthest thing from a believer—until he checks in to room 1408.

Like “The Shining,” “1408” is based on a story by Stephen King—and also like “The Shining,” the ghosts of “1408” don’t do any of their own dirty work, preferring to drive their victims to madness and suicide instead. John Cusack, as Enslin, is alone for most of the flick, and so is forced to carry the movie. For our money, he pulls it off.

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Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

Eli Ellison lives in Seal Beach, California. He was last seen being sized for a diamond “TCB” ring.


19 Comments for 13 Great Travel Horror Movies

Michael Yessis 10.29.08 | 8:19 PM ET

Where’s the love/fright for “Joy Ride”?

I’m generally not a fan of horror movies, but I’d put it in the second tier here below “The Shining,” “Psycho” and “Alien.”

Or am I letting my appreciation of Steve Zahn influence my judgment?

Eva 10.29.08 | 9:04 PM ET

Good call, Mike. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Joy Ride, but I wasn’t sure quite where it fell between horror and thriller - it’s not a gore fest like most of our picks.

Plus, I was worried if I included it, I’d be letting my… er… “appreciation” for Paul Walker influence my judgment.

John M. Edwards 10.30.08 | 12:55 PM ET

Hi Eva and Eli:

I was a little surprised to notice the absence of the big daddy of horror travel films, Quentin Tarantino’s “Hostel.” This film combines the Grand Tour with grand guignol, and makes us a little more careful where we drop off our backpacks for the night.

Eva 10.30.08 | 2:00 PM ET

On the camp side of things, we opted for Snakes on a Plane and From Dusk til Dawn over Hostel. I wasn’t convinced that it was being ironically bad - I thought it might just be plain bad.

Plus, the director (Tarantino produced, I think, but didn’t get behind the camera) has since tried to give it some sort of greater meaning about “Ugly Americans” and their ignorance about Eastern Europe. Greater meaning in a slasher flick? No thanks.

Sara 10.31.08 | 1:31 AM ET

Hostel SHOULD be on this list…

Note to John…
Eli Roth directed Hostel and Tarantino produced.  Both are film genuises, but Hostel SHOULD have been on this list.  It scared me enough to not want to ever go over seas. LOL.

Eva 10.31.08 | 9:19 AM ET

Oh no, not another vote for Hostel! Ah well, I guess we should have figured leaving it off the list would be controversial. No regrets, though.

Honestly, I could barely sit through it. And not in a scared/grossed out way…

Christine Gilbert 10.31.08 | 11:04 AM ET

It’s funny people are adding Hostel to the list… I just watched that last week (well Hostel 2 anyway, which I hear is the same as Hostel but different actors).  If I had watched this before traveling around Europe, I definitely would have been a little spooked!

Sara 10.31.08 | 3:27 PM ET

Regarding my “Hostel” comment, this is also coming from someone who rarely watches horror movies.  I have seen a few of those movies on the list.  An American Werewolf in London, was a GREAT film.  I enjoyed the plot, the fx were to me kinda cheesy, but the film was also made in a film era not like what we are used to in this day and age.  Our special fx are far more high tech then they were when this film came out.  I especially LOVED the makeup in this movie.  Rick Baker is a special fx makeup genius!  I took special fx makeup in my first year in college and when we got to the horror section he was the influence our instructor used.  Apart from the amazing makeup he did in American Werewolf in London he also did the makeup for Michael Jackson’s music video “Thriller.”  Great movie, great makeup, great fx for that time.  The movie came out about 6 years before I was born, but I still enjoyed it.

Another great choice on the list “Psycho.”  The 1960 Alfred Hitchcock version, thank goodness, not the remake!!  Which, by the way, ripped off Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece.  I HIGHLY recommend this film to anyone and everyone.  I highly recommend anything by Alfred Hitchcock.  He was truly an empire in the horror movie genre.

I may not be a horror movie buff, I am just not as into the newer films as I am in the older films, but I know the classics and I know what is great viewing when I see it.  These are films I’ve watched in my video production classes in high school as classic films.  The people behind the camera like Alfred Hitchcock took horror films onto a whole new level.  And makeup artists like Rick Baker are what give the characters life. 

So excuse my comment on Hostel, like I said the newer films really are not my expertise, however I do know a thing or two about the older classics!!  :)

Eli 10.31.08 | 4:16 PM ET

In honor of Halloween, here’s one of my runner-up travel horror picks that didn’t make the final list:

Race With The Devil (1975)
Peter Fonda, Warren Oates and the wives pack-up the RV for a Texas-to-Colorado road trip. Late one night in a campground they witness a human sacrifice performed by a chanting Satanic cult. Soon, the devil worshippers are in hot pursuit, and the local shifty-eyed hillbillies are no help. “Race” is part horror movie, part car-chase flick and pure cheese. Highly recommended for Halloween night 1970s theme parties; bong optional.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqv6PIH_ymY

Eli 10.31.08 | 4:24 PM ET

Here’s another:

Horror Hotel (aka City of the Dead) (1960)
Unexpectedly spooky, Horror Hotel reminds me they just don’t make witchcraft movies like they used to. Encouraged by the shady Professor Driscoll (Christopher Lee), a college student spends her vacation researching the history of New England witches in the fog-shrouded town of Whitewood. Will our heroine stay out of the creepy Raven’s Inn basement as she should? Of course not—which of course is all the more reason to watch.

Horror Hotel is public domain. Dim the lights and watch it here:
http://www.archive.org/details/Horror_Hotel

Eli 10.31.08 | 4:31 PM ET

And another:

Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
Herschell Gordon Lewis, the godfather of zero-budget exploitation gore, presents the ridiculous tale of a small Southern town that celebrates its 100th birthday by killing Yankees. Three couples traveling through the South are lured off the main highway, made the town centennial’s “guests of honor” and murdered in hilariously inventive ways. The acting is beyond the valley of bad, which means it’s a must-see.

Two Thousand Maniacs is showing on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) tonight/Sat morning at 12:45am PST/3:45am EST.

Ken Myers 10.31.08 | 6:32 PM ET

Well, Eva and Eli, on any list like this someone’s favorite is going to get
the ozone, and I can hardly blame you for missing one of mine because it’s as old as the hills and has never, as far as I can tell, been released on DVD in the Western Hemisphere.  Still, if you get a chance to watch the 1965 Amicus horror anthology film, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, I hope you’ll consider it for next year’s list.  No, it’s not particuarly scary or gory, but it’s a lot of fun, has a couple of really neat twists, also has some good performances by Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Donald Sutherland, of all people, and the individual stories cover a super range of horror subjects:  werewolves, killer plants, voodoo vengeance, a crawling hand and vampires.  The travel element?  Five unrelated travelers are sharing a train compartment and are joined by the titular character (Cushing) who, at their request to help pass the time, tells their individual futures using his deck of tarot cards (that he refers to as his “house of horrors,” heh-heh-heh).  But none of the futures are particuarly pleasant, and none of the men can seem to draw any final card other than “Death,” so as a fun time-passer the readings are a rather a flop, although all these grim stories do give the viewer a pretty clear idea of these guys’ “final destination.”
Give it a try.  I think you’ll be pleased.

Allison 11.03.08 | 2:25 PM ET

It’s not a bad list, but there’s quite a lot missing from it.

How about Deliverance? A classic road trip and boat trip into the scary Appalachians.

Haute Tension: a film about two young women traveling in France.

The Hitcher (remake): College couple heads out on a road trip.

Cabin Fever: Group of kids rent a cabin in the woods and then die one by one.

28 Days Later: Okay so they have to go on a road trip to escape the Infected, but it’s an adorable scene, driving through the English countryside in a taxi cab.

The Birds: Melanie Daniels drives up the coast to a quaint seaside town, only to be maliciously attacked by seagulls.

Eva 11.03.08 | 3:01 PM ET

@ Sara - I’m glad we can agree on Psycho and American Werewolf!

@ Ken and Allison, thanks for the suggestions! I haven’t heard of Dr. Terror (what is it with Christopher Lee and these movies?) or Haute Tension.

I think we considered The Hitcher, and my memory’s going on the rest. Eli, did we think about Deliverance, Cabin Fever or The Birds?

harry medved 11.03.08 | 9:30 PM ET

Great, fun list, Eva & Eli - and here are a few more, including DEAD CALM, OPEN WATER and TURISTAS…you can find ‘em at http://summermovies.fandango.com/toplists/index.php?show=0&artid=17

Eli 11.04.08 | 2:53 AM ET

Allison, I did watch The Hitcher again (the Rutger Hauer original) and it just missed the list. Haven’t seen the remake, but honestly, you’re the first person to suggest it’s any good.

Deliverance was tough. I considered it. But I think we were aiming for more of a horror feel, even though Eva picked Identity. By the way, for those keeping track, that’s TWO John Cusack picks for Eva.

Never heard of Haute Tension or Cabin Fever. Speaking of cabins, can’t believe no one has brought up The Evil Dead or Evil Dead 2. We seriously considered both. But there’s only so much room. Maybe next year.

Harry, I thought Turistas and Open Water were pretty dull.

Where I think we blew it is on Dead Calm and The Birds.

Ken, thanks for the tip on Dr. Terror. Will definitely check it out.

Eva, Christopher Lee was practically the Gene Hackman of late 50s/60s horror. He was in EVERYTHING. Check out the wikipedia entry on Hammer Horror:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammer_Film_Productions

Jordan Young 11.25.08 | 9:58 PM ET

Not much to argue with here, at least the ones I’ve seen. Except THE SHINING, one of Nicholson’s low points. THE BIRDS is better than PSYCHO, but it’s hard to argue with that one’s classic/cult status. Speaking of stranded travelers, I’d add James Whale’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932), a delicious blend of horror and humor.

K 12.06.08 | 1:36 PM ET

We’ve also got:
The Hitcher
Penny Dreadful
Rest Stop
The Strangers

Joe 12.09.08 | 11:31 AM ET

Someone mentioned Open Water—though I thought it was a tad overrated, it certainly was a chilling vacation-gone-wrong movie. Would make a good addition to this list.

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