The fall season is upon us. The air is crisp, the nights are longer and the once brightly colored leaves are falling from the trees, leaving behind their bare, twisted limbs towering above. When cast in a certain light, anything could be scary.
The trees on the following list range from the scariest to the “mostly harmless, but still scary looking” variety, all the way up to the downright violent and “house ancient evils inside them”.
In case you haven’t seen all of the films mentioned below, beware! Here there be SPOILERS…
8. The Conjuring (2013)
Based on the cases of (maybe) real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), James Wan’s 2013 supernatural thriller went on to spawn a sequel, with a third on its way and a number of highly successful spin-offs. It also features one of cinema’s gnarliest looking trees, with a backstory that is equally as disturbing.
According to the film, a witch by the name of Bathsheba lived in the Rhode Island home with a rich farmer and their infant son. One night, the farmer caught the witch offering up her son as a sacrifice. Once confronted she immediately climbed the tree, declared her love for Satan and hung herself.
If only the real estate listing mentioned such things…
7. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Back in 1999, the Blair Witch Project scared its way into our pop culture lexicon faster than a jump scare in a James Wan movie.
Famously promoted as a true story about three filmmakers who disappeared while making a documentary about the local legend known as the Blair Witch. One of the more unnerving scenes involved stick figures.
In the film, after the trio get into an argument over the map one of them kicked into the river, they come across a campground surrounded by hanging humanoid stick figures, seemingly left by the witch herself. Other than their strange presence, they are never fully explained, making them even more unsettling.
6. Sinister (2012)
A disenfranchised writer looking for his next big hit moves his family into a haunted house, only to have one of his children become influenced by a Babylonian deity and kill them all. It’s a tale as old as time!
Directed by horror veteran Scott Derrickson (Exorcism of Emily Rose, Hellraiser: Inferno) and starring Ethan Hawke (First Reformed) as the writer desperate to reclaim the fame his first novel brought him. After moving into the house, he comes across a box of old Super 8mm film that features the grisly deaths of the houses previous owners.
While the scariest of the deaths may involve a lawnmower, it’s the films initial shot that is the most shocking; four people hanging from a tree with rope around their necks and bags over their heads. The shot lingers for an uncomfortably long amount of time before things take a turn for the worse. One of the branches starts to slowly fall to the ground while the hanging bodies begin to writhe and rise in the air and you the viewer realize they’re still alive! The lower the branch falls the higher up the victims go until they stop moving completely.
It’s an image that sticks with you long after the opening credits roll, letting you know right off the bat what kind of dread you can expect for the next 90 plus minutes.
5. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)
Netflix’s latest, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is “a dark, modern take on the traditionally lighthearted series”. Nowhere is that fact more evident than the very first episode “The October Country” which introduces the titular teenage witch.
Late in the episode, as Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka, Mad Men) is struggling with her decision to sign over her soul to the Dark Lord at her ‘dark baptism’, she takes her boyfriend, Harvey (Ross Lynch, My Friend Dahmer) apple picking. After they split up, Sabrina goes to find the Malum Malus, which depending on who is translating, is either an apple of evil or the fruit of knowledge. After Sabrina takes a bite out of it, she notices worms crawling out. Suddenly, she is whisked away to an auburn tinted hellscape, surrounded by dozens of hanged women with their hands and feet tied behind their backs and their eyes scratched out. As she takes it all in, what appears to be a very large, very gnarly looking beast with a goat head atop a human body emerges from the tree and makes its way toward her.
Before it can reach her, Sabrina spits out the remaining bits of apple and returns safely to the apple farm, still unsure of what she should do about her ‘dark baptism’. But any tree that houses Black Philip would certainly give anyone pause.
4. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Starring frequent collaborator, Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane & Christina Ricci as Katherine van Tassel, Burton and crew take you on a journey to the quaint upstate New York town where a series of murders have left their victims…headless. The perpetrator? Why, none other than THE headless horseman of course!
As the film goes on and the bodies continue to pile up, it turns out the horseman, played by an absolutely feral Christopher Walken (pre-beheading), is controlled by Katherine’s stepmother, Lady van Tassel, played by Miranda Richardson (The Hours). Seeking revenge on the men who sold her family’s land after her father died, van Tassel uses the beheaded skull of the former Confederate soldier to summon the legendary apparition from a gateway to Hell itself: a crooked and gnarled tree deep in the dark forest, known as the Tree of the Dead.
3. Wizard of Oz (1939)
While most rational people cite the infamous flying monkeys from the 1939 classic as pure nightmare fuel, there are some who consider the talking trees just as frightening.
Right after Dorothy’s chance encounter with the lovable but brainless Scarecrow, the two person crew run across a forest of seemingly normal looking trees. As Dorothy plucks an apple from one of them, the tree reaches out its hand and snatches the apple right back, before giving her a piece of his mind.
While the scene is generally played for laughs, with the angry trees plucking apples off of themselves and hurling them at our heroes, there’s just something off-putting about their faces and gravelly voices that sent shivers down my spine.
2. Poltergeist (1982)
After Steve and Diane Freeling, played by JoBeth Williams (The Big Chill, Kramer vs. Kramer) and Craig T. Nelson (The Skulls, The Incredibles) move their family into the recently developed suburban subdivision, strange things start happening. Their youngest daughter wakes in the middle of the night and talks to the static on the TV screen. Objects in a certain part of the kitchen seem to move on their own. Then one night right before bed, their son has an encounter with a tree outside his room that every kid with a window and an imagination could relate to.
No amount of curtains could stop that nightmare from reoccurring.
1. The Evil Dead Series (1981 – 2013)
When the majority of your movie takes place in a secluded cabin out in the middle of the woods, chances of a killer tree attack are pretty high. When the majority of your *series* of movies are set in secluded cabins in the middle of the woods, those chances grow exponentially.
Throughout 3 films, one remake and one recently canceled television series, multiple characters are tortured and tormented by otherworldly spirits unleashed on this world thanks to Ashley J. Williams (Bruce Campbell) and friends reading from the Necronomicon, aka Book of the Dead.
But the scariest of the bunch is still Sam Raimi’s (Drag Me to Hell) original franchise starter, The Evil Dead. Famously filmed over four years on a micro-budget in the woods of Tennessee, this 1981 cult classic features a scene so repulsive, even Raimi has since disowned it. In the film, a young woman (Ellen Sandweiss, Ash vs Evil Dead) is sexually violated by a tree. In a series where people’s limbs fly freely from their bodies and copious amounts of blood explode from every frame, Raimi’s revulsion speaks volumes.