Alexandre Aja, badlands, deliverance, desmond harrington, don't go in the woods, duel, eliza dushka, Friday the 13th, hillbilly horror, i spit on your grave, jeremy sisto, john boorman, just before dawn, Peter Weir, redneck zombies, Steven Spielberg, terence malik, the burning, The Cars That Ate Paris, The Hills Have Eyes, the texas chain saw massacre, the tourist trap, the wicker man, troma entertainment, tucker and dale vs evil, Wes Craven, wrong turn
There is an inherent fear that we hold deeply of our fellow ‘man’ and the extremes of depravity that we go to away from the confines of urban security. It seems that the further or deeper we go into the backwoods or remote locations, the greater our fear becomes. At the turn of the seventies, now prominent film director Steven Spielberg exposed those fears in the open road, hauling ass from an unknown truck driver across the vast landscape of the US for Duel; John Boorman took the love of adventure and male bonding across the riverways into more dark terrain in Deliverance; and Terence Malik offered up a slice of teenage runaways on a killing spree in South Dakota in Badlands, but it didn’t stop on US soil. In Britain they amped up the fear of folk stories by subjecting its audience to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle in The Wicker Man; and in Australia Peter Weir was serving up some outback disturbance as political commentary for The Cars That Ate Paris. It was a growing trend that was steadily getting darker.
Arguably it was in 1974 that close scrutiny was cast on the unknown and sheltered parts of the country, and a family feasting on travellers to fuel their appetite in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that would throw turmoil into the mix and slowly craft out the slasher sub-genre. A master of horror, Wes Craven would pick up that agitation baton and run with it for The Hills Have Eyes, casting everyday white American family against a mutant inbred family set in the heart of the Californian desert to really shake us to the core. From here on in, the audience had hillbilly horror to contend with as a new playing field for the genre.
As we etch our way into the late seventies and early 80s, the raw appeal was on show to explore through I Spit On Your Grave; Tourist Trap; and the birth of slasher itself in Friday the 13th. The eighties would then play around with this concept with similar fodder in The Burning; Don’t Go In The Woods; and Just Before Dawn. It wouldn’t be long before the subject would be made lightly and Troma Entertainment didn’t disappoint with the horror comedy, Redneck Zombies to combine this trepidation and mix it with the undead.
The nineties would prove a lonely trail until we would be taken off the road and onto an unbeaten track in 2003’s Wrong Turn, a film that has somehow spawned six follow up features. Now, this may be a contentious point but it still stands strong twenty years on to me for nostalgic purposes and no amount of tree-leaping naysayers can sway me from this opinion. And while part of my reasoning may swiftly be driven by the casting of Eliza Dushka its heroine (still a Faith fan and not in the Buffy camp), but also with a pre-Dexter Desmond Harrington and a post Clueless Jeremy Sisto in its fold. And that’s not to mention a Queens of the Stone Age track in the soundtrack to complete the auditory reckoning, and some of the team from Stan Winston studios to add the gloss and gore. Sure it’s twee horror, but it continued this trend of hillbilly horror, satiating those needs and passing on the baton again for more comedy visions in Tucker and Dale vs Evil, and full out gross horror in the remake of The Hills Have Eyes by Alexandre Aja, bringing us full circle again.
The subject is here to stay as long as our fear remains, and in a post COVID world combined with our isolated lives, surviving or not through cyber connections, surely that fear will only grow stronger and thrust us into a whole new realm of revulsion. Hopefully this will pave way for more creativity to force us on the path of destruction and desolation.