Some of the best summer camp excursions include a scary story shared around the campfire: the monster prowling the woods, the ax-wielding serial killer on the far end of the lake, the hook-handed lunatic sneaking up behind you in the shadows. And while most of us might not be returning to camp quite yet this summer, we can still queue up and enjoy a twisted summer camp horror movie to get the blood pumping.
From boy scouts stalked by a feral child to spring breakers tormented at a remote cabin, these summer camp horror movies and cabin-in-the-woods slashers will give you pause the next time you plan a woodsy getaway. BYO marshmallows…and a first aid kit.
Jonas Govaerts’ directorial debut premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014. Partially funded through an IndieGoGo campaign, this Belgian horror movie’s low budget doesn’t take away from its impressive fear factor. The story follows a troop of boy scouts who find themselves in terrifying danger at the hands of lunatics and feral children. If you have children, and were thinking of sending them on a camping trip at any point in their young lifetimes, you may reconsider after watching this.
Based on Adam Nevill’s 2011 horror novel of the same name, The Ritual centers on a group of college friends who stumble upon a robbery that results in one of them being killed. Months later, the survivors set out on a hiking trip in Sweden to honor their dead friend, but a shortcut through the forest brings them into more unexpected trouble. Occult symbols on trees, a wooden torso with antlers for hands discovered in an abandoned cabin…these guys can’t catch a break.
The Cabin In the Woods
Produced by Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, this fantastically fun and surprisingly clever movie centers on a group of friends (Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, and Jesse Williams) who set out for weekend getaway in a cabin in the woods. There, they find themselves prey to unimaginable predators. To say any more would rob you of the film’s many surprises, but just know that you’re in for one of the best movie endings ever, as well as an appearance from an “out of this world” big name actress.
Depending on when you were born, you may remember spotting the nightmare-inducing cover of this campy 80s slasher at your local video store—and if not, you can ask your older sibling what a VHS tape looks like. Loosely based on the Cropsey urban legend of New York, Maniac follows a group of summer camp counselors and kiddos who tempt fate by calling out the name of a legendary killer known as Madman Marz. Needless to say, the madman awakens, and begins picking off the doomed youths one by one.
Released in 1981, The Burning also drew inspiration from New York's Cropsey legend; in fact, the horror flick's antagonist is an unhinged killer named Cropsy. Cropsy was once a summer camp groundskeeper. But when a summer camp prank turns deadly, Cropsy is set on fire and left permanently disfigured. Years later, he emerges from a hospital in search of revenge. His target? The doomed campers at Camp Stonewater. The summer horror flick boasts early performances from Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander, and Fisher Stevens, and includes gory FX work by horror legend Tom Savini. Unfortunately, The Burning also marks the first steps in the career of convicted sex offender and complete dirtbag, Harvey Weinstein.
Co-written and directed by Eli Roth, Cabin Fever is absolutely disgusting in the best possible way. The 2002 horror film revolves around a group of college friends who head to a remote cabin for spring break, where they come in contact with a flesh-eating disease that eats away at an unlucky few within their circle. The visuals here will linger, trust us on that.
Released in 1983, which was arguably the heyday of camp-centric slasher films, Sleepaway Camp is the first in a long-running franchise. Set at a, you guessed it, summer camp, viewers are introduced to a young girl with a tragic past whose aunt sends her to camp to get her out of her hair for the summer. Angela’s camp experience is off to a rocky start, and she doesn’t make friends easily. But when people at the camp start turning up dead, her innocence and very identity are called into question. This is another one with a shocking ending that you won’t want to miss.
The Blair Witch Project
One of the first horror movies to be marketed as “found footage,” The Blair Witch Project was shot on a relatively low budget and became a sleeper hit when it was released in 1999. The handheld camera quality of the film and the steady buildup of tension as the young cast sets off into the woods in search of the mythical “Blair Witch” creates an intense sense of realism that actually caused people to get physically ill in theaters. If that’s not a good review, then what is?
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
As far as lost-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-and-facing-down-a-psycho-killer-or-three horror movies go, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is, hands down, the best of the best. Released in 1974, the story for the film is loosely based on the misadventures of real-life killer and, shall we say, crafting enthusiast Ed Gein. It leads off with a group of friends picking up a deranged hitchhiker. Things only get less pleasant from there as the gang becomes acquainted with the light-on-his-feet, chainsaw-wielding fiend known as Leatherface.
The title says it all! This 2015 horror flick merges the isolated summer camp setting with zombie outbreak horror. A crew of counselors arrives at a summer camp in Spain—only to discover that a rage-inducing virus is spreading throughout the camp. All those infected transform into a homicidal maniac and what was once a summer oasis is now a nightmarish fight for survival.
Addams Family Values
Sometimes it’s nice to take a reprieve from the unyielding terror of summer camp horror movies and enjoy some nostalgic spooks. Addams Family Values is a classic for many reasons, one of the main ones being Christina Ricci’s return to her role as goth heroine Wednesday Addams. In this macabre sequel to 1991’s The Addams Family, Wednesday reluctantly attends summer camp, and is thrust into the role of Pocahontas for the camp’s big Thanksgiving play. In true Addams style, she gives her fellow campers and counselors a fiery (hint hint) performance they won’t soon forget.
Also known as Bloody Pom Poms, this cheesy summer slasher can be found in the so-bad-it's-good pile of 80s horror. A killer stalks the grounds of Camp Hurrah, a cheerleading summer camp where cheerleaders prepare for the all-state finals. The film stars Betsy Russell, who would go on to portray Jill Tuck in the Saw franchise. Weirdly, the flick also stars 70s pop idol Leif Garrett.
Eliza Dushku, who is perhaps best known as Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, stars in this 2003 slasher about the worst possible wrong turn a person could take. Along with a few friends, Jessie (Dushku) is on a camping trip that runs parallel to other nearby misfortune. When Jessie and her friends come in contact with a family of flesh-eating fiends, they try to put their heads together and come up with an escape plan. However, the cannibals lower their numbers, and their odds of surviving, pretty quick.
Enjoy a bit of song-and-dance to your horror? Then this genre-bending horror musical is for you! Starry-eyed youths arrive at an isolated performing arts camp, each vying for a starring role in the summer showcase of The Haunting of the Opera. But as opening night draws near, it becomes clear that a masked killer is on the prowl, picking off the performers one by one.
Jenn Wexler’s 2018 directorial debut has the makings of a modern cult classic. The movie stars Chloe Levine (The OA, The Transfiguration) as a rebellious punk rocker who, along with her rowdy group of friends, escapes a police raid at a punk show, and gets caught up in a murder during the chaos. At a loss for what to do, the friends hide out in a cabin in the woods—which has historically never been a wise choice for a film character.
Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, Willow Creek puts its own very special twist on the “found footage” horror genre. A young couple named Jim (Bryce Johnson) and Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) head out to Six Rivers National Forest in Northern California. Kelly is primarily interested in a standard lover’s retreat, but Jim is dead-set on capturing firsthand video proof of the existence of Bigfoot. Targeting the exact location of the infamous Patterson–Gimlin film, which was shot in 1967 and remains the most convincing Bigfoot footage in existence, the pair comes face-to-face with their worst nightmares.
The Evil Dead
This 1981 classic, written and directed by the legendary Sam Raimi, is the perfect summer horror viewing experience. The film follows a group of college friends whose plans to vacation at a cabin in the woods unravels into demonic terror of the highest caliber. Any horror fan worth his or her salt lists this one at the top of their “must-see” lists, and Stephen King himself has sung the film’s praises for years.
Friday the 13th
No list of this sort would be complete without including Friday the 13th. Released in 1980, this flick was produced and directed by Sean S. Cunningham, written by Victor Miller, and is on a short list of horror classics that many fans make a point to watch at least once a year. The film, which introduces mamma Pamela Voorhees and everyone’s favorite hockey fan, Jason Voorhees, launched a whole franchise of sequels and spin-off content, but there’s no beating the original.
Featured image from "Sleepaway Camp" Blu-ray DVD via United Film Distribution Company