What is it with horror movies and cabins in the woods?

If you go down to the woods today… Well, you know the rest. Still, it’s not often you stumble across a horror trope so pervasive it’s found in everything from huge studio sci-fi dramas to modest slasher sequels. Matt Glasby takes us on a tour of those creaky, out-of-the-way places where anything can happen, but it definitely won’t be good.

Evil Dead series (1981-present)

The mad, bad grandaddy of the subgenre, Sam Raimi’s Looney Tunes horror franchise began life in a dilapidated hut in Morristown, Tennessee, where he and his pals set out to make the ultimate drive-in movie. Here, and later in Wadesboro, North Carolina, poor Ash (Bruce Campbell) would face demons summoned by the Necronomicon, plus all manner of supernatural phenomena including laughing deer heads, lamps and curtains, plus walls that spew blood.

Just like the director, this particular cabin seems keen to chuck everything at our hero in the hope he’ll throw in the towel, rather than just really, really need one. The original structure burned down in 1981, but the series is still going strong, with Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise coming to an apartment block near you later this year.

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Often considered the best Friday, despite being butchered by the MPAA, Steve Miner’s sure-footed sequel features the grown-up Jason Voorhees (Warrington Gillette) as an unstoppable killer tormenting the youngsters of Camp Crystal Lake. It shouldn’t work—particularly as he drowned as a boy in 1957 and wears a stupid sack on his head—but it does.

Shot in the Connecticut woods, the climax sees final girl Ginny (Amy Steel) hiding in a shack so tumbledown it seems unlikely to survive the rest of the movie. Jason has even made a stab at decoration, bless him, albeit using the desiccated corpses of his mother (Betsy Plamer) and Alice (Adrienne King), the survivor of the original film. In the process of serving up the series’ favourite dish—slow-mo machete death—Steel chopped off a stuntman’s finger. Talk about suffering for your art.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

While it’s only debatably a cabin—are they allowed to have stairs?—this spooky ruin couldn’t be more in the woods if it kicked its map in the f***ing creek. Before directors Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez and team could shoot there, the 200-year-old Griggs House near Granite, Maryland, required extensive safety-proofing, although covering the walls with children’s handprints was a stroke of evil genius.

After being lost for days, wannabe documentarians Heather (Heather Donoghue) and Mike (Mike Williams) hear missing pal Josh (Joshua Leonard) screaming in the night, and race into the house to save him. Having explored the upstairs and found nothing but those handprints, they head for the basement, cueing up one of the simplest, and scariest, film endings ever shot. Although funds were raised to preserve the house from demolition, like Heather, Josh and Mike, it couldn’t be saved.

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

With the tagline: “Five friends go to a cabin in the woods. Bad things happen,” Drew Goddard’s much-delayed meta-horror knows and loves the subgenre it’s riffing on. Starring Kristen Connolly  an about-to-be-very-famous Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison and Fran Kranz, it pokes fun at horror-movie stereotypes, designating its characters “the Virgin”, “the Athlete”, “the Fool” and so on, before stranding them in a Vancouver cabin which appears to tick all the boxes.

There are creepy paintings, two-way mirrors and a cellar full of secrets, and soon the new inhabitants are having ill-advised premarital sex. But just when you thought you were watching a rubbish film about cabins and woods, it’s revealed that something rather cleverer is going on—thank god. We won’t spoil it here, but it involves an appearance by a mysterious character played by Sigourney Weaver. Apparently, Goddard’s first choice was none other than Bruce Campbell himself.

Knock at the Cabin (2023)

Having touched on the subgenre with The Village—essentially many cabins in the woods—M Night Shyamalan’s excellent new film is set in the bucolic backwaters of Burlington County, New Jersey. Here it’s not the cabin that’s the problem—with pressed flowers on the walls, shelves full of books and a welcome hamper, it’s the perfect spot for Andrew (Ben Aldridge), Eric (Jonathon Groff) and their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) to have a peaceful break… although phone reception would be useful.

No, trouble comes in the form of Leonard (Dave Bautista) and his pals (Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn and Rupert Grint), who arrive unannounced on a terrifying mission. The title of Paul Tremblay’s excellent source novel rather gave the game away, so instead we have “Knock”, which puts the focus back on the intruders and the terrible tidings they bring. Frankly, it’s enough to make you want to stay home forever.

Honourable mentions: Antichrist, The Backwoods, Cabin Fever, Resolution, The Ritual, Severance, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, A Wounded Fawn