Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 28: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
This post is full of spoilers. Do not read if you haven’t watched Cabin in the Woods and plan on viewing it.
Horror films are considered to be in the lowly categories of the film industry, just like the comedy genre. What makes these genres so “low” is the consideration that most films are made for cheap thrills, scares, or dirty humor to get the audiences murmuring about it post credits. However, horror films have made a comeback for the past couple of years. Most recently IT won over both critics and audiences and became the highest grossing horror film since The Exorcist spewed across cinemas in 1973. Insidious was a decent success and spawned two sequels, and let’s not forget The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 with paranormal detectives Mr and Mrs. Warren. So, what is it about The Cabin In The Woods that makes it stand out above all the other horror films? Let’s dive in.
The Cabin In The Woods came out in 2012 and was directed by Cloverfield’s Drew Goddard. Most of the films actors and actresses aren’t recognizable except for Chris Hemsworth and Richard Jenkins, which makes it better than casting higher end talent. Personally, the more fresh blood on screen the more the audience isn’t distracted by “Oh, I hope my favorite actor/actress doesn’t die!” Sure, we have Thor and the dad/stepfather from Step Brothers, but generally we have a fresh-faced cast to guide us through.
There have been a slew of comedic horror movies that have come out the past few years and in all honesty it is a hard genre to carry out well. We’ve seen Evil Dead 2 in 1982 and soon followed Gremlins in 1984 and Re-Animator in ‘85, but nothing else memorable really came along until Scream in 1996.Then it was followed by the cult favorite Shaun of The Dead in 2004 and then the underrated Slither in 2006. A few more horror comedies showed up soon afterwards, but we were treated to more silly takes like 2000’s Scary Movie.
The Cabin in the Woods is more of a love/hate letter to the horror genre while parodying all the usual tropes found in that genre. We have your typical clichéd kids like the jock, the brain, the joker, the virgin and the loose girl. There’s jump scares, terrible one liners before hitting the big bad (“You like pain? You’re going to love this!”) There’s also the trope of how the American experiment involves a “Zombie Redneck Torture Family”, while on the Japanese monitors their experiment involves a long black-haired, black-eyed, whiter than white spirit terrorizing little girls.
While the movie progresses, Joss Whedon’s script has the perfect formula for showing off all these ridiculous devices used in EVERY horror film. It almost doesn’t dawn on you until you watch Cabin how many of these cliché expressions are used countless times and how ridiculous they are. Only can the creator of Firefly and Buffy create and dismiss overused tropes simultaneously. Both Goddard and Whedon pay homage and dismantle the horror genre by focusing on the “cabin.” With the cabin, the viewer is consistently reminded that this is a traditional horror flick that is swiftly unfolding before them. It is decorated with a pretty cast of unassuming, college kids who set out for a good time, an isolated building with some odd nooks and crannies within its property, and of course we cannot forget the evil entity that is embodied within… yet we still focus on what exactly is going on in that white-walled control room.
One of my favorite elements with this movie is how the bones of it are about movie making. With Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford in the control room, we are shown that this is actually director Drew Goddard and producer Joss Whedon with (spoiler warning) Sigourney Weaver being referred to as “The Director.” However, the best part of this is that the Ancients at the end are us: the audience. Sure, you can say that the Gods are the movie executives that are the over watchers of the film that Drew and Joss are aiming to please, but let’s be honest, an audience is the bigger beast to feed. An audience has a particular palate that needs to be satisfied and that is a more intense feeding tank. If the typical aforementioned tropes aren’t completed then the world (the movie or cinematic universe) will be taken apart and will end. Throughout the film, it has been mentioned how hard the Gods are to please, and sprinkled throughout we are lectured on how they’ve had to adapt the process throughout time to keep them pleased.
Look at our obsession with serial killers. It is a natural human trait to crave chaos, the need to hear scary stories around a campfire, or have some urban legend told by your brother or a friend’s sibling. This is where Whedon and Goddard are pointing out with The Cabin in the Woods. They aren’t so much as as saying that we have terrible taste, but rather chastising us for the insatiable blood lust we crave in film and storytelling.
This can also be referenced back to the failing of the other experiments across the globe. At the end of the film, we see that there are multiple failures across the globe in Japan, Madrid, Sweden, etc. As mentioned before, the Gods started demanding more specific rituals. Hadley even asks whatever happened to the good old days where they used to throw a girl into a volcano and The Ritual would be complete. The Gods became increasingly hungry for entertainment and thus changed The Ritual to quench their blood lust. If you look at a classic horror film like Frankenstein and compare it to Psycho you will see an evolution, just like if you were to compare Psycho to Evil Dead and so on. Our needs for gore have always been primal (e.g., the Ancient Roman Coliseum), but the temptation has always been subdued up until recently. Young audiences today aren’t enticed by the intense build up of Hitchcock’s Rope or the dark and seediness of Nosferatu. Instead, today’s generation lines up at midnight film showings to watch a scantily clad young woman get her intestines ripped out in excruciating detail.
The Cabin In The Woods is a horror movie about what horror movies mean and do for us as an audience and to many, that is its biggest fault. However, in actuality that is the film’s greatest strength. We as the audience are forced to see Whedon and Goddard deconstruct and unfold our own twisted fascination of gore. We assume that the film is about murdering psychos or creatures of mythos stalking these college students with some underlying cautionary tale. The script is beautifully written where we assume we know what is going on per the usual tricks of this particular genre, but very soon are we lost in the woods, so to speak, with the cast.
Speaking of the cast, look at our list of characters. You have the good-looking jock, played by Chris Hemsworth, but there is something different about him. He’s a Sociology major who has the smarts and even recommends the “Virgin” to read a different book that will give her a challenge. The “Virgin” isn’t really a virgin and it is revealed that Dana slept with her college professor, but she is made to be the most innocent out of the five. Let’s not forget “The Whore,” who isn’t really made out to be that big of one when we first meet her. She is in a committed relationship with Hemsworth’s Curt and isn’t dressed in practically nothing, up until she gets to the cabin. Fran Kranz‘s stoner persona Marty quickly points out how Curt and Jules are acting out of character. “Puppeteers” is the phrase Marty utters, but is quickly dismissed by Dana since he is outrageously high. However, he isn’t wrong. Airborne and hair products that are spiked with chemicals are used to alter the personalities of these characters to fit “The Ritual” of the five desired traits of sacrifice. It is well done, because when we first see Hemsworth and underestimate his intellect, it sends a wave of confusion, which is what makes it so brilliant. When the personalities alter, the audience feels more comfortable with him as they are taking on the “proper” persona in preparation for their deaths.
One of the best scenes, or rather handful of scenes, is when Dana decides to unleash all the horrors onto The Facility. It is at this particular moment where one can see Goddard and Whedon sitting down going, “Screw it. Let’s give them what they want.” It’s a jab at the deux es machina: an unexpected power saving a hopeless situation. Marty came to Dana’s rescue already, so what’s left for the two of them? Why not unleash everything?
All deaths on-screen to this point have been relatively bloodless. Curt smashes into an invisible wall, but there’s no blood. Jules gets her head sliced off by the The Buckners, however we don’t see it, and poor Holden gets a blade rammed through his neck, and while we do see some blood there, it’s not enough for your typical horror film attendee. Everyone in the facility, on the other hand, meets their end in a way that you do not want to go. Yes, the two writers have finally thrown a case of chum into the water, but not without a nod to many horror icons. There’s homage to Pennywise, Deadites, Pinhead and so SO much more.
The horror has been manufactured for us, as it is made clear with the government control room. The game is rigged to ensure success, just like Hollywood producers and writers who think within the box of just how much gore they can get away with. Cabin teases us with leading our five doomed leading actors down into the basement, to Pandora’s box of horrors that they unleash which is later revealed due to our demand. I applaud Goddard and Whedon for stepping forward with such a unique script and artful directing to take a jab at its own audience while still creating a new classic. In fact, I could write about at least a dozen more pages on this film and why it is forever in my top five of greatest horror films of all time. Instead, I will leave you with the recommendation to watch something that will chill your bones. Explore the underbelly of the horror genre with something intellectual, or something that will get your anxiety pushing through the surface like a slow burner. In other words, don’t make the world end when a movie doesn’t go your way. Be proud that there are writers and directors out in the industry that are looking to go left when for the past 30 years, everyone else has gone right.