Written by: Matt Weber
I’m a horror author from a small country town just outside Birmingham, Alabama. I grew up running around the deep woods of the South, morning, noon and night, fishing in creeks and sleeping beneath the stars. I guess that’s why I find the wilderness such an intriguing place for horror; it reminds me of my youth and how my imagination would run wild at dusk, at the sight of all the long shadows in those remote backwoods locales. As an avid genre fan and movie collector, I keep a lookout for certain films that take me back to the good old days of roaming those mysterious forests. Here’s a list of some favorites flicks that are often overlooked.
Southern Comfort (1981)—A squad of knuckleheaded U.S. National Guardsmen provoke a band of angry Cajuns deep inside the Louisiana swamps. This moody action flick boasts superb acting from Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Fred Ward and Bladerunner‘s Brion James. The kills are brutal thanks to some particularly nasty booby traps, and there’s a nail-biting climax when our main characters wander into the den of their hunters. This is my favorite movie from Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours), complete with a sinister Southern-fried soundtrack by Ry Cooder.
Just Before Dawn (1981)—This standout entry in the ’80s slasher craze features city folks getting hacked up in the forest with machetes. Unlike its by-the-numbers brethren of the era, JBD gets the body-count formula right with rich atmosphere, genuine suspense, a shocking plot twist and a gonzo ending. It’s directed by Jeff Lieberman, who also helmed Squirm and Blue Sunshine.
Rituals (1977)—A group of doctors enter the thick Northeastern wilderness for a weekend retreat. They awaken in the middle of the forest to discover their shoes have been stolen, hampering their escape from the unseen evil that’s now stalking them, one by one. This eerie Canadian thriller features powerhouse performances from Hal Holbrook and Lawrence Dane, along with a pot-boiler plot that’s rich with subtext about medical ethics and the power of loyalty among friends. Also known as The Creeper.
Dying Breed (2008)—After a zoologist disappears in the Tasmanian wilderness while looking for a rare exotic tiger, her sister leads a group of friends in her tracks to continue the research and uncover her fate. Their trek leads them to the descendants of “The Pieman” (aka Alexander Pearce) who was hanged for cannibalism in 1824, and a brutal fight for survival ensues. Grim, scary and gory, this under-seen Aussie import stars Leigh Whannell (Saw) and Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek).
Hunter’s Blood (1986)—Here’s a backwoods rarity that’s badly in need of a quality digital release. It’s a gritty, fast-paced hillbilly actioner with a violent mean streak and a couple of unexpectedly poignant moments of character acting. A group of city boys piss off the local rednecks, and the shotgun shells fly. Good cast in this flick, including Return of the Living Dead’s Clu Gulager. Keep your eye out for an uncredited Billy Bob Thornton and a young Billy Drago.
Fortress (1985)—Don’t be fooled by the fact that Fortress was made for TV—this flick has teeth. Set in the Australian countryside, a schoolteacher (Rachel Ward) and her students are kidnapped by men in cartoon-character masks. She and the children must fight like savages to escape their captors. Expect a chilling, unforgettable ending that will stick with you long after the credits roll.
Wilderness (2006)—Juvenile delinquents are sent to an uninhabited British island where they have to fight for survival amongst themselves and the mysterious hunter that’s picking them off in a variety of gruesome ways, including crossbow assaults and vicious dog attacks. Beautifully shot and directed by Michael J. Bassett (Solomon Kane, Silent Hill: Revelation).
Eden Lake (2008)—A dark thriller that delivers edge-of-your-seat suspense, Eden Lake pits a peaceful yuppie couple on a romantic getaway against a gang of bloodthirsty kids. Directed by James Watkins (The Woman in Black), Eden Lake stars Michael Fassbender before his starring turn in Inglourious Basterds and the X-Men films.
Final Terror (1983)—Rudimentary throat-cutting traps, a mysterious camouflaged killer, and a surprise ending set this ‘80s backwoods slasher apart from the pack. The Final Terror was directed by Andrew Davis who went on to direct The Fugitive. It’s also an early work from notable actors Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward and Joe Pantoliano. This movie has long suffered from bad prints, but thankfully Scream Factory recently released a Blu-Ray.
The Cottage (2008)—Last but not least, The Cottage blends black humor and deep-red horror as a bumbling team of kidnappers choose the wrong house as a hideout. When a psychopathic farmer comes home, all hell breaks loose. This fun Brit flick brings both the laughs and the screams, and stars everyone’s favorite Gollum, Andy Serkis.
Check out Matthew Weber’s latest digital short horror story RULES ARE RULES for $0.99 at Amazon. His upcoming dark fiction collection, A DARK & WINDING ROAD will be available fall 2014 from Pint Bottle Press.