Canada has already celebrated its official first long weekend of the summer. Now America is ringing its first long weekend. As the weather warms up, families and rowdy young adults will be heading out for camping and deep woods hikes. But horror fans know better. Whether it’s rural hillbilly horror or survival horror, horror has long used the woods as a traditional ‘terrible place‘. There’s always deformed hillbillies, masked psychopaths, or pagan cults lurking in the forest. There’s just something inherently creepy about being lost in the woods with someone – or something – that has bad intent for you. Below are 10 camping horror movies that will remind you to say clear of the deep woods.
Though Deliverance isn’t a horror movie, there’s no denying it played a role in kickstarting the ‘hillbilly horror’ subgenre. Four Atlanta businessmen take a trip to the countryside for a canoe trip. On their trip, they run afoul of some backwoods hillbillies with tragic consequences. While its story sounds derivative today, Deliverance was an Oscar-nominated film with pedigree behind and in front of the camera. With its infamous ‘Dueling Banjos’ and ‘squeal like a pig’ scenes, Deliverance created many of the tropes we recognize today.
Friday the 13th (1980)
No list about camping horror movies would be complete without Friday the 13th. Somehow in spite of its derivative melding of Halloween and Giallo films, Sean S Cunningham’s slasher spawned an iconic horror villain and an enduring franchise. As its own movie, Friday the 13th remains a completely watchable genre classic. To date, Tom Savini’s gore effects are still among the best you’ll find in slasher movies. Just look no further than the countless rip-offs that followed it for proof. If you love Friday the 13th, you’ll want to check out The Burning and Madman.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Arguably, Sleepaway Camp is the most controversial movie on this list. Take away its ending and Sleepaway Camp is a derivative, forgettable slasher movie. It’s always cheap-looking and poorly acted and, often times, a mean-spirited movie. In fact, even if you keep the ending, Sleepaway Camp is still an ugly movie. It’s stuck somewhere between 70’s exploitation trash and 80’s slasher movie sensibilities. But it’s ending is haunting. Offensive or otherwise. And regardless of its flaws, this ‘camper’ slasher taps into that inherent watchability of exploitation movies.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
It’s hard to believe, but it has been almost 20 years since The Blair Witch Project haunted movie theatres. Written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, The Blair Witch Project is a landmark film. Critics loved it; audiences drove up big box office receipt. To date, it remains one of the most successful independent films of all time. Audiences were more split on the found footage indie darling. Even after almost 20 years, The Blair Witch Project remains a divisive entry in the genre. Yet in spite of its mixed reaction, there is no doubt that The Blair Witch Project had an effect like few other horror movies. And it’s a perfect reminder to not go into the woods.
Belgium is known for its chocolate, waffles, and beer. Horror movies – not so much. Cub is a rather obscure Belgian horror movie that doesn’t deviate much from the camping horror movie formula. When a cub scout troop gets lost in the woods, they learn that a local legend about a feral boy may be true. There’s a bullied kid, a kindhearted ‘maybe’ Final Girl, gory traps, and a ruthless hunter. Still Cub doles out the familiar with a bit of inventive gore and a few good jumps. Plus Cub boasts a pretty bleak ending that calls back to the Golden Age of the slasher.
Canadian survival horror movie Backcountry marked the directorial debut for Adam MacDonald (Pyewacket). It’s a hell of a debut that’s only spoiled by a its poster and marketing campaign that spoils the movie’s subversion of subgenre expectations. Loosely based on a true story, Backcountry follows a couple inexperienced with deep woods camping who find themselves lost in the wilderness. A chance encounter teases the movie going in an expected direction. But MacDonald pulls flips the script and what follows is a quietly chilling, upsetting horror movie.
Lake Bodom (2016)
Another horror movie loosely inspired by real events, Lake Bodom is a Finnish slasher movie that doesn’t initially stray too far from a familiar formula. But stick with it until until the final act. Even this slasher’s basic premise tweaks what we know about this type of horror movie. Four friends head to Bodom Lake to re-create an infamous murder. Not surprisingly, a very real killer shows up to terrorize them in the woods. What starts as a pretty standard slasher quickly gives way to a bleak, shocking ending. Consider Lake Bodom a bit of a hidden gem.
Killing Ground (2017)
Killing Ground is a brutal throwback to 70s exploitation movies with some survival horror mixed in for good measure. Like most movies on this list, it all starts with a couple venturing into the woods for a camping trip. When they find abandoned campsite, they inadvertently stumble upon a brutal crime. Though it’s far from perfect, Killing Ground eschews jump scares for gripping suspense and a grounded approach to its violence. If it relies a little too frequently on characters making stupid choices, it still works as a visceral thriller.
The Ritual (2018)
Based on a novel by Adam Nevill, The Ritual is the rare case of a movie exceeding its source material. Following a friend’s tragic death, four men reunite to honour him on a wilderness hike. But when one member of the group twists his knee, the friends take a shortcut through dense woods where they stumble on the gutted remains of a bear impaled in the trees. On a superficial level, The Ritual sounds like just about every other camping horror movie. But it’s definitely a strong, suspenseful tale worth watching. Strong acting, suspenseful tone, good creature effects, and some disturbing shocks make up for an over-reliance on familiar horror tropes.
Fans of low-budget 70s exploitation movies may also enjoy this little indie thriller. Desolation is a slow-burn, minimalist story of a widowed woman who takes her son and best friend on a deep woods hike to spread her husband’s ashes. Somewhere along the way, a mysterious, silent man stalks them across the forest. If you can get past its slow pace and ultra-low budget, Desolation makes for a creepy watch with its pseudo-Michael Myers killer. The Hiker is silent, motiveless, and relentless.