What is it about those gnarly branches, those piles of fallen leaves crackling lightly in the breeze, the miles of foliage that seem to conceal a world of foreboding secrets beneath their limbs?
Indeed, there’s something about the woods that really ensnares the horror-loving masses. With their ethereal sounds and unpredictable landscapes, forests are often featured as a setting for some of the horror genre’s most popular flicks, from the classic “Friday the 13th” franchise of the 1980s to Netflix’s “The Ritual” just a couple years ago. If you’re looking for an excuse to never go camping again, look no further than these 10 films.
Friday the 13th (1980)
What better place to set up camp than a forest with a history of homicide? This stomach-churning slasher from 1980 amassed a huge fanbase, effectively making Jason Voorhees one of the most iconic horror characters in the genre’s history. The subsequent franchise served only to prove that viewers just can’t stop scaring the bejeezus out of themselves.
The Evil Dead (1981)
In the first of Sam Raimi’s groundbreaking trilogy, “The Evil Dead” proves that not only should you never sleep in the woods, but you shouldn’t read old books there, either. The classic supernatural film, originally released in 1981 and remade in 2013, saw five college friends (why is it always college friends?) finding an old book and inadvertently unleashing a world of evil upon reading it out loud. Unspeakable bloodletting ensues.
Sometimes, the forest isn’t the source of the evil; it’s the people inside of it. In Rob Reiner’s movie adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “Misery,” an author is held captive by an obsessed fan who takes him to her home in the woods and forces him to write stories for her. When she discovers he has tried to escape, she breaks his ankles with a sledgehammer, uttering the now-famous phrase, “It’s for the best.”
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
As the movie that’s widely considered a pioneer in the “found footage” trend, “The Blair Witch Project” put the woods squarely in the role of antagonist. With this technique, the viewer is meant to feel each scene in a more visceral way than has ever been filmed before, from the creepy unexplained cracklings of leaves outside the characters' tent at night to the complete middle-of-nowhere-ness the viewer feels watching the characters try to escape but just keep circling back. All told, “Blair Witch” left you shook, before we knew what “shook” meant.
Cabin Fever (2002)
The condition that embodies this film’s title is supposed to make you feel restless, but it’s not supposed to kill you … or is it? In the horror-comedy “Cabin Fever,” released by Eli Roth in 2002 and pointlessly remade in 2016, a group of college grads contract a flesh-eating virus while camping. What follows is perhaps summed up best by Toronto Star film critic Peter Howell: “You've got to love a horror movie that wears its bloody influences so happily on its sleeve, and then proceeds to roll it up and start swinging the axe in a different direction.”
The Strangers (2008)
Isolation rules the day in “The Strangers,” the 2008 slasher that follows a young couple whose stay at a vacation home is disrupted by three masked criminals. From the very first scene of the film, the home becomes more and more sparse as seen from outside the car window, signifying just how helpless the victims will be. Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times noted the film’s ability to "smartly maintain its commitment to tingling creepiness over bludgeoning horror."[
Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Sometimes, the best horror movies are the ones that poke fun not only at themselves, but at the genre they represent. In the case of “Cabin in the Woods,” first-time director Drew Goddard expertly balanced the unexpected frights of the woodland with the predictable pitfalls of using this setting so frequently. “One of my things about the horror genre in particular is there is no better genre for social commentary without seeming too pretentious,” Goddard told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “There's something about having zombies in your movie that makes everything OK.”
When children are found after a long disappearance, it’s supposed to be a happy, joyful occasion … right? In “Mama,” sisters Lilly and Victoria vanish in the woods after the death of their parents. Five years later, the girls are found alive in a decaying cabin, and their aunt and uncle welcome them into their home. What isn’t welcome, however, is the mysterious force that seems to have followed them from their life in the woods, the unknown entity they still call “Mama.” Do they want to know who Mama is? Is she even real? Can they send her back from whence she came? It seems only the forest knows.
The Witch (2015)
Set in 17th-century New England, “The Witch” follows a banished Puritan family as they’re thrown into panic and despair after the disappearance of their newborn son, Samuel. What follows is an anxiety-invoking, progressively palpable series of frights, blame and, of course, murder. The New York Times called it “a finely calibrated shiver of a movie.”
The Ritual (2017)
If you loved “The Blair Witch Project” but didn’t love the nauseating camera work, David Bruckner’s “The Ritual” may be the adventure you’re seeking. Shot in the woods in Sweden, the psychological horror film follows four young men who reunite for a hike through the Scandinavian wilderness after the sudden, violent death of their friend. They soon realize this is no friendly reunion, as they encounter a malevolent deity that forces them to face the darkness inside themselves.