With Halloween fast approaching, it’s time to get in to the spirit of things and look at some tantalisingly creepy cars. Not all cars are just metal and paint, as you will find out…
Let’s start on a lighter note. Not so much spooky rider, more spook finder, the ECTO-1 from the original Ghostbusters movie from 1984 (yes, it really is that long ago) starring Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver and Dan Ackroyd is as iconic as movie cars get. The Ectomobile was a beautiful 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor – a ambulance conversion by Miller-Meteor Co Ltd, who also utilised the same ‘end-loader’ design (naturally enough) for Cadillac hearses.
The original ’59 Cadillac proudly sports the largest fins to ever appear (allegedly) on a production car, which certainly gives it a striking look even without the famous Ghostbusters’ customisation. After filming, further customising was carried out by George ‘King of Kusomizers’ Barris for Sony to use ECTO-1 as a promotional vehicle.
The original ECTO-1 was intended to be a black vehicle, but the logistics of shooting mainly at night (when most ghosts are about of course) caused cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs to suggest a change to the script and that the car be brightened up a little before shooting began.
A year before Ghostbusters, the king of Halloween himself, John Carpenter, directed Christine, an adaptation of a Stephen King story starring Harry Dean Stanton. The plot involves a car with a dark past that seemingly has a mind of its own and the ability to shape the mind-set of its owner.
The car itself was a 1958 Plymouth Fury, a most appropriately named vehicle to choose for the story. For filming, a Plymouth Belvedere and a Plymouth Savoy were also used, but the cars themselves weren’t so easy to find. In fact, Carpenter needed to put ads all over the southern part of California to find decent donor vehicles as only just over 5,000 Furys were ever built. In total, 23 vehicles were used, but by the end of filming only 3 Plymouths were left in a half decent condition. So was Christine a malevolent car or possessed? That’s left for the viewer to ponder over…
Christine makes a few non-credited cameo appearances in other films too. In 1983’s Cat’s Eye, the same Plymouth Fury makes a brief appearance. It also makes an appearance in The Stand and the original 1990 version of It – all Stephen King adaptations.
Duel was originally a low-key 1971 Stephen Spielberg film made for TV, yet the movie has taken on cult status since then. Starring Dennis Weaver (more known for riding a horse through the streets of New York as McCloud in the quirky police series of the same name) as David Mann, a fatigued middle-aged salesman, Duel takes on a far more contemporary feeling of road rage and adds a hint of the supernatural to the mix as well.
While the rusting hulk of the tanker truck that Mann in his Plymouth Valiant manages to rile is probably simply being driven by an annoyed individual, there is the ominous feeling that somehow the truck always seems be one step ahead of Mann – whatever he does or wherever he goes – as he slowly begins to unravel.
The semi-truck itself was a Peterbilt 281 from 1955 and only one vehicle was used throughout, including its sticky end. As the status of the film grew, more scenes were shot to prepare for a full cinematic release, and two new vehicles were sourced. The one surviving vehicle is a 1961 Peterbilt 351, which is now owned by Californian truck fan Brad Wike. If you search out ‘Brad Wike Trucks’ on Facebook you can enjoy looking at his impressive collection.
Taking inspiration from Duel, the 1941 Chevrolet COE (Cab Over Engine) from 2001’s Jeepers Creepers is a rusting hulk with a powerful engine and yet another mysterious driver. Set in Florida, the film centres on brother and sister Trish and Darryl as they set off home for spring break. Decidedly more overtly supernatural than some of the others here, Jeepers Creepers has become a Halloween staple and was nominated for Best Horror Film at the Saturn Awards (beaten to that accolade by The Others).
If you watch both Duel and Jeepers Creepers, you might surely think twice before deciding to get angry with someone on the road again – and if you don’t; well then, you only have yourself to blame as to what might happen…
While the truck looked like a rusting jalopy, the truck itself didn’t have to try too hard: With a badly broken exhaust, after each take the stunt driver had to open the doors to let out clouds of smoke!
Thriller – One Deadly Owner
I think I can safely say that nowhere else in any Halloween lists will you see this one. Thriller was an acclaimed anthology TV series that ran from 1973 until 1976 amassing 6 seasons and a mighty 43 episodes. The series was often an early career launch for some nostalgic family TV favourites, like Robert Powell, Patrick Magee, Jenny Agutter, Peter Vaughan, Diana Dors and Dennis Waterman.
While some of the early episodes are very hit and miss (or just plain awful), there is plenty here to make Thriller deserving of all the accolades. One of the shows in particular struck me – and plenty of others if you read the reviews. It was called One Deadly Owner and starred Jeremy Brett, later to portray Sherlock Holmes of course. A fashion model buys a white Rolls Royce unaware that it is a haunted car. With shades of Stephen King’s Christine (the Thriller episode predates the writing of Christine by about 9 years), the 1965 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III, painted in Old English White, is either trying to guide its new owner and reveal a macabre secret, or maybe it too is just inherently evil and possessed.
Thriller can be found in box set form on Amazon and comes highly recommended. Especially if you were young enough to remember the haunting theme music before your parents whisked you off to bed at 9pm on a Saturday night.
The Rolls Royce in the episode had a chassis number or SJR477, and this can be traced back to Kingsbury Motors who used to hire out vehicles for film and TV production up until 1982. The white Rolls also made several TV appearances around that same period of time, including in the apocalyptic BBC series Survivors, and Trevor Eve’s much loved Sunday night detective series, Shoestring.
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