A character walks to their car. She may be aware that something is dangerous out there, or we may get a creepy vibe. But eventually she gets into the car, unharmed and prepares to drive off. She adjusts the rear-view mirror and- OH GOD TEETH IN THE FACE!
Perhaps it's because there's some idea of a car as a safe place, but attackers in TV regularly hide in your backseat, waiting to attack when you enter the car. Whether it's psychos with knives, flesh eating monsters or mysterious spies with secret information, the intrusion of personal space is creepy if not outright terrifying. It's nearly never noticed before the victim is in their car, and no reference is made to how they got in without breaking the windows.
Occasionally a stealthy or mysterious Anti-Hero protagonist can pull this off to intimidate someone, but it's not a very heroic thing to do — it's rude!
See also Offscreen Teleportation, Stealth Hi/Bye. Compare Not My Driver, Closer than They Appear.
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Played with in this commercial for the Smart Fortwo: Sometimes a car with no back seat IS the safer choice...
Subverted in an issue of Mister Miracle. When his wife Big Barda gets into her car, she finds a mob thug hiding in her back seat: "Oh, please don't hurt me, I'll do anything you say," she mewls. (Anyone who is familiar with Big Barda's abilities and personality knows why this is funny.) Cut to later as she tells her husband about the incident: "Oh my god! Is he okay?!"
For the Anti-Hero variant, Batman has made something of a habit of this. But then, sneaking up and scaring people is part of his MO.
Inverted in Superman #13, "Superman vs. The Archer". Lois Lane, on her typical hunt for news, is saved by a very young Jimmy Olsen, who had concealed himself in her car.
In 52, The Question sort of... magics his way into the back of Renee's car between panels in Week 4.
In Welcome To The Jungle, Harry Dresden and the zookeeper he's protecting encounter a hellhound in the back seat of the Blue Beetle.
The Godfather. "Hello, Carlo". Explainable, as it wasn't Carlo's car.
Jimmy Angelo pulls this in Practical Magic when his abused girlfriend, about to be rescued from their motel room by her more sensible sister, insists that she can't leave without the lucky necklace she left hanging on her rearview mirror...
At the end of Lucky Number Slevin, the detective who has always been one step behind the protagonist falls victim to this while having an expository conversation with his colleague over the radio in his car. The protagonist is polite enough to wait until the exposition is finished, but strikes before the detective hangs up, making sure the colleague knows something is up.
The dilophosaur that kills Nedry from Jurassic Park attacks him in his jeep.
In the movie Firewall the hero is kidnapped by two thugs waiting for him inside his car.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning does this with the rebooted version of Leatherface, when he kills a fleeing woman by hiding in her car and surprising her. Which is actually rather incongruous, given that Leatherface is approximately 12 feet tall and built like a linebacker.
Tommy Boy with the deer (which Chris Farley and David Spade thought was dead).
Grace Jones as "May Day" murdered two guys this way (separate attacks) in A View to a Kill, resulting in James Bond not getting the support/reinforcements he expected.
The short film Suspicious has this happening to Janane Garofalo's character, in an enactment of an urban legend.
Dog Soldiers has this happen when a werewolf hides in the back of a jeep. Joe, who is inside the jeep at the time, realizes this before the wolf attacks, however, and decides to leap into the back of the jeep to take on the creature himself. The results aren't pretty.
There's a variation on this in Aliens where the pilot of the dropship is attacked by an alien that has snuck on board.
Subverted in James Rolfe's short movie The Deader The Better. The film is about two men whose job it is to patrol a cemetery where zombies emerge every night. Despite being standard Romero zombies who only need one good hit to the head, one of the men delights in creatively dismembering them, which he's reprimanded for by his partner. Sure enough, when he drives home that morning, there's a zombie in his backseat. Karmic Death, right? No, he savagely beats it up and throws it out the window.
Played painfully straight in The Strangers. The male lead makes a dash for the car to see if it's still working. He sees that all the windows of the car have been smashed in. Now, any person with half a brain would either give up on checking the car, or at least look in the backseat. What does this guy do? Gets into the car without even taking a quick glance to the seats behind him! Guess what happens? he doesn't get killed (there), but there WAS someone in the backseat.
In A Few Good Men, Lt. Kaffee is on the receiving end when Lt. Col. Markinson is waiting in his car. Possibly a subverted trope (on account of the fact that there was actually no danger)?
Also, Markinson points out that he left the back door unlocked.
It's probably a sub-trope, given how often that exact scenario is used in espionage movies and TV shows.
In the original Halloween film, Annie plans to drive over to her boyfriend's house after leaving her babysitting charges with Laurie. Finding her car locked, she goes into the house to fetch the keys, comes back to the car, opens the door without having to unlock it...and just has time to notice steam on the windshield when Michael Myers (whose breath caused said steam) springs from the back seat and throttles her.
This also happens in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers where Michael clings to the bottom of a moving pickup truck, before climbing up the side and killing the three men in the back of the truck.
Screamers ends with a shot of a doll in the back of the one-man spacecraft used by the protagonist to escape the planet. The doll is the type previously seen carried by the Creepy ChildKiller Robot. Just before the movie ends we see the doll start to move of its own accord.
Wolf Creek. The main character, believing she's gotten away from Mick Taylor, gets into a car, then hears his distinctive chuckle in the seat behind her, right before he stabs her in the back.
The first Saw film had a variant. Dr. Gordon isn't attacked in his car immediately, but when he steps out of it momentarily to use a phone, you see the back door slowly opening...
In a flashback in Saw II we see that this is how Obi kidnapped Laura.
The Yellow Bastard did this in Sin City. This was sort of implausible, since 1) it was snowing, 2) he was bleeding pretty badly, and 3) it was mentioned several times how much he stank, so you'd think there'd be some sort of a sign or trail that would've tipped them off.
Hartigan does mention smelling him the whole time, but attributes it to a lingering stench from checking out his car.
Strangely averted in Independence Day. Will Smith drives across the desert with an unconscious alien in the back of his truck. He brings it to the secret lab without incident. Very unexpected.
Well, he already knew the alien was there, because he put it there, unconscious. And it was the bed of a truck, not the backseat of a car, so it's easier to get into, so there's less surprise to it - but also harder for the passenger to reach the driver from. Granted that the movie was a Cliché Storm, using this trope there would have single-handedly turned the movie into a parody.
By far the best addition to Let Me In was a 10 minute sequence where we follow the killer in the back seat from the time he gets in to the time he makes the kill. It's also one of the most intense sequences in the movie.
Played with in Scream 4, where characters scared of Ghostface are constantly checking the back seat when getting into a car. It doesn't help.
The Dark Knight has Harvey Dent/Two Face pulling a slightly modified version of this on Salvatore Maroni- Maroni gets into the back seat and then notices Dent sitting next to him.
A Freeze-Frame Bonus reveals the mook who intended to get into that seat gets dragged off-screen by Dent moments before Maroni climbed into the car; Dent evidently got in at the same time.
In The Matrix Reloaded during the highway chase scene, one of the Twins chasing Morphus, Trinity and the Keymaster (the latter the target everyone's after) ghosts it's way into the trio's car and re-solidifeds in the back seat leading to an in-car fight to keep him from taking the Keymaster while trying to keep the car steady.
In the remake of Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), two of the protagnists try to make for a car past the attack squad to get help. They seemingly manage to get to the car and start celebrating then one of said squad pops up from behind the seat, murders one of them and captures the other.
A variation occurs in The Elusive Avengers: the Crown of the Russian Empire. Here, Monsieur Duc's agents board the back seat in mid-trip during a short stop (the driver is also of the "not my" variety) while Colonel Kudasov is still unsuspecting, then try to assassinate him.
One British crime drama (I think it was Inspector Morse) had an interesting variation. A female office worker is being hassled by a creepy co-worker. When she leaves he starts chasing her in his own car, and by the time he gets her to stop she's quite hysterical — it turns out he's trying to warn her about the man he saw jumping into the back of her van.
An episode of Millennium has a service station owner calling a woman into his office because her credit card was invalid — it turns out he'd actually seen a man hiding in her back seat. That killer was also striking in the manner of Urban Legends.
In one Mr. Bean episode, a Doberman sneaks into Mr Bean's car.
Lampshaded in the fourth episode of the second season of Lie to Me in that the victim, Torres, is later seen to berate herself for not locking the car door. It was broad daylight...
In The X-Files episode "Alpha". the killer is a dog who shapeshifts between a human and canine form, meaning he/it can be small enough to hide in the back, yet is also able to open the car door.
In the Smallville episode "Pariah", the killer has the ability to turn into sand and can get to backseat easily.
In The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a poor secretary discovers a Terminator waiting in the back seat of her car. She promises not to scream. Don't make promises you can't keep...
Used in One Life to Live". Todd Manning has been stalking his victim Marty Saybrooke for several days, intending to persuade her into not testifying against him—he's planning to rape her again and possibly kill her. He lurks in the backseat of her car, but his attack his foiled when her friend shows up and unwittingly saves the day, with neither of them having ever been aware of his presence.
In the final battle of the KGB vs. CIA episode of Deadliest Warrior, the last KGB agent is killed via a CIA agent hiding in the back of his car and garrotting him.
Played with in the Power Rangers S.P.D. episode "Reflection". While hunting for the escaped criminal, Mirloc, Bridge and Z spot him in the rear view mirror of their jeep and turn around to face him in the back seat, expect hes not there. Mirloc reminds them that his the power is to travel through reflective surfaces so hes only appearing to them through the mirror.
Happens in the Supernatural episode "The French Mistake", where a depowered angel hides in the backseat of Misha Collins' car. He himself lampshades it.
Misha Collins: (Typing into his phone) Ever. Get. The. Feeling. That. There's. Someone. In. The. Back. Seat? Frowny-face.
It occurs in the series pilot as well; one of the victims of the Monster of the Week agrees to take her home, but when he reaches the house she vanishes. As he's driving away he checks the rear-view mirror and sees her sitting in the back seat. Cue Gory Discretion Shot.
The good guys that can teleport tend to do this too. Only with less gore and more friendly scare.
In the CSI: Miami episode "Special Delivery", the Victim of the Week - a delivery driver - is garrotted from the back of his van as he gets back into the driver's seat.
In the New Tricks episode "Only The Brave" a gang member tries this on Sandra, threatening her with a gun. This is a mistake as Sandra breaks his nose and knocks him out.
On Walker, Texas Ranger, Alex (of course) is kidnapped by one of the Villain of Week's henchmen, who has been lurking in the backseat of her SUV. One would think that as an ADA, the girlfriend of a cop, and someone who's been kidnapped or assaulted numerous times, she'd be more vigilante about her personal safety.
Midsomer Murders: The first two victims in "The House in the Woods" are garrotted by a killer hiding in the backseat of their car.
Eliot: Don't talk. I know it's your first instinct to talk, but don't. Your best course of action is to nod.
Eliot: Nod. (Doctor nods) Good. I'm gonna need a couple things from you. I need your clothes, and I need your little invite to this party. Now this can go two ways; you can give them to me, and I can stuff you in the trunk of this car, which, by the way, looks pretty comfortable. Not a bad night. Or you can not give them to me... (Eliots face hardens) and I can do exactly what you'd expect a crazy guy in your back seat to do to you.
Castle: In "Significant Others", the Victim of the Week is stabbed to death with an icepick by a killer hiding in the back of her car.
Drop the Dead Donkey. Played for Laughs when Globelink News decide to make a crimewatch program. Gus Hedges assures the police liaison officer that it's not going to increase the public's fear of crime for cheap ratings. Cue the title sequence showing a couple moving fearfully through a darkened street, while an ominous voiceover accompanied by creepy music tells how crime is lurking everywhere, waiting to strike... The music stops as the couple make it to their car, lock the doors and sigh with relief, only for a blood-stained man wielding a huge knife to rise up from the backseat.
Death Troopers features quite an interesting one near the end of the book. Late in the novel, the "team" of survivors, Trig, Han, Chewie, and an unnamed Imperial soldier are flying back to civilization in a small Imperial ship. Trouble is, the forgot to make a headcount. A nearby space zombie leaps out from behind, takes a good chunk out of the nameless imperial man, only to be shot by Cody, who apparentely took a back-er seat than the zombie.
The Surgeon. Dr. Catherine Cordell gets into her car, intending to return to the hospital to tend to a patient. But when she calls the hospital from her car phone to verify some information, she's told that a previous call originated from that very same phone. Her attacker lunges at her from the backseat...
In John Dies at the End, the protagonist is driving in the middle of the night with a lot on his mind, and experiences this trope. Fortunately, the guy in the backseat just wants to talk. Unfortunately, the guy brought along something to motivate the protagonist into speaking more freely, and it's thirsty for blood.
In Stephen King's novel Gerald's Game, Jessie finally escapes the (almost) human version of Death and her Cuffed-to-the-bed predicament. She runs outside, jumps in her car, and gets a few miles down the road before tiredly glancing into her rearview mirror and gets an eyeful of the guy she just narrowly avoided. Whoops!
Played with in Bad Monkeys. An attendant at a gas station is trying very hard to get Jane to leave her car and come into the gas station. She recognises the urban legend-type setup and says, "There's a guy with an ax hiding behind the driver's seat, isn't there. Don't worry, he's not going to hurt me."
Discworld: In The Fifth Elephant, a very clever werewolf pulls off a low-tech variant, hiding under a tarp in a rowboat to ambush someone as they came aboard.
Jack Fleming of The Vampire Files has resorted to a heroic version of this to take down gangsters. Justified by his being able to enter locked cars by vanishing, and not showing up in rear-view mirrors even if he goes solid.
This is Dexter's M.O. in the books. Plus some fishing wire to the throat. Ouch...
Another good guy version happens in the Burke novels. Burke removes the back seat of his Plymouth and puts in a pile of dirty blankets, saying he uses the back to carry stuff. Actually the Prof (who's very short) is hiding under the blankets. When the man in the passenger seat pulls a gun, he suddenly finds cold steel pressing against the back of his neck.
A Suspense episode titled "Backseat Driver" stars Jim and Marian Jordan (aka Fibber McGee and Molly) as a married couple driving home from the movies who discover that an escaped killer has been hiding out in the back of their car.
...and the driver behind was only flashing his lights/crashing into the back of her car to try to warn the woman about THE KILLER IN HER BACKSEAT!
Played straight in one ending of the Super Nintendo horror game Clock Tower. The protagonist flees the house of death in a stolen car, and just as she thinks she's gotten away from it and the scissors-wielding murderer... cue scissors rising up◊, scream, and Fade to Black.
In some of the various endings of Dead Rising the pilot who comes to pick you up at the end of the 72 hours is attacked by a zombie hiding in his helicopter.
In Dead Space, at the end of the game, when Issac successfully scrambles to the shuttle after defeating the (surprisingly easy) Hive Mind and is seemingly safe, he is surprised by Nicole's Necromporphed corpse lunging at him from behind the cockpit as the screen cuts to black.
Resident Evil 2 uses this in the introductory cutscene. Claire and Leon pile into an abandoned police cruiser and start driving for the station. A zombie eventually lunges out of the back after Claire finds a gun in the glove compartment. The three swerve into a wall, causing the unbuckled zombie to fly through the windshield (or rear window if you put in Leon's disk).
In Army Of Two: The 40th Day, one cutscene involves a man robbing a store, running to a car, and preparing to make his getaway...only to realize that there is a tiger in the back seat. It ends about as well for the robber as you would expect.
In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, T-Bone Mendez, who (correctly) suspects that CJ is a double agent, pulls one of these to try and get him to admit it. He hides in the back seat of the car, then gets CJ in a chokehold from behind and puts a gun at his temple. CJ doesn't spill the beans and after a bit Mendez is called off by Mike Toreno.
This is how Michael and Franklin meet in Grand Theft Auto V. Franklin has been sent to repossess Michael's son's SUV and manages to get it out of the garage successfully. On the way back to the dealership, Michael jumps out of the back seat and takes charge of the situation.
In one issue of Penny Arcade, Tycho goes to Game Stop to buy a copy of Street Fighter IV on its release date, only to find out that they only have one copy, a used one. Tycho immediately questions how this happened. The next two panels are from earlier in that day; Gabe picked up a copy, only to find the store manager, Frank, was in the back seat of his car, and...coerced Gabe into selling it back for store credit.
A variation came in The Simpsons, with Bart sprinting from his home to the school bus to escape a killer dog and convincing himself that he's safe when he gets to his seat, only to be chased right back out by the dog in the seat behind him.
In another episode an escaped convict tries this on Marge, but waits on the backseat of the wrong car.
Another episode invokes the above urban myth with Otto telling Lisa a story about a someone doing this. He ends up terrifying her into screaming at the top of her lungs when he tells her that he was the maniac.
In yet another, some sleazy executives make a getaway from Homers' farm, where he grows addictive tomatoes laced with nicotine, in a helicopter, soon after the farm is devastated by crazed farm animals addicted to the product. One of these, a pig, is hiding in the back seat.
Despite the probability of this actually happening even if you take reasonable precautions being somewhat lower than that of winning the lottery while being struck by lightning, Volvo has introduced a car with a heartbeat sensor that will let you know if a murderer is hiding in the backseat.
This does happen in real life, although not as often as true crime shows make it appear.
Being "taken for a ride" was a common method of execution by The Mafia. This entailed being driven to an out-of-the-way location and then killed by a hitman sitting in the seat behind the victim.
Also a precaution included in every female defense guide ever. If you're walking to your car and it's dark, check the damn back seat first.
One story in a kid's magazine was written by a girl who got in a car with her mother to head to school, only to have a cat jump out. They had left the window open, and newborn kittens were in the trunk.