Horror movies have certain cliches that must be met in order to appease the eager fan. Sometimes it’s a spooky castle on the edge of a forbidding cliff. In other instances, it’s a manor with a mysterious past. And then there is the rural American version of same — the cabin. Call it a cottage or a chalet, a bungalow or a hut, but this woodland oasis is often the setting for some sensational spook show fireworks…and it makes perfect sense. The location is isolated, the setting far away from the maddening crowds of civilization. Also, such secluded rendezvous often hide horrific secrets and scandal. So it makes sense that a family or collection of college kids would be best served not taking up that Craigslist ad for a “wonderful vacation lodge in the mountains/hills/woods/etc.”
A perfect example of this concept comes as one of 2012’s very best, the brilliant Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard deconstruction of macabre mandates, The Cabin in the Woods (currently a Digital Download, but available on On Demand, DVD, and Blu-ray come 18 September). For all intents and purposes, the place in question is like any other fright film locale. It’s dark. It’s disturbing. And it contains a collection of diabolical talismans in its cobwebbed and creepy basement. Once brought to life, all bets are off as the film takes off in directions both predictable and so original it boggles the brain. This got us thinking – what are some other great “Cabin” horror films (always aware of using the genre tag cautiously). The resulting list of 10 take us to settings both suspenseful and supernatural.
Maybe one day the cabin can reclaim its origins as a restful respite from the rat race known as reality. Until then, look over this list, and remember that your next vacation to the mountains may be your last.
10. Wrong Turn
So what exactly lives in that funky old cottage deep in the West Virginia woods? Well, it turns out that our mandatory victim fodder runs into a family of inbred cannibals, thus guaranteeing they will all die in horrifically gory fashion. Sure, this is nothing more than a ripe rip off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, but out flesh eating clan sure can creep up a place, and with two sequels and two prequels, there are plenty of fans who like their terror on the tasty human burger side.
9. Secret Window
Johnny Depp is an author cursed with adultery… and writer’s block. He decides the best way to remedy this malady is to head off to his favorite vacation spot and stew. Along comes John Turturro as a spooky Southern dairy farmer who accuses our lead of plagiarism. All questions of literacy aside, it isn’t long before bodies both animal and human start piling up. Based on a novella by Stephen King (who basically covered this territory before in efforts from Misery to The Dark Half), the lakeside abode may not be particularly scary, but the story offers some decent dread.
Poor Ed Harley (the always reliable Lance Henriksen). He is trying to make a meager go of it with a general store in the middle of bumpkin nowhere when a group of grating college kids (from the city, you know) show up and mow his only child down with a motorcycle. Looking for some redneck payback, he travels deep into the depths of this particular backwater to find the local witch living in Leatherface’s vacation home. One trip to a haunted pumpkin patch later, and Harley has unleashed the title “demon” and the murderous matriculaters. Death ensues.
7. The Blair Witch Project
Okay, so it’s not REALLY a cabin. It’s more like an abandoned old shack with a particularly spooky interior design (lots of little kid handprints) and a basement out of Satan’s own bachelor pad. When our threesome find themselves rummaging through this wreckage (all as part of the main narrative “making-of documentary” found footage conceit) we can literally see the doom and gloom in the air. After all the F-bombs and interpersonal squabbling, this film finally redeems itself with this terrifying final sequence. It’s enough to forgive the claptrap that this groundbreaking effort inspired.
6. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
From the very first moment we understand where this film is going, the smiling starts. Once the brilliant byplay between actors Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine settles in and the various assortment of archetypical old school fear factor fodder fester and then go gonzo, the grins get even bigger. This is clever, funny stuff, a twist on a tired old truism, taking everything in the fear formula — including an isolated cabin — and turning it on its pointed little head. Think the Sawyer clan via the Three Stooges and you get the general idea.
For our shattered couple, the loss of their little boy is a pain they cannot cope with. So off they go to an isolated cabin to work out their many psycho-sexual issues. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play our perplexed pair, each one trying to one up each other in the “let’s go bug nuts insane” department. Eventually, we get foxes shrieking about “chaos,” ball peen hammers to the testicles, and enough Lars Van Trier art to make even the most miserable macabre lovers sit up and take notice. This is indeed a genre delight, albeit in forged in style and sickness.
4. Friday the 13th
Let’s face it. What would everyone’s favorite(?) hockey mask wearing killer be without a sleepaway camp, a bunch of available counselors, and several dilapidated cabins to skulk around in. Jason Voorhees may have “died” because his otherwise ‘occupied’ overseers were too busy bumping uglies to watch him, but the adult version got more than his due paranormal payback over the course of nearly a dozen movies. Come on, you’ll never send your kid off to summer camp again without thinking about the rotting corpse of a supposedly dead kid canvassing the area, looking for another viable victim.
3. Cabin Fever
Eli Roth may have rewritten the blood and gore rulebook with the undeniably disturbing Hostel franchise (heck, even the direct to DVD third installment wasn’t half-bad), but it was this weird little attempt at meaningful meta macabre that got his name out of the frustrated fanboy primer. Painting the screen with as much red as possible while playing both inside and out of the standard scary movie tropes, he created a clever cult entry that still confuses as many admirers as it satisfies. Extra points for featuring Giuseppe Andrews as a crazed sheriff’s deputy.
2 . The Cabin in the Woods
The ultimate movie nerd experience as wannabe drinking game. Mr. Avengers, Joss Whedon, and Sir Cloverfield, Drew Goddard, mining the entire history of horror for their weird warped take on monsters, myth, and the end of the world? The title entity, a seemingly normal place that’s reminiscent of dozens of wooden relatives, actually houses a deep dark secret, one upon which the fate of the entire planet rests on. That Whedon and Goddard then manage to sneak in 100 years of horror homages into 90 breezy minutes speaks for their special relationship to the material, and their make-up as fright fanatics.
1. The Evil Dead
First, before you clamor about its absence, we consider Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn to be nothing more than a superior remake of this equally remarkable original, so assume we are incorporating it here by indirect reference. Beside, both offer up creepy cabins containing rotting cadavers, ancient horror how-to guides, and enough eerie ambience to make even the bravest vacationer void their bowels. Who can ever forget the image of a possessed partygoer cackling from beneath a chained cellar door. It’s just one of the many indications that this particular piece of Tennessee real estate houses a doorway to Hell and no way back.