The weather is warming up and the black flies will soon be distant memory. We’ve already had a long weekend and summer holidays are just around the corner. Families, college students, and teens will be hitting the highways for a weekend getaways to the great outdoors.
Last week, in the latest entry of The Laboratory, I looked at the enduring popularity of the backwoods horror film. This week, for another entry of The Chopping Block, I take a look at a few of the more obscure backwoods horror films for fans looking to find something they may not have seen. Not all of these films classify as ‘classics’, but they may offer something new for horror fans who have seen most of the major titles. So before you pack up the cooler and tent and head off into the woods, give a few of these films a peek.
Few horror fans are probably familiar with this largely unknown Canadian backwoods effort. Humongous, which was directed by Paul Lynch (Prom Night), is set on the remote Dog Island. Years earlier, Dog Island was the home of the Parsons lumber baron and his daughter, Ida. After Ida is brutally raped she becomes reclusive, living alone on the island with her dogs. Thirty five years later a group of teens crash their boat off the shore and quickly discover the Ida may not have been living alone all these years.
For the most part, Humongous is a low-budget, derivative backwoods slasher film. Many of the nighttime scenes are poorly lit and the early death scenes are not particularly memorable or well staged. As Humongous hits its third act, it delivers a couple of genuinely interesting death scenes and takes on a strange atmospheric shift in tone. While you don’t see much of the gruesome killer, the few quick flashes are effectively eerie. Aspects of the climax shamelessly rip off Friday the 13th Part II, but the film’s chilling closing moments may leave some viewers feeling uneasy.
Rituals is another Canadian horror effort, though I would consider this one criminally-underrated. I happened to catch it by chance on the former Scream Network one Friday evening and have not seen it available anywhere since. It has a classic backwoods horror set-up – five doctors head into the northern Ontario wilderness for a camping retreat. They wake up one morning to find their shoes have been stolen. As they attempt to hike back to civilization, they discover someone is stalking them through the woods.
Everything about this low-budget Canadian horror film is delightfully understated.
Everything about this low-budget Canadian horror film is delightfully understated. Its soaked in a 70’s horror film atmosphere and features an outstanding performance from genre regular, Hal Holbrook (The Fog, Creepshow). Rituals moves at a very slow, methodical pace. There’s also not be much in the way of onscreen graphic violence, but Rituals has some creepy imagery. The ending also delivers on an unsettling sensation of unease that lingers far longer than jump-scares.
If the other films on this list rely a little too heavily on some of the familiar backwoods horror tropes, Calvaire offers something completely different. In fact, this Belgian horror film is one of the more bizarre films I have seen in my lifetime. It follows small-time entertainer Marc Stevens whose van breaks down in the woods while on the way to his next performance. He’s helped by a local man, Bartel, who owns a rundown inn and warns him to stay away from the nearby village.
That’s about as much as Calvaire has in common with other backwoods horror films. Do not watch this film expecting suspenseful jump scares, as Calvaire largely works as a disturbing psychological horror film. Its slow story twists into truly bizarre territory as it progresses with some parts remaining incomprehensible by the conclusion. There is not much violence, but the film’s third act descends into some truly horrific and grim moments. If you want an idea of how strange Calvaire can be check out the clip from the film below:
Frontier(s) was a part of the wave of “New French Extremity” films released in the 2000’s. Directed by Xavier Gens, Frontier(s) follows several young French Arabs who are looking to flee Paris after committing a robbery amidst election riots. On the way to Holland, the group stops at a countryside inn that happens to be run by a cannibalistic, inbred neo-Nazi family.
Frontier(s) is a blood-drenched, nihilistic film that rarely slows down to allow the audience to catch its breath once the ball gets rolling.
Like all the New French Extremity films, Frontier(s) is a blood-drenched, nihilistic film that rarely slows down to allow the audience to catch its breath once the ball gets rolling. A scene involving a brutal murder by table saw will be a standout for gorehounds. While Frontier(s) is well-acted and filmed, it may adhere a little too closely to the backwoods film narrative, even including the standard ‘graveyard of cars’ and boxes of passports and cellphones from past victims. Still Frontier(s) has some interesting ideas built into its gory premise. Its violent confrontation between young French Arabs and neo-Nazi’s set against the backdrop of the Paris riots offers some interesting commentary about extremism that has lost none of its relevance or potency.
Motel Hell (1980)
Casual horror fans may be unfamiliar with Motel Hell, but slasher film fans will undoubtedly recognize this fun title. A dark comedy that lovingly riffs on the backwoods slasher film tropes, Motel Hell tells the story of a brother and sister who use a rundown motel to lure travelers to harvest for food. As a bizarrely dark twist on the subgenre, the brother and sister bury their victims alive up to their neck in a garden, with their vocal cords slashed, until they are ripe.
Directed by Kevin Connor, Motel Hell does a surprisingly good job of balancing its outrageous humor with its Texas Chainsaw Massacre-inspired violence. Some viewers will find that the film drags a little in the middle. The performances are also a little broad though no worse than what you would expect to find in most older slasher films. Yet the final 10 minutes of Motel Hell offers as much gruesome fun as you’re likely to find in any 80’s slasher film.