Are there any more frightening words in a horror movie synopsis than “five friends head to a remote cabin”? That phrase has been the starting point for many scary scripts, conjuring up visions of ancient evil life forms, dangerous hillbilly types, mysterious incantations and lines like “No matter what, we have to stay together.”
The “cabin in the woods” genre is decades old, but almost always follows the same formula—five good-looking teens, say, a jock, a stoner, some hot girls, one a brainiac, and a party girl—go to a cabin, only one or two make it home.
The remade Evil Dead shakes up the formula to an extent. In it some handsome people head to an isolated cottage not to drink and party but to help Mia (Jane Levy) kick her addiction to drugs. The details are different, but the outcome—and this isn’t a spoiler, just a statement of fact—is the same and that’s what we like about the genre.
The most well loved “cabin in the woods” movies must be the first two Sam Raimi Evil Dead films. The original, and namesake of the series, was actually shot in a real life abandoned cottage. In it five friends go to a cabin in the woods (sound familiar?), discover a ‘Book of the Dead’ and unleash flesh-possessing demons. It made a star of Bruce Campbell and lead to a sequel, Evil Dead II, another cabin movie that is equal parts silly and scary.
Eli Roth made his directorial debut with Cabin Fever, a movie inspired by real life events. The idea for a film about a group of friends in a (you guessed it!) cabin in the woods, tormented by a flesh-eating virus and homicidal townsfolk, came to him as he worked on a horse farm. “I was cleaning hay out of this barn and got this infection on my face,” he says. The rash got so bad that, “I went to shave and I literally shaved a third of my face off.” It hurt, but he looked at the bright side. “I thought, ‘This is actually going make a great movie one day.’”
Sleepaway Camp—ignore the sequels, although the number two’s title Unhappy Campers is pretty great—sets the action at a summer camp. This gory slasher flick is most notable for a wild twist ending that has been called a “jaw-dropping, tape-rewinding, pause-and-stare-and-call-your-friends-over-to-stare” moment.