15 Scary Woodland Horror Movies Set To Terrify You This Halloween
Ever since Hansel, Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood set off into the dark forest in Grimms' Fairy Tales, woods have been popular and highly effective settings for scary stories. The way leaves can block out sunlight, the ease with which characters can get lost, and the idea that there is something terrifying lurking deep within the trees have helped create some seriously spooky horror movies over the years.
Of course, woodland-based horror can take many forms. Some movies play on the fear of being utterly lost, unable to find the way out of the woods and reach more populated areas. Other films set outsiders against scary people--or more supernatural beings--that live in the forest and don't take kindly to intruders. And there are movies that simply use the woods as an atmospheric backdrop to their tales of terror.
It's October now, and for many horror fans, that means a whole month crammed full of scary movies. And of course, fall is also a season where the nights draw in and the leaves fall from the trees, making woodland horror an especially compelling choice to check out in the build-up to Halloween. So we've gathered together some of the scariest horror movies set in the woods ever made.
15. The Watcher in the Woods (1980)
This spooky Disney oddity was made for a teen audience in the early '80s and directed by British horror director John Hough (Twins of Evil, The Legend of Hell House). It's a gothic horror story of an American family which moves into a British house on the edge of a creepy wood, and it remains a surprisingly spooky and atmospheric experience.
14. Willow Creek (2013)
This impressive found footage bigfoot movie is directed by comedian-turned-director Bobcat Goldthwait. A pair of young campers find themselves terrorized by Bigfoot when they decide to explore the various myths about its existence. The scariest scene is an unbroken 20-minute sequence, as the couple cowers in their tent while something seriously terrifying stomps around in the woods outside.
13. The Burning (1980)
One of the best slasher movies of the early '80s, The Burning follows a familiar summer camp woodland killer template but is helped by a great cast of young up-and-comers (including Holly Hunter and Jason Alexander) and some highly effective murder sequences, with gore effects courtesy of the great Tom Savini.
12. Eden Lake (2008)
An intense British survival horror starring Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender as a couple who go on a short vacation to a woodland lake. They end up incurring the wrath of a gang of violent local teenagers, leading to a game of cat-and-mouse as the unfortunate pair attempt to escape from their dense, disorientating woodland surroundings.
11. Pumpkinhead (1988)
The late special effects maestro Stan Winston directed this spooky dark fantasy. A grieving father seeks out a strange woman living deep in the woods, to ask her to conjure up a terrifying demon to take revenge on the scum who killed his son. Winston generates a scary, brooding atmosphere, and gives his movie emotional resonance you don't always find in the genre.
10. The Last House on the Left (1972)
Wes Craven's controversial debut features one of the most disturbing scenes of woodland terror ever filmed. A criminal gang kidnaps a pair of teenagers on their way to the city and subjects them to a horrifying ordeal in the woods. This section is the only part of the film that takes place in the woods, but it remains a watershed moment for on-screen brutality.
9. The Ritual (2017)
Woods are a perfect setting for folk horror movies, and The Ritual is a great recent example. Four pals set out on a hiking vacation in Sweden, but find themselves at the mercy of an ancient demonic creature and the murderous locals who worship it. Director David Bruckner builds the tension superbly and uses the stark wilderness to evoke maximum chills.
8. Gretel & Hansel (2020)
Oz Perkins is one of modern horror's best new directors, and his take on the legend of Hansel and Gretel is a creepy and atmospheric affair. It's mostly a three-hander, with Sophia Lillis and Sam Leakey's runaway siblings finding temptation and terror in the house of Alice Krige's witch, deep in the heart of a dense forest.
7. The Witch (2015)
The woods in Robert Eggar's period chiller are a constant source of oppressive terror. A Puritan family is banished from its community and ends up living on the edge of a huge, dark forest, in which a baby-snatching witch is rumored to live. The film's final journey into the dark wood makes for one of modern horror's most memorable climaxes.
6. Deliverance (1972)
This classic of '70s cinema remains one of the most intense and influential survival thrillers ever made. Four men on a canoeing trip are terrorized by depraved, murderous backwoods locals, who live in the mountainous woodlands of Georgia and don't take kindly to these arrogant visitors from the big city.
5. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The journey of The Blair Witch project's unlucky trio deep into the woods is made all the more realistic by the fact the actors didn't know what the filmmakers would throw at them each night. While very little really happens, the movie evokes the terror of getting utterly lost, unable to contact the outside world.
4. The Cabin In The Woods (2011)
As the intentionally generic title suggests, Drew Goddard's cult horror-comedy uses the tropes of woodland-set horror movies as a backdrop for a completely unpredictable, super-smart, and absolutely hilarious deconstruction of the genre. If you've not seen it, stop everything and watch it right now--just don't read anything more in advance.
3. Antichrist (2009)
Lars Von Trier's controversial, disturbing Antichrist is an exploration of grief, in which a couple attempts to come to terms with the loss of their child by staying in an isolated cabin in a woodland area known as Eden. Needless to say, things go very badly for everyone. The film balances beautiful natural photography with harrowing scenes of violence. Oh, and there's a talking fox.
2. Friday the 13th (1980)
The original summer camp slasher is still one of the best, with the woods of Camp Crystal Lake used as a great, spooky setting for the murderous activities of mad Mrs. Voorhees. Her son Jason would continue to stalk unlucky visitors to the lake for many more movies to come.
1. The Evil Dead (1981)/Evil Dead 2 (1987)
The woods in Sam Raimi's amazing debut The Evil Dead and its even-better sequel/remake are as much a scary threat as the ancient undead demons conjured up by Bruce Campbell's hapless Ash and his friends. Raimi whizzes his camera through the trees, as the forest comes malevolently alive around its victims.