Backwoods horror movies share many similarities with folk horror movies. Except backwood horror movies tend to focus more on the socio-political divide between urban and rural ways of living. Backwood horror also sometimes have crossover with farm horror, road trip horror, and desert horror movies.
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Here are some of the most notable films within this fascinating sub-genre of horror.
Top Backwoods Horror Movies
Based on the James Dickey novel of the same name about the often violent and ugly clash between urban sprawl as it encroaches upon rural areas, Deliverance tells the story of four businessmen from Atlanta—Lewis Medlock (Burt Reynolds), Ed Gentry (Jon Voight), Bobby Trippe (Ned Beatty), and Drew Ballinger (Ronny Cox)—who plan one final canoe run down the wild Cahulawassee River in Northern Georgia before the machines arrive to turn the river into a lake. Along the way, two of the four men turn into killers, one gets killed, and one endures a brutal homosexual rape that has become the main scene that people associate with the film. 2,500 Movies Challenge writes, “Deliverance is a brutal, savage film, a tale of foolishness set against an impressively scenic backdrop. Yes, the river is beautiful, but there’s an inherent duality in this particular corner of nature, and what’s beautiful one minute can turn deadly the next.”
In the blisteringly hot rural Texas summer of 1974, five young friends take a trip to visit the grave of one of the group’s recently deceased grandfather to make sure the rumors it’s been desecrated aren’t true. When they wind up at a remote house, they encounter a demented group of cannibals led by a chainsaw-wielding psychopath called Leatherface. The film was partially based on the gruesome crimes of Wisconsin killer Ed Gein. Roger Ebert writes, “We see rooms full of strange altars made from human bones, and rooms filled with chicken feathers and charms and weird relics. And gradually we realize that the house is inhabited by a demented family of retarded murderers and grave robbers. When they get fresh victims, they carve them up with great delight. What they do with the bodies is a little obscure, but, uh, they run a barbecue stand down by the road.”
Director Wes Craven based this film on an experience he says he had while driving through rural Nevada with his wife. After he threatened to sue a group of three locals who’d shot an arrow straight past his head and insulted him, they told him coldly that they would be able to kill him right then and there, and nobody would know about it. Craven took this experience to tell the fictional tale of the Carter family, who are en route from America’s heartland to California when the family patriarch decides to take a shortcut through a Nevada testing range. They mistakenly wind up wrecking the family station wagon and are set upon by a family of inbred, psychotic cannibals. Oh the Horror writes, “At its core, The Hills Have Eyes exploits primal, timeless fears: isolation, helplessness, and unseen predators. While the film is shocking for its notable and cringe-worthy outbursts of violence, it’s arguably never scarier than it is in the early-going, when Craven highlights the dreadful eeriness of the titular hills.”
Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) is an aspiring fiction writer who decides to escape the clamor and claustrophobia of New York City to take a retreat in rural Connecticut. Shortly after arriving in the small town of Kent, she is repeatedly gang-raped by a group of sadistic misogynist locals. She musters all the strength within her to dispatch her tormentors one by one. Malevolent Dark writes, “I Spit on Your Grave feels all too authentic and it serves as a morbid reminder of the horror of sexual assault. It doesn’t feel gratuitous, it just feels raw and unforgiving.”
Citing Deliverance as his primary influence, director Jeff Lieberman brings this tale of five people who venture deep into Oregon’s backwoods to claim a property that they’ve bought, only to be set upon by a huge, machete-swinging lunatic. DVD Infatuation writes, “there are elements of 1972’s Deliverance here as well, which Lieberman himself cited as his inspiration for the movie (along with its inbred-style killer, the leads have a run-in with a backwoods family that is none too happy to have them around).”
Chris Flynn (Desmond Harrington) has a job interview in another city and suddenly runs into a blocked highway en route to the interview, forcing him to take shortcuts through winding, dilapidated rural roads in West Virginia. Without paying attention, he smashes into another car that’s stranded in the middle of the road with flat tires. The group of six survivors find a cabin in the middle of the woods, unaware that it is inhabited by three flesh-eating mountain men who look more like monsters than human beings. Final Girl writes, “Wrong Turn is chock full of some of my favorite horror movie tropes, from the weirdo gas station attendant to the car graveyard to the gross stinky house filled with gross stinky stuff….That’s what I like about this movie so much: it simply is what it is and it doesn’t try to be anything else. The straightforward story and the decent amount of gore recall the horror films of the 1970s- it’s just got that vibe about it, and it doesn’t ever feel put-on or fake.”
Singer Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) is a small-time traveling entertainer whose van breaks down in a weird little deserted marshy town on Christmas Eve. Acting as a Good Samaritan, a local innkeeper offers Marc Food and shelter, but the innkeeper may have less than noble motives for befriending Marc. The BBC writes, “Genre hounds will be ticking off the horror references; there are echoes here of Psycho, Deliverance, Straw Dogs and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But Fabrice Du Welz’s perverse debut feature Calvaire is more than an act of cinematic homage….Think a Belgian League Of Gentlemen with lots, lots more violence.”A
Thinking it’d be a fun time filled with relatively safe thrills, a group of tourists take a New Orleans “haunted swamp tour” and wind up stranded in the bayou in the middle of the night. When they hear the legend of “Victor Crowley,” a disfigured ghost who roams the swamps after his father accidentally killed him with a hatchet, they start having reason to believe that it’s a real story rather than a legend. The BBC writes, “If you go down to the swamp today you’re in for a big surprise – a deformed monster who likes nothing better than dismembering unsuspecting tourists with the Hatchet of the title. A gory comedy horror full of rib-tickling cameos for genre enthusiasts, Adam Green’s film takes a fan-boy delight in referencing slasher classics from yesteryear.”
In the summer of 1978, an English couple take a holiday in the remote Basque region of Spain in the hopes of recharging their marriage. One day while walking in the forest, they discover to their shock a girl with savagely mutilated hands who’s being imprisoned in a cabin. When they attempt to free the girl from the cabin and notify local police, they are met with an angry horde of locals who claim the girl as their own. Dread Central writes, “The Backwoods is filled with horrific things; deformed children, murder, rape, and shitty relationships in decline….If you’re looking for a shockingly authentic 70’s experience, take a trip to The Backwoods; the shotgun toting locals are waiting…”
Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) is a young girl who belongs to a remote rural community that worships a muddy pit deep in the forest. The pit will occasionally direct a local inbred villager to sculpt a clay jug that will bear the face of the next person who must be sacrificed by throwing them to their death in the pit. Final Girl writes, “Jug Face is a fascinating glimpse inside an insular community at its most pure. Unlike films such as The Wicker Man or The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, here we get no outsider’s perspective. There is no stranger in these strange lands questioning the morality of the locals’ beliefs. The pit simply provides, and its call must be heeded.”
Set in 1979, the film deals with a small cabal of young pornographers who seek to make an adult film at a ranch deep in rural Texas. But as the day turns to night, they realize there is an enemy nearby—could it possibly be the elderly couple from whom they’ve rented the ranch? Mia Goth serves dual roles as both the young porn star and the elderly Texas woman who stabs her to death. Reel Views writes, “X is a fun movie – a throwback to the Grindhouse pictures of the 1970s and the slasher genre of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s….The movie is funny – intentionally and in the right ways. West plays with tropes while at the same time honoring them. Despite having very little budget, he’s able to recreate the 1979 aesthetic with such aptitude that one can be forgiven thinking he found the movie rather than making it.”
More Backwoods Horror Movies
- Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) in this Confederate-revenge flick by Herschell “The Godfather of Gore” Lewis, the residents of Pleasant Valley, GA, return from the dead after being slaughtered 100 years ago by Yankee soldiers. They divert six modern Yankees into the rural community of Pleasant Valley and slowly torture them to death one by one.
- Killbillies (1970) in this Slovenian production, a group of haughty urban female photographers wander out into the boondocks, only to experience a living nightmare courtesy of the dysgenic locals.
- Motel Hell (1980) a deranged farmer and his sister kidnap wayfarers and use their flesh for the famous “meat” he sells at his roadside stand.
- Blair Witch Project (1999) a group of documentary filmmakers venture into the Maryland woods to investigate a local legend, only to find themselves lost and terrorized by an unseen force in the forest.
- Wolf Creek (2005) a bushman in the Australian outback offers to help a group of tourists who are stranded with their broken-down car in the middle of nowhere.
- The Cottage (2008) a pair of brothers attempt to hide out in a rural cottage, unaware that the greatest threat to their lives is their next-door neighbor.
- The Ritual (2017) a group of friends embark on a hiking trip through the Scandinavian wilderness to honor their late friend, only to find themselves stalked by an ancient and malevolent presence lurking in the forest.