5 Fantastic Folk Horror Films to Watch Before Fall Is Over - by Savannah Cordova.

We may be weeks past Halloween, but spooky season lives on in my heart. In fact, I firmly believe that well-made horror movies should be fair game until the end of fall — especially folk horror, in which autumnal imagery (leaves, cornfields, moonlit woods, etc.) gets turned on its head, going from cosy to creepy faster than you can say “pumpkin spice latte.”

Of course, there’s more to folk horror than just aesthetics. The best folk horror adapts or invents lore that feels real and terrifying, and its characters frequently deal with issues much deeper than having to outrun the bad guy. So while you might come for the fall vibes, I hope you stay for the depth and originality this subgenre has to offer! To give you a taste, here are five fantastic folk horror films to watch before the season is over.

1. The Wicker Man (1973)

Not just a defining entry in folk horror, The Wicker Man has been called one of the best horror films of all time — “the Citizen Kane of horror movies,” as one early reviewer put it. Suffice to say, it’s a must-watch for any horror fan and a great way to ease yourself into the niche of folk horror, with the added bonus of seeing where some of its signature elements originated. (Just make sure you don’t accidentally watch the 2006 remake, which is so bad it’s actually comical.)

1973’s The Wicker Man follows policeman Neil Howie as he investigates a missing-child case on Summerisle, a remote island off the coast of Scotland. Though the islanders welcome him, Howie is disturbed by their pagan customs, which include strange singing, frightening masks, and off-putting medical treatments. What’s more, no one will acknowledge the missing girl — not even her own mother. As Howie searches desperately for the truth, the islanders’ sinister aims become all too clear… but will Howie actually be able to save the child, or even himself?

2. Children of the Corn (1984)

Another iconic piece of folk horror, Children of the Corn began as a Stephen King story and was vividly expanded in this now-cult film. Having seen The Wicker Man, one will recognize its influences upon Children of the Corn: the mysterious children, the driving forces of paganism, the community’s need for a bountiful harvest. But Children of the Corn takes things even further — these children aren’t just mysterious, they’re malevolent, and they’re not merely brainwashed, but are being controlled by a creature of profound horror.

Children of the Corn takes place in 1980s Nebraska, a few years after a failed corn crop brings tragedy to the small town of Gatlin. An innocent couple is passing through town on their way to Seattle; after accidentally running over a young boy, they get sucked into a visceral nightmare of blood-drinking, cult-worshipping children. Needless to say, our protagonists will be their next victims — unless they can find out what’s compelling the children and break its hold over them once and for all.

3. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Fans of The Blair Witch Project may be surprised it’s not my 1999 entry of choice. But while Blair Witch must be credited as skillful suspense that revitalized the “found footage” style of horror, it can’t quite hold a candle to the delicious drama of Sleepy Hollow. Though this film has often been categorized as Gothic, it’s threaded with potent folk horror as well: dark woods, witchcraft, and a chilling local legend gone too far.

In this adaptation, Ichabod Crane is a city constable who arrives in Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of decapitations — and, despite his scepticism, is soon forced to admit that something supernatural is afoot. With the help of an earnest orphan and an enigmatic heiress, Crane must solve the mystery of the Horseman’s deadly mission before even more lives are lost. Confusing clues and ulterior motives abound, but our hero will not be deterred… and Sleepy Hollow’s demonic conclusion will satisfy even the twistiest of viewers.

4. The Witch (2015)

Between Tim Burton’s penchant for campy, even cartoonish horror and the fact that special effects in the 90s weren’t what they are today, some of Sleepy Hollow’s moments can come across as more silly than scary. Not so in The Witch, which combines an atmosphere of intense dread with some genuinely horrific images (not to mention Anya Taylor-Joy in her film debut!). As one might expect, it’s not for the faint of heart — but if you love horror that delves into history for an experience both authentic and deeply uncanny, it doesn’t get better than this.

The Witch begins with a Puritan family being banished from their colony in 17th-century New England. The parents and children, including the teenage Thomasin and new baby Samuel, settle near the forest to rebuild their lives. But when Samuel vanishes from Thomasin’s care, the rest of the family, already isolated and paranoid, turn on her. What follows is a masterful psychological unravelling of the whole clan — especially Thomasin, who’s left with no choice but to lean into violence. By the end of the movie, it’s clear that while there are occult forces at play here, the true evil (as in most folk horror) is inside of us.

5. Midsommar (2019)

You can’t have a folk horror list without Midsommar, the Ari Aster spectacle that ushered this subgenre into the mainstream. It also brings our list full-circle, as Midsommar pays homage to The Wicker Man — most notably with the ending (if you’ve seen both films, you’ll know what I mean). And while its hazy ambience and disjointed plot may polarize viewers, if you’re intrigued by pagan rituals, subtly dysfunctional character dynamics, and above all visually striking films, it’s definitely worth a shot.

Midsommar revolves around Dani, a young woman who’s just lost her parents and sister in a traumatic murder-suicide. Struggling with her own mental health and hoping for a distraction, she accompanies her boyfriend to a Swedish midsummer celebration. Yet things go quickly awry: first a bad drug trip and a disturbing ritual suicide push Dani into greater distress, then people start disappearing. How will she cope with it all? You’ll have to watch to find out — and however you feel about the execution, the ideas behind Midsommar are undeniably fascinating.

Indeed, from the shadowy presence of old gods to the florid trappings of a Maypole dance, folk horror offers so much for viewers to relish and dissect. I hope you’ll consider watching at least one of the films on this list — and, knowing a little more about the subgenre, you’ll join me in the desire for even more inventive, unsettling, utterly captivating folk horror films to come.

About the Author

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, she enjoys reading books, watching films, and listening to audiobooks in the horror and fantasy genres.