Sometimes you just want to get away from it all. Make a break for the great outdoors and take in the open air. And what better way to do that than to spend some time in a rustic cabin? You get all the fun of roughing it, but indoors where you’re not at the mercy of the elements, and you still get the sweeping vistas, deep woods, and picturesque lakes.
But… it’s very isolated out there, isn’t it? And are you sure that noise was just a wild animal running by the cabin? And what about that creepy trapdoor in the floor?
Yes, cabins are also a fertile breeding ground for horror, what with their isolated locales, liminal feeling of the surrounding wilderness, and the fact that there’s just an absolute wealth of weird things already happening around cabins. Hell, Phantasm, a horror movie that plays out like an actual nightmare, was conceived in an isolated cabin where the screenwriter was literally having nightmares. And because creepy cabins are in fact a multimedia experience, here are seven of the creepiest we’ve decided to highlight.
Inscryption (developed by Daniel Mullins Games)
On a dark and stormy night, you sit down at a table in a cabin. In front of you is a figure in shadows, only their eyes and occasionally a gnarled hand visible. You two are to play a card game involving blood sacrifices, squirrel murder, and various forest creatures. If you win, an unspecified prize. If you lose, you get dragged into the back room of the cabin, turned into a “death card,” and are forced to repeat the cycle. So begins Inscryption, a backwoods-horror card battler from Daniel Mullins (Pony Island, The Hex). But this is far from the only two features of the strange cabin, which include such “interests” as weird puzzle cabinets, ominous carvings, a mysterious painting, and a cuckoo clock, all rendered in a pleasing style that blends sculpture with pixel art. It’s a striking presentation for a game that’s equally as twisted, and easily one of the most memorable game areas of 2021.
The Cabin at the End of the World, Paul Tremblay
A family’s pleasant summer vacation at a cabin by a lake is interrupted when a group of men and women with what look like indescribably horrible farming tools demands to be let into the cabin. After a tense and terrifying siege, the attackers take the couple and their young daughter hostage, telling them they now have a choice: Either one of them is willingly sacrificed, or the world will end.
Naturally, the cultists and their farming implements seem out of their minds, but as their ominous deadline gets closer and the power dynamics shift, apocalyptic events occur around the world that lend weight to what the cultists say. While the cabin isn’t overtly creepy, the entire sacrifice ritual and the gruesome-looking handmade tools the cultists wield definitely add to the creep factor, and the hairpin turns the plot takes as the tension ramps up build perfectly off that unsettling atmosphere.
The Evil Dead (1981, dir. Sam Raimi)
The definitive “bad things happen in a cabin” movie, The Evil Dead has something for everyone: An eerie cabin, demonic possession, tons of gore, an evil audiobook, and the iconic first head-on collision between Sam Raimi’s camera and Bruce Campbell’s head. But those familiar with the franchise might not expect that the first installment is a well-executed horror classic played perfectly straight, one that works to earn its classification as a “video nasty.” The early scenes make great use of everything, from the fading light in the Tennessee mountains to the quiet isolation of the cabin itself, building until eventually the Kandarian demons come out to play and the film explodes into dismemberment, gore, and goo. But the series would not be where it is today if it weren’t for the cabin, a place that manages to have a rustic, dilapidated style all of its own. From its creepy basement to the swing that never stops rocking, it’s a space with its own personality, and one that definitely adds to the disturbing nature of the movie. [Content warning for rape]
Resolution (2012, dir. Aaron Scott Moorhead and Justin Benson)
Michael is sent a video of his childhood friend Chris in the throes of a drug addiction, as well as a map to his location. Desperate to help his onetime friend finally get clean and make amends, he tases Chris and handcuffs him to the wall of Chris’s rundown cabin. At first, the movie concerns itself with the power dynamics between Chris and Michael, with Chris defiantly throwing Michael’s control-freak tendencies back in his face, only to get tased repeatedly. But as Michael deals with both Chris’s withdrawal tantrums and a variety of eccentric locals, he stumbles upon a series of recordings and images that seem to lead up to his and Chris’s death. While it starts like an offbeat dramedy, Resolution quickly gets much weirder, turning into a cosmic horror story about narrative, expectation, and audience entitlement, and the dingy, rundown cabin with its filthy mattress and friendly stray dog serves as an excellent locale for this, capturing the desperation and weirdness of the indie-film parts and the dingy, rustic horror of the later story.
The Puller, Michael Hodges
A tale of man versus the elements and monsters, The Puller begins with Matt Kearns heading up to “the shack,” his father’s cabin in the Upper Peninsula, so he can process his father’s death. In the area, there’ve been reports of local wildlife being pulled into the air and hung in the trees by a mysterious force. The surrounding wilderness makes for an eerie location already, with its eccentric locals and isolated locale, but once the creature yanking animals around (dubbed “The Puller” by Matt’s inner voice) takes an interest in Matt, the fact that he keeps getting brutally yanked back to the family cabin makes the place more of a prison.
Things were already strange before, with the unusual wilderness, the family “mousetrap,” and Matt’s flashbacks and hallucinations, but when the gigantic invisible elephant creature shows up, the place feels truly nightmarish and the cabin feels both safer (the Puller doesn’t go inside, at least for the first couple of days) and a lot more claustrophobic (it won’t let Matt leave).
Red Dead Redemption 2 (developed by Rockstar Games)
While the first Red Dead Redemption had its occasional horror and weird-west elements, its sequel dove full-bore into the weirdness and took them so much further. The West of RDR2 is a bizarre place full of haunted paintings, swamp-dwelling cultists, cannibals, ghosts, a vampire, and of course, tons of creepy cabins dotting the landscape. Due to the game’s open-world nature, Arthur Morgan can enter just about any dwelling he finds, with many of them playing host to odd encounters ranging from the simply disturbing (an infamous encounter involving a stranger inviting Arthur in for lunch) to the outright supernatural and surreal (a cabin in the swamps with a haunted painting of the game’s Satan figure). It definitely helps highlight the darker tone of the game, and the sense of isolation and just plain weirdness that each random cabin encounter contains add a wealth of short, strange horror stories as a reward for exploring the game’s vast plains and downright gorgeous landscape.
The Twisted Ones, T. Kingfisher
More of a house than a cabin, but definitely with a similar vibe, The Twisted Ones is an incredibly creepy riff on Arthur Machen’s “The White People,” which was already a deeply unsettling folk horror story. Mouse returns to her grandparents’ house in North Carolina to clean things out. The task is already unpleasant between Mouse’s memories of her horrendously abusive grandmother and her grandmother’s hoarding tendencies, but becomes all the worse when she finds her step-grandfather’s journal and learns about the twisted golems and the otherworld that backs up on the woods near the property. Soon Mouse is investigating strange liminal spaces, chased by a creepy combination of trash and a deer skeleton, and fighting for her and her dog’s life as she tries to unravel the true nature of what’s going on. It helps that the strange house and isolated environs very slowly reveal themselves as dangerous, and by the time everything kicks into high gear, it blends that well with the reveals as the story goes forward. Kingfisher uses the quiet woods to incredible effect, too, with the sudden supernatural elements crashing through the normally subdued and isolated feel of the book.