Southwestern Screams – Horror in the Desert

I was born and raised a desert rat. Mostly living in Las Vegas, but spending plenty of summers in the high desert of southern Utah and the vast wasteland of California’s Mojave Desert. So I guess it’s not unusual that I have a soft spot for southwestern horrors in general.


Recently, I watched Southbound, a horror anthology set on those lonesome desert highways. And though it failed to live up to the high expectations the trailer set for me, it did refresh my love for those dusty horror flicks set within the American Southwest. So sure, it may still technically be winter in most parts of the US, but here in Phoenix we’re about to hit 90 degrees and I’m ready to revisit some of my favorite desert horrors.


Desert and highway horror seem to go hand in hand. Southbound, Highwaymen, Joyride, The Hitcher, and Duel. And these are just the more famous ones. You still have Route 666, The Car, Dolan’s Cadillac, Rubber, The Wraith,and all the sequels and remakes some of these films have spawned. Joyride is a slasher favorite of mine and Highwaymen is a smarter, more grounded take on the traditional highway serial killer trope. I also hold the vampire road flick The Forsaken as a guilty pleasure – and yes, feel free to sneer about me choosing it over After Dark or From Dusk Til Dawn, neither I personally don’t care for. A last mention, though not a true horror film, is the tight and taut thriller Breakdown which pulled horror elements into its reality based crime story.


But desert madmen exist off the highway too. They’re in the motels, as evident by the classic film Psycho. And they’re far out in the desert too! Improving on the original film, The Hills Have Eyes remake was a tense, unnerving film that not only expertly utilized its desert setting, but also incorporated the folklore and history of the desert’s past.


Southbound, Demon Knight, and Poltergeist 2 nicely round out the supernatural sub-sub-genre of desert horror and creature features make up some of my absolute favorites! Night of the Lepus and Nightwing bring me back to the days of TNT’s MonsterVision and Piranha 3D is a new campy pleasure during the hot summers. And of course, who could ever forget the cult classic, Tremors. (No one. No one will ever forget it.)


What about you folks? Any unmentioned you care to mention? Any killer cactus or giant scorpion flicks you’d like to add to the list? Drop me a line! And for those of your outside the southwest…. keep warm… you’ve still got a few months of cold left.

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