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John’s Horror Corner: The Cabin in the Woods (2012), blowing away expectations

November 1, 2013

MY CALL:  Looking for something in the horror genre that you haven’t seen yet?  Sounds impossible, right?  Wrong!  This is it!  Lovers of all franchises and solos will thank me for this recommendation. This gets a general movie “A” and a horror movie “A+.”   IF YOU LIKE THIS, WATCH:  Sam Raimi’s horror exploits (Evil Dead 2, Drag Me to Hell) and the Scream series, at least the first one if not through Scream 4.  And we mustn’t forget the equally unorthodox stylings of Tucker and Dale vs Evil, which is loaded with laughs and gore galore and a unique, yet somehow all too familiar, approach to the horror genre.

“What was that noise?”  –some chick
“Not sure.  But I’m totally gonna’ go investigate…alone…in the dark…without a flashlight.” –some bro

In recent decades guaranteed-grossing remakes, prequels and franchising sequels have flooded theaters in lieu of new ideas. The Cabin in the Woods offers an imaginative never-told story, cleverly acknowledges almost every horror icon and franchise on the market, and ultimately alleviates a genre that has desperately thirsted for originality.  This Frankensteinian stitch-work horror transcends the genre and will perhaps never be successfully copied.  Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the title.  Instead, be warned at how comfortingly familiar it feels.

“Whoa.  This basement is filled with old, creepy relic-looking things.”  –some bro
“Oooooh–then I’m gonna’ touch something!”  –some chick

Our story follows a typical cadre of horror victems: a studly jock (Chris Hemsworth; Thor, The Avengers), his naughty cheerleader-type girlfriend (Anna Hutchison; Power Rangers Jungle Fury), another jock (Jesse Williams; Grey’s Anatomy), the comic-relief slacker/stoner (Fran Kranz; Dollhouse), and a mild-mannered but cute friend (Kristen Connolly; As the World Turns).  They go to ‘a cabin in the woods’ for a weekend retreat and find themselves struggling to survive supernatural (and murderous) forces.  As if mocking our expectations (i.e., our horror-goers’ common sense), some play by the stereotype of their archetypal roles, others flat out defy them.  Most notable is the paranoid, but shockingly sensible pot-smoker.  What’s not typical is that you want to root for these kids…all of them.  These actors all did fine jobs; full of verve and likability.  Normally I just sit and wait patiently for “talentless actor X” to die in some clever way.

So who’s the hero?  Thor, on the left, right?  Certainly not the geek on the right.

Fran Kranz stars as ‘Marty’ in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.
I know what you’re thinking and the answer is “yes.”  That IS a telescopic bong, disguised as a chrome travel mug, modified into a weapon.

Making this movie especially interesting is that it is told consistently from two entirely different perspectives.  Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) and Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under, Burn After Reading) form a spectacularly funny bantering duo steering this “other perspective.”  No spoiler here.  They lead office culture lives in an unnamed agency that is working behind the scenes of our vacationers’ terrible calamity. While there’s really no way to explain their involvement or motive more without spoiling the surprise, I will say that the third act of this flick will leave you feeling very conflicted about who to root for and who the “real” protagonists are.  You see, you’ll think you found the twist early in the movie, but more awaits.

Even horror movies require tech support.

This must have been difficult to advertise since an honest tagline would easily spoil the movie, the mood and the fun.  That said, don’t expect to see the movie you saw in the trailer—rather, expect to be impressed! Much as Scream-Scream 4 was a horror meta-movie series, so is The Cabin in the Woods, however it does so in a completely different manner.  Some classic concepts are blatantly copied.  You find yourself thinking “Oh, come on…” until witnessing the completely unexpected actions and lines of our protagonists handling the situation.

As if the quick-witted Sam Raimi (Evil Dead 2,   Drag Me to Hell) and macabre Jason Voorhees had a lovechild, humorously spewed blood fills the air like a pyrotechnic display and, like 4th of July fireworks, the finale will leave you gasping.  [Or laughing, hopefully if you’re sick about gore like that.]  This movie offers an explanation for all the stupid actions and characters you’ve screamed at during your horror movie-going career.  Why would you have sex NOW?  Who would have sex THERE? Don’t go out there alone?  Split up?—are you insane?  No, don’t investigate and don’t ‘be right back.’  The script keeps us ever-off balance, lulling us into a sense of familiarity before serially and cleverly pulling the rug out from under our better judgment and expectations—much to my delight!

Don’t wait, folks.  See this today!

BTW, here are two pictures that won’t make sense until after you see the movie.

SIDEBAR:  This game-changing movie was actually completed and ready for market in 2009.  However a writers’ strike and a movie company bankruptcy delayed its release.  As such, writer Joss Whedon, director Drew Goddard and The Cabin in the Woods have been greasing rumormills for some time now.  There was a lot of hype…and it all turned out to be right!


Things get a little weird.  For example, the merman.  Need I say more?


Okay, things get REALLY weird!

56 Comments leave one →
  1. johnleavengood permalink
    July 23, 2012 8:22 pm

    If only there was a way to make a sequel of this…

  2. July 3, 2015 9:14 pm

    Awesome post.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      July 5, 2015 11:16 am

      Many thanks. Did you have any thoughts on this film that I missed?


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