Hammer Films expands its newest library of chillers with the upcoming Woman in Black set to hit theaters on February 3. Based on the 1983 gothic ghost tale by Susan Hill, Daniel Radcliffe stars as a young lawyer who is sent to a remote English village full of dark secrets and becomes haunted by a mysterious woman.
Ah, horror cinema's wacky villagers — always harboring some kind of horrific information, or launching a demented attack against anyone who might threaten to infiltrate their clandestine mojo and bizarre way of life. In some films villagers' superstitions or religious beliefs lead to lynch mobs and a down home brand of justice. In other movies those beliefs are twisted further into something far more fiendish. We explored several films past the break that feature strange villagers — contemporary and old school — who change the course of the film thanks to their herd psychosis. Village cults, small-town weirdos, and bloodthirsty clans await you below. As usual, beware of spoilers.
The Wicker Man (1973)
The first rule of the crazy villager genre: if naked, attractive people living on an island paradise spend their free time naked and engaging in pervy rituals seems too good to be true, it probably is. Sergeant Neil Howie found that out the hard way in Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man. The subversive meditation on British socio-political-religious agendas features a bevy of Neopagan cult conspiracy shenanigans — including one from a nude Britt Ekland (or at least her body double) — that consumes with its fiery finale.
Blood on Satan's Claw
One day you're just an oblivious farmer plowing the field, and the next you're possessed by a supernatural power after accidentally mowing over the remains of a satanic beast. The atmospheric Blood on Satan's Claw takes the witchy mysticism of its village people and twists it through the charge of a wicked young woman named Angel. She slowly converts the townsfolk's children into little demons who do her bidding in the Witchfinder-esque tale.
News anchor Karen White survives an attack by a serial murderer and is shipped off to a secluded resort by her doctor so she can recover from the brutal incident. The Colony isn't your typical feel-good funny farm, however. Nympho seductresses and end times nutjobs aside, the place is loaded with werewolves who will stop at nothing to keep Karen's mouth shut to protect their wolfy oasis.
Race with the Devil
Peter Fonda, his RV, and company go camping, but end up witnessing a Satanic sacrifice after venturing off the beaten path. No one seems to believe their story, because the entire Texas town is doing the devil's dirty work and is in on the gig. Crafty Satanists stage a showdown that involves a high-speed chase with … Fonda's RV. The cult members in the movie were reportedly real-life Satanists, which was probably a publicity stunt. Everyone knows that the Lone Star State is crawling with chainsaw-wielding weirdos wearing masks made from human skin, and not devil worshipers.
Underrated and quietly subversive, Christopher Smith sets Black Death's religious horror antics during the 14th century, smack in the middle of the plague. The villagers in Smith's film deliver lessons of faith to a knight, a monk, and a group of soldiers that have come to slay a necromancer amongst them. The gritty crusade reaches no absolute conclusion, but the confrontation between the two groups is tensely executed.
Messiah of Evil
The bloodthirsty townies in the slow-boiling, surreal nightmare Messiah of Evil have their eyes to the sky, waiting for the arrival of a mysterious, dark stranger. They hail from a seaside locale where all time appears to have halted and the occult madness dial has been set to high. The villagers of Messiah of Evil allude to the cannibalistic nature of America's Great Depression, but are pretty damn terrifying regardless of their symbolism.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
Although the crazy villager trope is usually associated with period, Gothic horror, they also exist in the low-lit living rooms of suburban homes. When a drug-addicted teen is found murdered, strange clues are uncovered during the investigation that lead Agent Dale Cooper to the tragic case of Laura Palmer. Director David Lynch suggests in several instances that while many thought Laura was the perfect high school student, others in her community demonized her when they should have offered help.
The boys of Hostel apparently never saw Wicker Man, because if they had, they would have run screaming from the beautiful women luring them to a gruesome death. A group of backpacking friends shack up in a hostel in a small Slovak village. At first, it seems like a young man's dream come true, but the guys quickly learn that they have been chosen to be live game for an underground human hunting club. Hostel toys with ideas of cultural anxiety and ignorance, parodying the lunatic villager trope to a grisly degree.
Lucio Fulci's ode to eye gore demonstrates what evil can be unleashed when mob justice is enacted. There are seven gateways to hell, but only one is required to summon the brutal terror in The Beyond. 1920's Louisiana is the site of a crucifixion and torturous death that opens a portal to hell. A restless spirit is unleashed, and the dead are reanimated into a killer army. The Beyond should be a lesson to angry villagers everywhere: quicklime kills the body, but not the soul.
Twins of Evil
A small village becomes a breeding ground for vampires, when a bored playboy summons an ancient bloodsucker. Her presence connects the community to an evil that a group of puritanical men have been battling for ages — the Karnstein family curse. They've decided to solve the issue by launching an ongoing witch-hunt to rid the town of any sinister forces amongst them. Young women keep disappearing, though, and soon the leader of the village sees his two nieces follow suit. When one of the girls goes vampy, the mob closes in on her, blinded by their own confused agenda.