Our distant ancestors had good reason to be frightened of the deep, dark woods. They were full of things that wanted to eat us. Maybe that’s why we still get frightened, sitting in a comfy chair in a nice warm movie theater watching some unlucky hikers tramp toward their doom. If you’re trying to reconnect with your distant forefathers, try watching one of these horror movies set in the woods. You won’t be heading into the Great Outdoors again anytime soon.
1. The Ritual
This buzzy British horror from 2017—based on Adam Nevill's excellent horror novel The Ritual—scared binge-watchers the world over when it hit Netflix in February 2018. Four college mates reunite for a trek into the Swedish wilderness. They hope to strengthen their bonds and work through a recent tragedy suffered by the group. Instead, the hikers encounter an ancient and sinister presence that lurks in the woods—and it soon begins stalking them. Pro tip: Never take what looks like a shortcut.
2. The Hallow
Isolated old house? Check. Ancient forces of evil? Check. Zombie fungus? OK, maybe that’s not usually on the list, but it is one of the horrors awaiting Adam Hitchens and his family when he suddenly uproots the group and moves them to an old Irish millhouse far off the beaten path. Director Corin Hardy gets major points for the artistry of his forest monsters.
3. The Evil Dead
This 1979 cult classic from Director Sam Raimi is as campy as they come. A group of college friends choose the wrong cabin in the woods for their spring break. This one holds the Sumerian Book of the Dead, so the luckless teens spend their break battling evil spirits and bloodthirsty demons.
There’s nothing supernatural in this one: just some psychotic hillbillies. Four pampered, middle-aged men decide to escape the city and test their mettle against the Appalachian wilderness. Shockingly, they encounter far more hardship than they expected. The famous ‘Squeal like a pig!’ scene is terrifying, but the dueling banjos are a delight.
5. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
This horror-comedy turns the usual formula on its head. Best friends Tucker and Dale rent a dilapidated cabin for a quiet vacation. Unfortunately, a bunch of preppy dimwits mistake them for vicious hillbilly killers. An inadvertent gore-fest ensues.
From Danish director Lars von Trier, this experimental flick is for the art-house horror crowd. After their infant son falls from a window to his death, two grieving parents retreat to their isolated cabin in the woods. But instead of finding peace, they unleash horror—mostly on each other.
7. The Blair Witch Project
How could it not make the list? This no budget supernatural horror flick terrified moviegoers in the late 1990s and left more than a few with a queasy stomach thanks to its disorienting handheld camera approach. A trio of film students venture into the woods in search of a supernatural force known as the Blair Witch. Turns out, this urban legend is all too real.The Blair Witch Project cleaned house upon its release, earning around $250 million worldwide and popularizing the found footage horror subgenre.
8. The Cabin in the Woods
A group of college students set out for a weekend getaway at an isolated cabin, each one representing a classic horror movie character stereotype—the jock dude, his alluring girlfriend, the bookish virgin, the stoner buddy. The cabin is creepy, and the woods are foreboding. Seems like a run-of-the-mill horror flick, right? Wrong. So, so wrong. This is a horror movie, but it’s like nothing you've seen before. Prepare to have your mind blown.
9. High Tension
They had to tone down some of the graphic violence in the American version of this French slasher flick in order to get an R rating. But there is still no shortage of bloody mayhem, starting with straight razors and escalating to power saws. The countryside is French this time, but the rest of the plot appears familiar: two young women, isolated house, homicidal madman. Or so it seems...
10. Cabin Fever
Five recent college graduates celebrate by—you guessed it—renting an isolated cabin in the woods for some drinking and casual sex. But the partying has barely begun when they’re plagued by a horrible flesh-eating virus. And, as if that weren’t enough, they also have to deal with murderous locals.
11. Eden Lake
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 and Kelly Reilly get off on the wrong foot with a gang of local thugs. This time, you’ll be cheering when the teens meet their grisly ends.
12. Friday the 13th
The classic from 1980 spawned an entire franchise and made hockey masks a favorite Halloween costume. Horny teens plan to party at a cursed summer camp before the kids arrive. But a murderous stalker has other ideas.
Give the filmmakers credit for finding a new villain for the genre. This time the murderous stalker is a giant bear, determined to ruin a young couple’s romantic camping trip in the woods. Based on a true story, or so they say.
Featured still from "Antichrist" via IFC Films