Woodlands are a breeding ground for beauty and nature that we can stroll through calmly and bask in the sheer tranquillity of getting away from the hustle and bustle of daily life…unless you are in a horror film. If that is the case, the woods are a dark and nasty place, with knotted trees, elusive noises, constantly shifting shadows and, generally, a big nasty git somewhere waiting to jump out and grab you – and you thought National Trust rules were harsh. So as Adam Wingard’s secretive sequel Blair Witch (in cinemas now) looks to drag us back into the world of snotty campers, unseen evil and sinisterly arranged twigs, Roobla takes a look at 15 horror films that give woods a bad name…
Friday The 13th Series (1980-now)
All the films (barring Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday and Jason X) in the now iconic slasher series Friday The 13th could be listed here, so lets combine them. As all of them turn the woods surrounding the infamous Camp Crystal Lake into hockey mask wearing (after Part III that is), machete swinging, unstoppable killer Jason Voorhees’ playground. Well, aside from the first film obviously, whereby Jason’s nifty sweater-wearing mum Pamela (Betsy Palmer) is the one doing the butchering (oh come on, that’s hardly a spoiler after all these years!). After a run of enjoyable films (and some not so great entries) this series continues to hack n’ slash promiscuous young people to bits, as Jason roams his woods wanting to be left alone. It’s not likely to happen though, as Breck Eisner (The Crazies) is rumoured to be helming another reboot, after the (actually rather effective) 2009 remake/reboot by Marcus Nispel.
The Witch (2015)
Robert Eggers’ hit independent Horror The Witch this year has become one of the year’s most hair-raising offerings, as dark forces that are housed in nearby woodlands confront a banished 17th Century New England family. Eggers’ old school, methodical approach to the genre makes for a lingeringly under the skin experience that feels purely malevolent and as though you are watching it sat with Lucifer himself. The woods are turned into a smokescreen for dark practices that we feel uncomfortable about meeting and witnessing. So on your next ramble, if you see a door in a hill under a tree, just turn around and get the hell outta there!
The Evil Dead (1981)
Aside from the cult classic Army of Darkness, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films and the Rami produced splatterfest 2013 remake/reboot, turn the woods into a literal hell on earth, though there is n doubt that, while many call Evil Dead II the better film, Raimi’s controversial vine wrapped low budget video nasty Horror thrill ride The Evil Dead is the film that made both Rami his name, not to mention crafted a soon to be Horror icon in Ash (Bruce Campbell), who is still sawing up evil to this day in successful TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead. From the infamous tree rape scene to the high speed camerawork cutting through the branches and leaf covered floors to attack Ash and his friends in the cabin, The Evil Dead made the wood setting a breeding ground for all unspoken evil and once awoken, this natural setting became a living – or undead if you prefer – nightmare.
Cabin in The Woods (2012)
In 2012 Drew Goddard made his directorial debut with this subversive Horror/Comedy, which gleefully picked apart the tropes of all those “cabin in a wood” Horror flicks and tales. Relying on many fantastically written smarts and twisty storytelling with some unexpected directions, this film showed how a woodland has become a token Horror setting and as the characters faced a series of unexpected dangers, this movie affectionately played up to the genre’s clichés while effectively having a knowing laugh at them.
Wrong Turn (2003)
We’ve all taken a wrong turn and ended up somewhere indefinable, however in Rob Schmidt’s Horror film, a group of people involved in a road accident find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. True the film is a little bit of a familiar nature dwelling cannibals yarn but has proved an effective film, that has inspired an incredible 5 sequels and did have some thrilling survival games taking place in the mountains and woodlands of West Virginia.
Willow Creek (2013)
When we think of dangerous wood-dwelling creatures, many immediately think of Bigfoot. A creature that allegedly prowls the woods of Willow Creek, California and has been the subject of much debate over the years and has certainly made this setting a hugely popular tourist hot spot. So in 2013 Bobcat Goldthwaite’s Found Footage Horror caper (with lashings of Dark Comedy) saw a couple attempt to make a documentary about the legend of Bigfoot, only to discover some legends are more than just stories and pop culture. Smarter than it appears and delivered with just the right tone, Willow Creek is a fun Bigfoot picture, which may make you rethink camping in woods that supposedly house a dangerous creature, not that this is a matter you should need to think about!
When it comes to the much controversial and polarising filmmaker Lars von Trier, you know that you are going to be challenged and confronted and the experimental directors 2009 Horror film Antichrist is a film made to provoke a response. The story sees a couple (played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg), recently haunted by the death of their child, take some time away at a cabin in the woods, where things slowly become more and more sinister. Featuring genital mutilation, graphic sex scenes and some haunting visions, this setting is a literal manifestation of dark desires and emotions, with the woods seemingly housing the spirits of the past and those lost to evil. Tranquillity dies in a film that once seen Antichrist is never forgotten.
“Tuesday the 17th“ Segment of V/H/S (2012)
Found Footage Horror anthology series V/H/S has, over the course of 3 films, had its share of hits (Gareth Evans’ “Safe Haven” in V/H/S/2) and misses (pretty much all of V/H/S: Viral) but in the very first V/H/S film, Glenn McQuaid’s “Tuesday the 17th“ owes a fair bit to Friday The 13th (as clear by the title), as an entity stalks a group of friends on a camping trip. This woodland set story of the past coming back to haunt (or in this case kill) you is a nightmarish Found Footage offering that shows why the woods and this popular Horror sub-genre are a match made in, well not so much heaven but you get our meaning…
Though arguably more of a Drama/Thriller, the lashings of horror to John Boorman‘s film are unshakable. Aside from the now infamously controversial male rape scene, this tale of friends travelling through the unpredictable backcountry only to be in for the fight of their lives is a landmark cinematic endurance test. The big name cast are put through their paces, with the all consuming natural environment making a perfect backdrop as these friends, led by Burt Reynolds’ Lewis Medlock, face off against some sadistic locals. Deliverance is a film that shakes you, thrills you and – with an early “Duelling Banjos” scene – sets out a dark survivalist narrative from the offset.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Tim Burton’s gorgeously gothic take on Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow takes some fantastical liberties with the text but Johnny Depp’s socially uneasy detective Ichabod Crane and his investigations into ‘The Headless Horseman” whom spooks the village, as he emerges from the dark woods to take the heads of specific villagers, are thrilling to behold. Visually ravishing and every bit as exciting, this take on the classic story, has the gateway to hell literally opening up from the base of a tree and much of the narrative’s mythology expands during the scenes set in the beautifully shot and created woods. Burton was arguably the director this story was made for!
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Blessed with one of the greatest twist endings in Slasher movie history, Robert Hiltzik’s feature is another film that suggests its not all fun and games at woodland summer camps. The film sees a young girl and her cousin head off to summer camp, only for a series of murders to throw the campers into a fight for survival. The film is one of the best received Slasher offerings that not just shocked with its climax but also featured some grisly sequences and stands out as one of the best entries into the massively popular genre that was booming at the time of the film’s release. Note to all readers: Beware summer camp stays.
At the time of release special effects icon Stan Winston’s film Pumpkinhead was not a financial success but over the years has become a source of much cult interest. The film has even inspired 3 sequels, with an upcoming reboot planned. The film was influenced by an Ed Justin poem and saw a tragedy inspire the summoning of a demon, to seek ruthless vengeance on a group of teens. The woodland setting makes for an atmospheric and moody surrounding, for this story to play out in and at times this setting is as much an ominous sinister presence as the title character.
The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)
Back in 1972 a lesser known but successful low budget Horror from The Town That Dreaded Sundown director Charles B. Pearce was released and blended docudrama with Horror long before it became common to create such realistic genre blended offerings. Focusing on an apparent creature (“The Fouke Monster”) that has been seen and has attacked the community of Fouke, Arkansas since the ‘50s, the film sees residents recite their experiences of the creature. Utilising real and staged footage, as well as recreations, this Bigfoot-esque story is an earlier example of a wood prowling monster movie brought to life with realistic tactics. In fact the film is cited as inspiring the approach director Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick took with The Blair Witch Project.
The Hallow (2015)
This year folklore met horrific body horror-like vision with director Corin Hardy’s debut feature film, The Hallows that was set in the woods surrounding a small Irish village. Taking dark mythology and oodles of atmosphere, The Hallow really turned its woodland setting into the film’s defining character, as the creature feature blended with folklore plot panned out. Heck the film was originally titled “The Woods” and this dark, mysterious and almost fairytale like setting was the defining feature of Hardy’s debut film, one actually inspired by The Evil Dead.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
And of course there is the ultimate film that turned a leafy and quiet woodland into something shrouded in death, mystery and unseen wickedness. While not starting the Found Footage genre, The Blair Witch Project sure as hell popularised it, with its simple story of three students setting out to make a documentary about the legend of “The Blair Witch”. At a time when the internet was fast evolving but still in its adolescence, this movie jumped in with a clever (some may say manipulative) marketing campaign, that led to this being one of the most profitable films ever made and one that still is talked about to this day and has, as cliché as sentences like this have become, done for woods what Jaws did for sharks. An abysmal sequel followed in 2000 but as Adam Wingard’s new follow-up hits cinemas, the slate is apparently being wiped clean and this new movie is the official cannon sequel to the original. So after all this tree talk, let us see if this well concealed sequel has more to tell us about these dark and lonely woodlands and their unseen Blair Witch.
Any we missed? Let us know in the comments below.