For most of us, cabins are a place of respite. These isolated sanctuaries are our peaceful havens away from the demands and stresses of city life. However, for years, horror directors have been turning this expectation on its head. Cabins have become such a standard horror setting that “spooky cabin” is nearly its own film genre. In these movies, quiet solitude transforms into a disturbing sense of isolation, the calming sounds of nature become harbingers of doom, and suddenly a lack of cell phone bars doesn’t seem like such a great idea. The following movies explore all the ways that a trip to the cottage can go terrifyingly (and sometimes hilariously) wrong. Watch them on a dark night at your own little cabin in the woods, and you’ve got our respect.
1. Evil Dead 2
Evil Dead 2 is the rare sequel that’s better than the original, which is strange considering that its plot is virtually identical to its predecessor’s. In the first Evil Dead, five friends head out to a remote cabin where they accidentally raise a horde of demons who kill them in grisly and surprisingly imaginative ways. For Evil Dead 2, director Sam Raimi decided not to mess with a winning formula, keeping the basic plot but ramping up the effects and the silliness. Evil Dead 2 sees Ash, the sole survivor of the first film, return to the cabin where his friends were all killed and once more fight a range of demonic foes, including his own possessed hand. The film is at once grotesque, funny, scary, and extremely gory—a combination that has made it a cult classic.
2. Cabin in the Woods
As it turns out, this movie isn’t so much about a cabin in the woods as it is about the well-worn conventions of “cabin in the woods” movies. The film follows a group of college kids on their weekend at a remote cabin, where they go through horror movie clichés like they’re checking items off a list: they meet a gas station attendant who warns them away, find a hidden cellar, experience over-the-top sexual tension, and fight zombie monsters. But there’s more going on than meets the eye, and all of these well-worn plot points turn out to be part of a larger plan. The film is an examination of the often-ridiculous elements of typical horror movies, placing them in a new context and creating something fresh out of stale, recycled ideas.
3. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Here’s another cabin movie that plays with horror movie conventions, with hilarious results. The plot is one we’ve all seen countless times: a group of college students comes across a remote cabin inhabited by a couple of creepy hillbillies who seem bent on murdering them. The twist is that the story is told from the perspective of the hillbillies who, it turns out, are just out at the cabin to have a relaxing weekend. But when the preppy college kids assume that the men are psychotic back-country killers, a comedy of errors ensues, resulting in more than a few fatalities. It’s a dead-on satire of horror movie clichés that finally gives us a new way of watching the same old story
There have been movies about zombie sheep and zombie chickens, so why not a zombie movie about Canada’s favourite seemingly-harmless animal, the beaver? In Zombeavers, a group of fun-seeking twenty-somethings (aren’t they always?) heads out to the cabin for a weekend getaway. But things go awry when the river next to their cabin turns out to be chock-full of zombie beavers! This film is a b-movie romp that fulfills all of the classic zombie-movie tropes—but with beavers. It’s fun and campy and knows just how silly it is. Choice line: “We cannot turn against each other right now. That is exactly what the beavers would want.”
5. Secret Window
Secret Window is horror-master Stephen King’s take on a scary story set in a cabin, and it’s a departure from the genre’s typical teen slasher flicks. This psychological thriller follows a writer Mort Rainey (played by Johnny Depp) who has decided to escape to his cabin after a bitter divorce. Though he’s looking for a peaceful place to write and get away from his personal demons, Raimey instead finds himself being accused of plagiarism by a man he’s never met, undergoing a series of strange events, and struggling with his writing in claustrophobic solitude. This film specializes in slow-burning suspense rather than outright scares, and it uses its remote cabin setting to great effect, highlighting the emotional dangers of isolation and of living mostly in one’s own head.
While most of the movies on this list feature teenagers and deranged killers, Mama is a study of family dynamics and of the way certain people and places can become both literally and figuratively haunted. Two young girls who have been missing for five years, are found living in an abandoned cabin. Almost entirely feral, the girls are taken in by their uncle and his girlfriend, who are charged with the task of re-acclimatizing the children to normal life. However, the girls seem to have brought a presence out of the woods with them, and it’s not ready to let them go. While the entire movie does not take place in the cabin where the girls were found, the action necessarily returns there—after all, a home in the suburbs just doesn’t carry the same emotional weight as a secluded cabin in the woods.
7. Cabin Fever
This is yet another film in which teens go to the cabin seeking relaxation and find only terror. But instead of demons or deranged killers, the kids in this film find themselves up against a flesh-eating virus. Cabin Fever got mixed reviews, but many see it as a homage to the Evil Dead series, similarly combining camp, humour, and horror. This movie is great if you’re looking for a few thrills and some gross-out special effects rather than high art. Cabin Fever is also the rare film in which choosing to drink beer instead of water is the best possible decision. Cheers to that!