With Glastonbury just days away, we’re counting the seconds to get suited and welly-booted again. But, be that as it may, a quick word of warning: the untrustworthy British weather might be the last thing you should be worried about. Or at least that’s what a myriad of rural horror movies will have us believe, with the countryside having proved fertile ground for all things heinous, murderous and supernatural on the big screen.
With that in mind, to help psych you up for the long weekend of festival frivolity ahead (and, while we’re at it, the impending release of Ari Aster’s Midsommar), what follows is a selection of some of the most shocking moments in rural horror movie history. Moments that captured the wildness, weirdness and wonder of the English countryside…
A sense of wild, joyful abandon
The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)
There’s nothing quite as infectious as the feeling of joy that spreads around Glastonbury’s party people. Except, that is, the plague that reared its ugly head in The Blood On Satan’s Claw. Piers Haggard’s fiendish tale sees droves of youth infected by the devil, ultimately retreating deep into the woods to play what they refer to as “their games.”
A confrontation between a local priest and the cult leader, Angel Blake (Linda Hayden) is easily one of the most graphic depictions of paganism’s toxic potency. A teenage girl is raped and the fact it’s played out through the lascivious gaze of onlooking cult members makes it all the more repulsive. It’s just as shocking now, almost 50 years later, and even Haggard went on to admit that he went about that scene in all the wrong ways.
The Wicker Man (1973)
Music is king at Glastonbury. If a rural horror film was ever defined by its music then it’s got to be Robin Hardy’s genre-defining staple, The Wicker Man. The film follows Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) who visits a pagan island to investigate the disappearance of a girl – only to realise he’s been lured there as a human sacrifice to “bring forth a good harvest”.
The film’s most overwhelming moment is the hauntingly erotic “Willow’s Song” scene. Here, Willow performs sexual black magickery of sorts, strutting around naked whilst banging on Howie’s adjoining wall in an attempt to break his Christian code of conduct. The scene soon becomes inescapably exploitative and gratuitous, turning into an ordeal, not just for poor Howie, but for the audience as well.
The simple joy of camping
What would Glastonbury be without some quality tent time? But, wherever you do camp, be sure to stay away from a couple going by the name of Chris and Tina, the love-birds in Ben Wheatley’s Grand Guignol road movie that gives dark tourism a whole new meaning.
Whisking us off on a camping trip with the world’s most casual serial-killer and his girlfriend, Wheatley wallows in the brutality of all manner of mordant murders as the couple spiral completely off the rails. Despite just how unrelenting the lovers’ killing spree is, by far the most shocking moment is the film’s climactic scene atop Cumbria’s Ribblehead Viaduct – but explaining why would spoil the entire film for anyone yet to see it…
Mixing with your fellow man
Straw Dogs (1971)
The sense of community is key at Glastonbury, but not in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Despite every length David (Dustin Hoffman) goes to to fit in with his new neighbours in , they’re having none of it.
A despairing view of machismo and human incompatibility, this English “wild wild west” tale sees American astrophysicist David relocate to a Cornish village where his wife, Amy (Susan George) was raised. Rather than getting some much-needed peace and quiet, Amy’s ex-boyfriend still lives there and he and his band of lecherous mates can’t resist tormenting the new arrivals; psychologically at first – and then quite terrifyingly literally. Without a doubt, the most discomfiting moment is the merciless and protracted gang rape scene; all the more controversial when ambivalence seems to show through the cracks on Amy’s face. Moral panic ensued on the film’s release; its power to shock hasn’t diminished one jot.
A communal society
Village of the Damned (1960)
There’s a constant vibe of everyone feeling connected at Glastonbury as everyone’s there for their love of the same things. Cue Wolf Rilla’s Village of the Damned, one of the creepiest slices of ’60s science fiction. Taking place in a quaint English village, for some unexplainable reason all women and girls of childbearing age suddenly find themselves pregnant, and it’s not long before strikingly similar-looking babies-cum-instruments of destruction are conceived, all sharing some kind of telepathic connection. Shrewdly eschewing special effects, Rilla created a smart and eerie tale that shows no signs of losing its patina even now, more than fifty years (and one duff remake) later. By far the most notorious scene here sees David Zellaby and his cohort command a man to shoot himself point-blank in the skull while they stare him down with those evil, glowing, white eyes.
Wake Wood (2011)
Glasto’s played host to its fair share of revival performances so there’s no way we couldn’t include David Keating’s Pet Sematary-inspired shocker. Following the untimely death of their daughter, a couple move to a seemingly quaint village only to discover pagan roots growing in them there woods.
Keating spreads on the mood for the hour of the film, arguably capturing the parental grief of King’s “Pet Sematary” novel remarkably better than both official movie adaptations. And this whole build-up really hits home when Keating cranks the violence up to eleven in the final act.
The fun-loving coppers of Glastonbury
Hot Fuzz (2007)
The long arm of the law has been known to get in on the fun and games now and again at the festival – with plenty of online selfies to prove it. This serves as the perfect excuse to include Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, especially given the fact it wears its Wicker Man inspirations proudly on its woolly jumper sleeves. This second entry in Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy follows overachieving officer Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), the very best on the force, so good at his job that his superiors feel the need to unceremoniously relocate him in the quaint little village of Sandford. Forced to walk the beat with the inept PC Butterman (Nick Frost), Angel is bored out of his mind… until the locals start getting dispatched in the most gory fashion.
Lashings of blood are spewed left, right and centre throughout, but the highlight here is Timothy Dalton’s brutally fun death-by-model-village-church-spire.
Glastonbury is an absolute assault on the senses, just as is Kate Mulleavy and Laura Mulleavy’s Woodshock. Headed up by Kirsten Dunst, this psychedelic horror-thriller finds Theresa (Dunst) deep in the jaws of depression after the passing of her mother. Out of exasperation, she ends up indulging in a potent cannabinoid drug that elevates her onto a whole new level of consciousness. It’s all as bizarre as it sounds and most of the film basically just shadows Dunst as she forages her way though guilt, loss and the wilderness that surrounds her. But it all builds up to an unexpected final explosion of violence that’ll leave you on edge, confused and begging for more…
The Udder Side of Worthy Farm
The Witch (2016)
The Glastonbury site is decidedly less busy when serving its day-to-day function as a dairy farm. But even the apparently tranquil herds of cows are a cause for concern given they form a part of the bovidae family: a biological family of cloven-hoofed, ruminant mammals that includes, amongst others, goats. And rural horror plus goats only equates to one thing in my book: Black Phillip.
For most of The Witch‘s running time, Phillip appears to be just a background ruminant in a story relating the trials and tribulations of a family striving to forge itself a decent life. But then, in a gut-punching final act twist, we discover the goat was in fact Satan’s assumed mortal form. Metamorphosing from a rambunctious goat into a deadly ram, Phillip plunges the film into outright chaos, gorging Ralph Ineson’s God-fearing patriarch in the process.
Making new friends in the woods and fields
Eden Lake (2008)
Serendipity is a festival goer’s strongest ally, as long as you’re having a great time that is. But that’s far from the case in James Watkins’ brooding tale of revenge that sees a couple’s romantic weekend in the woods evolve into a bloody struggle for survival when they’re forced to deal with a group of savage, feckless striplings.
Things turn brutal on more than the odd occasion but the most torturous moment – not only for poor old Steve (Michael Fassbender), but for the audience – is when he’s taken captive and tied to a tree stump with barbed wire. But it doesn’t end there. Not by a long shot. Goaded by the leader of the group, each of the adolescents then proceeds to take it in turns to torture their “new toy” with knives. This is peer pressure at its most hard core.