The recent retail release of Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead got me wondering what it is about the rolling, forested hills of America that lend the setting so well to backwoods horror movies, particularly those featuring deranged families. Obviously the endless, looming trees make it easy to get lost and the proclivity of locals to have only enough teeth to open a beer can with makes for a batch of kin best left alone, but psychotic inbred families must also live outside West Virginia, right? Surely America doesn't have a monopoly on city folk out of their element.
So I started squeezing together my mind grapes and came up with a list of the best murderous hillbillies from all over the globe:
Storm Warning, Australia
Jamie Blanks, director of Urban Legend and Valentine, may never have developed a sweeping career in the Hollywood system, but once he got back to making horror films in his native Australia, he kicked things off in style with Storm Warning (review). Written by Ozploitation veteran Everett de Roche, this nasty little surprise tells the story of a couple out for a weekend in nature who accidentally come across the wrong farmhouse. Inside is a small family of grungy men who are perfectly happy to accommodate the couples need for help, after they help themselves to the couple.
Blanks' film swaps out 80 foot deciduous trees for smaller, lusher coastal greenery, but the pretty scenery is of little comfort once the blood soaked mess hits the fan; and if you've seen the film, and I highly recommend you do, you'll know the exact moment I'm talking about, as Storm Warning features one of the coolest, sickest, wildest kills of the last couple years. It has a slow start, but man, the last half is one hell of an anti-tourism ad for the land down under.
The only time I've ever spent in France was on a layover in the airport, but if I were to judge the country based solely on its horror output lately, that was the safest place I could have been. I'm not saying the country has more maniacs than any other country, but there is no denying that recently their special brand of horror has been taking thins in extremely brutal, unexpected directions. Take Xavier Gens' Frontier(s) (review), for example, a film that finds a group of teens at a country inn run by a family of lunatic, inbred neo-Nazis.
Sure, of all the films on this list the cozy countryside setting is perhaps the least backwoodsy, but Gens makes up for the appearance of civility with drums of the red stuff and a villainous master plan that no one wants to see come true.
The Ordeal (AKA Calvaire), Belgium
Set in France's neighboring nation of Belgium, Fabrice du Welz's The Ordeal (review) doesn't exactly help sell the notion that going camping in North-Eastern Europe is a good idea. Welz's film follows the titular experience of a singer whose car breaks down in the woods during the holidays. He finds a nearby farmhouse to go to for aid, but the man living inside has another agenda in store. He's lonely and old and out of his mind and Marc is pretty enough that with the right dress and haircut, he could probably pass for a farmer's wife.(!)
Welz mixes the skin-crawling premise with bouts of surreal imagery thanks to the bizarre batch of locals who turn a blind eye to all of it, which makes for one of the more unique hillbilly weirdos films on tap. It's a slow, surreal burn that certainly isn't for everyone, but man is it creepy.
Manhunt (AKA Rovdyr), Norway
I promise that our trip visiting murderous rednecks from around the world will leave Europe soon enough, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Manhunt (review), one of my favorite films of this ilk in recent years. It's a straight-up Wrong Gas Station movie about a group of co-eds who piss off the wrong set of locals, but there are a few things I love about. For starters, it's Norwegian, so that instantly makes it a little more exotic than the American brethren from which director Patrik Syversen clearly derives his formula. But it's also set in the '70s, which colors the whole production with an interesting throwback vibe.
More important than that, however, is the fact that Manhunt takes place entirely during daylight; and I love me a horror movie that takes place during sunlit hours. I want to see all the bearded rednecks nicely illuminated as they take a group of attractive 20 somethings to brutal task for, well, no grand offense. They were just there, which when done right can be one of my favorite plot conceits. And believe me, Manhunt does it, and more, quite right.
Hansel & Gretel, South Korea
We've spun away from Europe, though in doing so we're going to take a look at a different breed of murderous hillbillies. The antagonists in Pil-Sung Yim's (Antarctic Journal) film aren't bucked tooth, plaid-wearing incest lovers, they're an idealistic trio of children in a picturesque mansion in the woods. That's because Yim's film is a refreshing twist on Hansel & Gretel (review), the classic tale of children who get lost in the woods and come across a diabolical witch's house.
This time around it's adults who get lost in the woods and then come across innocent little children whose parents have gone missing. There are more complicated mysteries at play than I care to spoil here, but suffice it to say this is a dark twist on an already morbid children's fantasy tale. It's definitely no poster child for driving down snowy switch-back roads in the South Korean country side.
Timber Falls, USA
Ah, back to America. Considering the inspiration for this post in the first place, I think it's only fitting that we end our globetrotting where it all started: West Virginia. Only unlike Wrong Turn 3, the killer bumpkins of Timber Falls (review) aren't exactly mutated cannibals. They're normal looking small-town folk who, at first, come across as rather accommodating of a city couple on a day trip, but once their diabolical plot comes into light, Daniel Kay's script goes into some interesting territory not often explored by this brand of horror movie.
Sure, like the Wrong Turn franchise, Tony Giglio's film hits a few stumbling blocks, but of all the many, many trips American horror takes into the deep woods these days, Timber Falls is ahead of the grading curve. It's got good performances and a refreshing approach to the backwoods murder plot, so I'd say it's another welcome example of why you should never, ever, ever leave your front door, let along pack some sandwiches for a little jaunt into nature.