If you were asked: what are the best places to set a horror film, you’d probably offer one of two answers: a haunted house or the threatening expanse of the woods at night. Here we take a look at the latter…
The woods might be a cliched location for a horror film now. But it’s a cliche because it’s a place that’s been used so effectively countless times by filmmakers seeking to scare their audiences. In fact, as this top 10 reveals, there have been some bonafide classics to take place in the woods.
10. Cabin Fever (Roth, 2002)
In Eli Roth’s directorial debut, four friends head out to an isolated cabin in the woods for one last carefree excursion after college. They eventually all come in contact with a deadly flesh-eating virus that takes effect almost immediately. Roth has become famous for some intensely gory scenes especially in his Hostel films. But no scene is more cringe-worthy than the shaving scene in the bathtub. It’ll make you wince and cringe and clench. Cabin Fever is a bit of a cautionary tale and it has very little humour to lighten the mood. However it does have an odd and humorous notion that will make you hungry for pancakes.
9. Wolf Creek (McLean, 2005)
Written and directed by Greg McLean, Wolf Creek is The Blair Witch Project of the Australian outback. The film follows three backpackers who find themselves held captive and subsequently hunted by a serial killer in the woods. The film has been marketed as being “based on true events”. In fact, the release of this film was delayed while the real life case was in court. Lots of films claim their stories are based on real life events, this one actually is. If you read about the case involving three backpackers in the Aussie wilderness in 2001, you will read horrifying details that are basically shot for shot retold in this movie. The killer’s name is Bradley John Murdoch. Wolf Creek takes full advantage of the woods and creates an atmosphere of dread and despair.
8. A Bay Of Blood (Bava, 1971)
Mario Bava’s 1971 “slasher film” takes place in some beautiful and picturesque Italian wooded area. We meet a young couple vying for ownership of a property on a remote bay after an heiress is mysteriously killed at her estate. The couple arrive on the property in the midst of a bloodbath in which just about anyone coming in contact with the area is dying in mysterious ways. A Bay of Blood (sometimes titled Twitch of the Death Nerve) predates all of the Hollywood slasher films to come out later in the same decade and into the 80s. The film is a terrific mystery mixed with some fantastic gore highlighted by Tom Savini-esque makeup. While a lot of this takes place indoors, the property is ominously surrounded by the woods and this adds to the atmosphere and the tension.
7. I Spit On Your Grave (Monroe, 2010)
I Spit on Your Grave is a remake of the infamous 1978 film of the same name (or as it was originally titled Day of the Woman). The original became a cult classic for its brutality and debatable sense of morality. Of course by the time the 2010 remake came around this type of film was being released by the dozen every month and audiences were pretty numb to the whole concept of revenge/torture by then. So while it doesn’t have the shock element the original had going for it, this time around it’s a much better film and this is what we as an audience are being upgraded to.
Sara Butler is terrific in the lead role as a young writer who goes to a (what else?) secluded cabin deep in the woods. She is then raped and killed (or so the villains think) and the horrible men in this scenario are free to go on with their miserable lives. But of course, Jennifer is not dead and she exacts her brand of comeuppance. The woods play a vital and important role in this film as she uses it to her advantage to stalk, hunt, terrorise and ultimately kill her abusers.
6. Evil Dead (Raimi, 1981)
Sam Raimi’s classic film about a cabin in the woods that contains an ancient book where if you utter the words written inside, you unleash the Evil Dead is art comedy, part horror. There are some truly gruesome scenes and one incredibly controversial and shocking one involving a tree. Raimi managed to secure $50,000 (Halloween was made for $350,000 and Friday the 13th for $500,000) to make this film and he basically used his friends in the starring roles. But in spite of the paltry budget and the lack of any real acting or directing experience, The Evil Dead is iconic. The fact it has often been parodied and imitated is further indication of its success.
5. Eden Lake (Watkins, 2008)
Not going to lie, Eden Lake disturbed me for weeks after I saw it. There is some raw and incredibly cruel violence in this movie and it does a good job of making you want the bad guys to meet a grisly and horrible death. Critics called this British horror film intelligent and well-paced, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t bloody.
A romantic weekend at a remote lake house in the woods quickly turns into a fight for survival. Michael Fassbender (before he was a star) and Kelly Reilly get off on the wrong foot with a gang of local thugs. It becomes a fight for survival and the woods in this one plays a huge role in the movie. There’s a tire scene that takes place in the woods that had me covering my eyes.
4. Last House On The Left (Craven, 1972)
This film is 46 years old and it’s still, without question, the most disturbing film I’ve ever seen. Inspired by the 1960 Swedish film The Virgin Spring, The Last House On The Left was the directorial debut of Wes Craven. The film follows two teenage girls who travel to New York for a concert, and ultimately get held captive by a gang of psychos.
What follows is rather vicious; they rape the girls repeatedly, drive them out to the woods, rape them some more, and then kill them. The woods in this case adds to the feeling of hopelessness. The girls have no chance of escape and you feel it and know it. There isn’t going to be a happy ending for the two young girls.
3. Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (Zito, 1984)
I could obviously have the original Friday the 13th on here but for my money, The Final Chapter is the best one in the series. Sean Cunningham created a terrific film that became stuff of legend, but director Joseph Zito did it better.
He took all that was right with the first three films and then upped the ante considerably. The two cabins in the woods are right across from one another and the forest in this one plays an ominous role. Characters travel at night in the dark, alone, through the woods, down to the lake or they camp out in hopes of finding and killing Jason. The Final Chapter uses the woods better than any of the other films in the series and this adds to the ambience and the horror.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Hooper, 1974)It has been called “sick”, “perverse”, “grisly”, and “the movie that redefined horror.” It bewildered audiences worldwide and set a new standard in movie terror forever. In 1974, director Tobe Hooper unleashed this visionary tale about a group of five young friends who face a nightmare of anguish at the hands of a depraved Texas clan.
Today it remains unsurpassed as a landmark of outlaw filmmaking and unmatched in its impact as perhaps the most frightening motion picture ever made. Part of what makes this such a tough film to sit through is that it is raw and it is outside of the Hollywood machine. It’s guerrilla filmmaking at its finest.
While a lot of this takes place at the Sawyer farm, it’s also surrounded by a thick and heavy wooded area and the first time we see and hear the chainsaw is when our heroine and her brother are stuck deep in those woods. It’s one of the most horrifying and visceral introductions to a now iconic piece of horror movie history.
1. The Blair Witch Project (Sánchez/Myrick, 1999)
Although, it has been parodied mercilessly over the years, we shouldn’t forget that upon the initial release of The Blair Witch Project, it was an utterly creepy little journey. The found footage horror film follows three student filmmakers (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams) who disappeared while hiking in Burkittsville, Maryland while filming a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch.
About 90% of the film takes place in the woods. Creepy and unexplainable things happen. Our three filmmakers get lost in the woods. Their food supply is running low and at night they hear babies crying and twigs snapping near their tent. Then one of them goes missing. It’s a film that makes you feel the desperation and frustration the three of them feel. As one of the characters says, “This is America, you can’t get lost in the woods” and yet they do. It’s a draining and exhausting film experience.
Other films that could have made the list: Sleepaway Camp, Tucker and Dale vs Evil, The Burning, Wrong Turn.
Written & Compiled by Dan Grant
Your turn? What are your fave horror films set in the woods?