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.
As the director of the 2017 adaptation of IT and the hotly anticipated sequel, IT: Chapter Two, Andy Muschietti sure knows how to stir up some spooky scares—and he's been at it for years. His 2010 film Mama is proof positive of Muschietti's talent for terror, and with Guillermo del Toro at his side, this movie is definitely worth a watch. Mama opens with a deranged husband who killed all of his business partners, employees, and his wife after losing all of his money due to the stock market crash of 2008. When he takes his two daughters to an abandoned cabin in the woods to kill them, a supernatural force protects the girls and kills the father instead.
Five years later, they girls are found by a rescue party, but they're completely feral. When they're observed by psychiatrists, the siblings repeatedly bring up their caretaker whom they call “mama.” However, there was no one with the girls when they were discovered. Consequently, many assume that Mama isn’t real. But when the sisters are sent to live with their father’s identical twin brother Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel, it soon becomes clear that Mama is very much real, and she wants her children back.
What Keeps You Alive
This 2018 Canadian horror movie centers on Jackie and Jules, a lesbian couple celebrating their first wedding anniversary in a cabin. When Jackie’s childhood friend, Sarah, visits the couple and calls Jackie “Megan,” Jules becomes suspicious. Jackie explains that she changed her name, but Jules learns from Sarah and her husband Daniel that Sarah and Jackie had a friend named Jenny who accidentally drowned in a lake when they were kids. When Jules approaches Jackie with this information, Jackie tearfully explains that she never talked about it because she felt like it was her fault. But is she telling the truth?
This psychological thriller focuses on two friends, Beth and Anna, who take a trip to Big Sur in California. Both friends are actresses with differing levels of success; Beth has appeared in films and commercials, while Anna is stuck doing student films for free. As Beth continues to get attention from strangers, Anna becomes increasingly jealous of Beth. Anna was always known for having a bit of a short-fuse, but she would never turn on her best friend—right?
This slasher film directed by Bryan Bertino will definitely have viewers double-locking their doors for days. When James Hoyt and Kristen McKay stay in James’ childhood summer home in the woods after returning from a wedding, all hell breaks loose. James briefly leaves the home to make a quick trip to pick up cigarettes, leaving Kristen in the house. But she's not alone. Strangers in masks prowl the property and soon descend upon Kristen. Scared to death, Kristen frantically runs around the home to try and get in touch with James, only to discover the landline has been cut and her cellphone is missing. Kristen manages to stay safe until James returns—but that’s when the “fun” for the masked murderers really begins.
Bryan Bertino really loves his horror movies, and it really shows with The Monster. The film focuses on the relationship between an abusive and alcoholic mother, Kathy, and her daughter Lizzy as they're forced to work together to stop a supernatural creature. Kathy accidentally hits a wolf on the road while driving Lizzy to her father’s house; Lizzy calls a tow truck and an ambulance to help her injured mother. When both services arrive, the workers are picked off one by one by some sort of creature. Alone in the woods with a monster on the loose, Kathy and Lizzy must figure out a way to survive.
This popular horror movie from 2015 is set in the gloomy woods of 1630s New England. A family is exiled from a Puritan settlement and forced to forge a new life in the forest. Soon after settling, they begin to experience strange occurrences. The family’s newborn child Samuel, disappears one day without any warning. Could a witch be to blame? As eerie events continue to plague their farmhouse, members of the family turn on one other as they try to uncover who or what is really out there in the gloom.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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