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Venture Into These Influential Horror Movies Set in the Woods

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The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
” – Robert Frost

There is something inherently terrifying to me about horror films set in the woods. This may seem strange to those who know me since I live in a state that is known for its bountiful forests. Hell, as I look out my window while typing this, I see an endless horizon of treetops the branches poking and prodding the sky.

I’m not sure if it’s the inability to see around oneself without obstruction or if it’s hearing the sound of nature’s animals but rarely seeing them that sets me on edge. What I do know is that forests are exceptional at hiding things from those they don’t wish to see. That inability to know one’s surroundings, as well as what inhabits them, is haunting. What lurks around that thicket? What’s waiting underneath that pile of leaves? What waits in amidst the branches overhead, biding its time before it strikes?

These questions, and more, always linger in my mind whenever I watch a horror film set in a forest. It’s why they are usually so effective at haunting me for days on end. And with David Bruckner’s terrifying looking The Ritual available now on Netflix, I wanted to revisit some films that I believe use the woods to extraordinary effect. Having seen The Ritual, I can give you my personal guarantee that Bruckner effectively uses the setting of a Scandinavian forest to his full advantage, turning what should be a picturesque landscape of tranquility and beauty into a phantasmagoria of haunting visions that make every square inch of foliage appear threatening.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, especially if I missed something!


Dog Soldiers

Neil Marshall’s debut feature-length film not only reinvigorated the werewolf genre, it’s remained an enduring title that receives well-deserved love from the horror community.

Following a group of soldiers on a training mission in the Scottish Highlands who are attacked by a group of werewolves, Dog Soldiers features a fantastic cast including Sean Pertwee and Liam Cunningham. It makes wonderful use of its setting, allowing the creatures to lurk in the trees before striking with deadly force.


Evil Dead

Sam Raimi’s classic cult horror film sends a group of college students to a secluded cabin where a recording of a demonic incantation raises evil forces that possess and pick them off one at a time. Creating a horror film that is remembered for decades after its release is no easy feat but creating a franchise that is beloved through an entire community and is still going to this day? Kudos, ladies and gentlemen. Kudos all around!


Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Perhaps one of the most entertaining horror comedies to ever be released, Tucker & Dale Vs Evil is not just a fantastic film, it’s a magnificent spoof on the “inbred hostile redneck” subgenre, which primarily takes place in the woods. Poking fun at Deliverance, Wrong Turn, The Hills Have Eyes, and the like, the film could never have worked had it not been set in the stereotypical “cabin in the woods”. Many films have tried to capture the same magic and heart that Tucker & Dale possesses but very few have come even remotely close.


The Cabin in the Woods

Coming off one of the greatest spoofs of the “cabin in the wood” trope to one of the most clever satirical commentaries on horror, The Cabin in the Woods was, and still is, a fantastic horror film that faces its tropes, welcomes them with open arms, and then finds ways to make them feel fresh again. Now if only we can hear what’s going on with that potential sequel…


The Witch

The most recent entry on this list, A24’s The Witch was critically lauded and remains one of the most fascinating theatrical experiences I’ve had in a long time. Utilizing brilliant sound design, haunting music, and a forest that loomed over a dysfunctional family like some hungered beast waiting to strike, The Witch has haunted countless viewers while remaining one of the most discussed horror films in the past couple of years. Rightfully so, I might add. It’ll be very interesting to see how The Witch influences horror to come.


Friday the 13th

Can I really talk about influential horror movies that take place in the woods without bringing up the Friday the 13th franchise? Even Jason X, which took place in freaking space, brought it back to Camp Crystal Lake and made use of the trees!

Now, some could argue that a campground isn’t the same as being caught up in the woods or even that it’s different from a standard “cabin in the woods” scenario. To that I say bollocks! They’re miles from help and the forest is oppressively bearing down upon them at pretty much every turn. The killer can be lurking behind any tree, coming at you from any direction… Your campground isn’t safe if it’s surrounded!


The Blair Witch Project

This is it. This may very well be the most influential horror movie to take place in the woods. Obviously one could make the argument that Cannibal Holocaust was the reason that The Blair Witch Project even exists but I believe that Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s film did more for horror in the long run, not just as what many believe to be the foundation for modern day found footage but also because of its brilliant marketing campaign. The impact of The Blair Witch Project is still being felt to this day and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.


The Ritual

The Ritual stars Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, and Sam Troughton. It is based on Adam Nevell’s horror novel of the same name.

Read our interview with composer Ben Lovett as well as cinematographer Andrew Shulkind.

Synopsis:
Reuniting after the tragic death of their best mate, four old friends from university set out to hike through the Scandinavian wilderness. But a wrong turn leads them into the dark and mysterious forests of Norse legend, where an ancient evil still exists and stalks them at every turn.

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Los Angeles Overnight – Do Us a Favor and Watch This Exclusive Clip

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Weird. That’s exactly what this exclusive clip from the indie flick Los Angeles Overnight is, and we’re ready to share every pixel of it with ya! Why? Because we like weird. A lot.

The directorial debut of filmmaker Michael Chrisoulakis will launch a limited national, theatrical release on March 9, followed by a digital release through Freestyle Digital Media on March 20.

Synopsis:
Inspired by the L.A. Modern Noir genre and populated with distinct and dynamic characters, Arielle Brachfeld (Consumption) stars as Priscilla, a struggling actress who inherits a bevy of colorful villains after desperation drives her and her gullible boyfriend, a lovelorn mechanic (Azim Rizk, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk), to steal big from the Los Angeles underworld.

No amount of preparation could ever prepare this actress for a blood-soaked role filled with seedy criminals and “hot loot.” Entirely shot in Los Angeles, the cast is appropriately peppered with titans of the Hollywood scene including Peter Bogdanovich, Sally Kirkland, and recent CineAsia Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Lin Shaye.

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Insidious Composer Joseph Bishara’s Score for The Worthy Being Released Tomorrow

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Tomorrow will see the digital release of the original soundtrack for The Worthy, a post-apocalyptic thriller that was one of the largest Arabic genre film productions in the Middle East. Featuring music by Joseph Bishara (Insidious, The Conjuring), the album will be released via the composer’s label, void recordings. Pre-orders are already open on Bandcamp.

Bishara explains, “Going into this, it was clear that [director] Ali [Mostafa] didn’t want a necessarily Middle Eastern sound though the film is of the region. He described it as taking place in a world after extremism, a relatable and possibly devastating scenario.

The composer adds, “Thematically the film deals with personalities that emerge through orchestrated chaos and how various types handle danger and adversity. There is a clear path for the hero to rise out of the situation, and his musical journey was worked backwards starting with the final scene, then deconstructing into the earlier setup.

The Worthy was directed by Ali F. Mostafa and written by Vikram Weet. It stars Ali Suliman, Maisa Abd Elhadi, Mahmoud Al Atrash, Samer Ismail, and Habib Ghuloom.

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Zena’s Period Blood: The Lure of it All

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It can be difficult finding horror films of quality, so allow me to welcome you to your salvation from frustration. “Zena’s Period Blood” is here to guide you to the horror films that will make you say, “This is a good horror. Point blank. PERIOD.”

“Zena’s Period Blood” focuses on under-appreciated and hidden horror films.


The LureAll right, guys. Sorry that this review will get personal, but this is ultimately my love letter to director Agnieszka Smoczynska for her expert filmmaking. You may come across verbiage that is inappropriate and may get me fired, but I know no other way to write about this film. The Lure is a freaking horror musical with way too much good bait not to be caught by it. See what I did there? Well, expect more of my fangirling because that’s all you will get.

Even the beginning credits, hovering ghostly over an illustrated intro, uncover a glimpse of the enchantment of mermaids in a lagoon crowded with their leftovers, which we witness are human skeletons. At the end of this magnificent, almost museum-like exhibition, you see the hands and kiss of a mermaid luring another human into the water. Here, you understand your uselessness in warning future humans of this alluring peril.

The live action begins at night with three members of a cabaret band singing on a beach. Instantly, you see what dilemmas will occur as soon as two pairs of eyes emerge from under the sea. Silver (Marta Mazurek) appears first, a blonde mermaid with eyes of astonishment and love for the form and voice of the shore-fixed human boy Mietek (Jakub Gierszal). Golden (Michalina Olsanska) emerges second, eyes of animalistic hunger that she uses to lure her victims before feeding. At this point, you could pause the film and deduce the conflict you will endure: Silver wants to be with Boy; Golden wants to eat humans; Boy sees new, hot girl. But trust me… play the movie and never pause it again.

The Lure excels at giving you its own history, anatomy, and peculiarities of a mermaid. It does it in such a stylish way through camera movement, reasonable curiosity, and attractive scores. Even at the moment we discovered that mermaids in human form don’t have vaginas or buttholes, I felt that I was in the room with everyone else with an interested but let’s move on look. All of these delightful oddities happened under splashes of effervescent colors reminiscent of Dario Argento’s 1980 classic Inferno. Smoczynska seamlessly blends the old and the new.

And it’s all horror. I specifically remember when Zygmunt, the nightclub manager, asked the mermaids where they learned to speak Polish. They answered, “The beaches of Bulgaria.” Okay. Here, I would’ve asked, “Well, why aren’t you in Bulgaria anymore? What happened to the person who taught you guys Polish?” But Zygmunt only noticed their sex appeal inflating his cash flow. The mermaids were hot and could sing. I’d probably be in the I’m-totally-winning-and-nothing-can-stop-me mood as well. He already had a profitable band called the Figs n’ Dates. Adding these mermaids to the mix just multiplied the moola.

Matter of fact, the mermaids were such stars that they formed their own band, The Lure. The Lure should be a band in real life. If they were, my dream would change from taking over the universe in a Ric Flair speedo to just being the band’s only background dancer. At that point, just call me The Twerk Sage or Headmistress Twerk, because I’d be the master of the art of twerking. I actually thought about this. Check it out. I’d grow my underarm hair long enough to braid it to the hair from my scalp. Then I would connect the red lipstick from the corners of my lips to the corners of my bloodshot eyes. Yes, you’d be disgusted. But I’d do all this to prove that my twerking is so mesmerizing that you can’t help but stay in the club and stare at me. And guess what? I’m staring back at you—just you, my armpits sweating and all. But I stop only when the music stops. I’d be mind-blowing. I’d have to be. I refuse to be the only one in the band (or the cast) that lacks talent. Hopefully, this is a testament to the great acting, music, and overall production you will witness when you see this movie. Don’t worry. I’m not in it.

The standout performances were often encapsulated in handheld camerawork that triggered intimacy between you and the story, which you wanted when you were first seduced by these characters and this world but ultimately despised with the realization that everyone would suffer in the end. Some things happened so seamlessly in this movie that I didn’t even realize the movie magic I had just witnessed. For example, I actually thought I had viewed the transformation of a human-shaped figure into a mermaid; but after exploring closer, I realize that Smoczynska simply understood my brain and chose to David Blaine the crap out of it. Like, how am I writing her this love letter when I’m already married? See? She’s good.

Another detail that stood out was that the girls passed out when they were away from a body water for too long (e.g., a pool or a bathtub). The only thing I can compare it to is me with a new purse. My husband often finds me in a tactless, unconscious position throughout the world if a new bag hasn’t entered my life in a specific amount of time. As a lesson to everyone, find somebody who knows how to water you properly so you can stay alive. Now, back to the review. Actually, back to marriage. Communication is important. Sometimes I wonder why my husband can’t just read my mind. Perhaps it’s for the same reason I can’t read his. I have better things to do. But it would be great to communicate in some other way than just talking. For example, Golden and Silver communicate using what I gathered was sonar. You will hear it throughout the movie as metallic, oceanic vibrations. How convenient would that be, communicating with my husband in a posh dining restaurant, letting him know that that skank in the window booth needs to stop looking over here before I add more blush to her cheek with my elbow? See why I need the Ric Flair speedo?

Speaking of clothing, I applaud the costume design, led by Katarzyna Lewinska. Although the costumes were straightforward, they were unforgettable and fit expertly in the world. I saw costumes that I called instant wears. Zena’s English Dictionary (which I am making into a real thing) defines “instant wears” as any outfit that an individual sees, screams at, Instagrams immediately with caption #fashiongoals, searches Amazon for, finds (of course), places into shopping cart (of course), and verifies delivery date so that unworthy members of the household know that he or she is expecting a package. Speaking of instant wears, I would wear this movie if it was an outfit. That’s how much I loved it. You’re wearing The Lure. Well, why yes, I am. That sounds spicy.

The Lure left me with opposing emotions of fulfillment and deficiency. On one hand, I had just experienced a great musical with great visuals; on the other, I had been ripped apart by Silver’s final decision, almost solidifying that I could never endure this journey again. I usually keep movies like this on my shelf. This allows me to relive particular scenes mentally without being lured into the entire excursion that leads to the inevitable heartbreak.

Check out The Lure as soon as you can. Yes, it is named after the band in the film. However, there is so much that will lure you in. There is so much that lures characters to each other—the lure of the unknown, love, money, hunger, and so much more. You, too, will ask yourself: What did I just watch? Why did I just watch it? And how have I not seen anything like it before? This is a great horror. Point blank. PERIOD.

Love,

Zena from Zena’s Period Blood


In addition to contributing to Dread Central, Zena Dixon has been writing about all things creepy and horrific for over six years at RealQueenofHorror.com. She has always loved horror films and will soon be known directing her own feature-length horror. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LovelyZena.

 


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