When the five teenagers in the new horror flick The Cabin in the Woods arrive at the titular location, horror fans will likely feel a moment of cognitive dissonance.
That’s because the cabin looks exactly like the cabin from The Evil Dead, right down to the porch and eyelet windows.
While fans will likely cheer the seemingly explicit shout-out to one of the greatest horror-comedies ever, they may also feel a little ambivalent about sitting through yet another in a very long, practically multigenerational string of movies about teens getting fileted in the dead of night in the middle of nowhere.
My hunch is that writer-director Drew Goddard and writer-producer Joss Whedon want you to savor both those feelings, because the double-whammy of being flattered by recognition and lulled by familiarity makes the movie’s eventual twists that much more exciting. By the time the movie reaches its rip-roaring conclusion, you’ll have little trouble seeing just why the movie knocked ’em dead at SXSW earlier this spring.
The threat of plot spoilers (some of which show up in the trailer below) make discussing the movie a total minefield, but here are some snippets from my conversation with Goddard a few weeks ago, when he was in town for a special campus preview showing of the film.
ERIC HENDERSON: Talk about delayed gratification, right?
DREW GODDARD: Yeah, a little bit, a little bit.
HENDERSON: Three years after production wraps, you finally get to open at South by Southwest, and the movie goes through the roof.
GODDARD: It’s been nice. It’s been beyond my wildest dreams.
HENDERSON: So where did the concept come from?
GODDARD: It just started from a place of love. We just love horror movies. I wrote this with my partner Joss Whedon. We were just kicking around ideas of what we’d want to do with the genre, what we were frustrated with.
HENDERSON: What were you frustrated with?
GODDARD: You can always tell, in horror films in particular, when the director doesn’t care about his characters. When it becomes just, “Let’s show you a new way for this person to get killed,” and that’s all it is. And the characters don’t care about each other, and it becomes an exercise in sadism for the sake of sadism.
The hard part about creativity and ideas is that it’s not as mathematical as you’d like it to be. Stuff just sort of pops in your head. Joss had the original idea, the sort of basic outline of it. When he pitched it to me, he already sort of had the “Upstairs, Downstairs” quality of the movie, and we just kind of went from there.
HENDERSON: Yeah, it starts out as one very specific “type” of movie. I remember when the characters arrived at the cabin thinking, “That looks exactly like the cabin in The Evil Dead.” But then it goes off into these fascinating different directions that … you can really tell you guys are fans of horror. This movie basically “explains” all horror movies.
GODDARD: Certainly one of our goals was to celebrate the horror movie. We do love the genre.
HENDERSON: There are a ton of references! Even to other horror styles, from other countries.
Switching topics, what was it like to work to work with Chris Hemsworth [who was cast as the title character in Thor after shooting ended on Cabin] before he was famous?
GODDARD: We just found him in an audition. We were auditioning hundreds for that role, and he just walked through the door and you could just feel it, feel that this guy was special. I said “That’s our guy.” And then about two weeks into shooting, and I was watching him in the viewfinder, and I thought “This guy’s going into the stratosphere.” So I called the studio and said, “You’ve got to watch today’s dailies.” That day he was cast in something else and then a couple days later, he got cast as Thor. It kind of all happened at once.
(Minor spoilers follow.)
HENDERSON: There’s a scene in the movie where people are shown betting on different sorts of monsters. If you were one of those people, what would you have put your money on?
GODDARD: If I was in a horror film, I would probably root for the sexy witches. ‘Cause they’re sexy.
HENDERSON: The whole last act of the movie feels both horrible and gleeful. It has sort of a Busby Berkeley quality.
GODDARD: I call it “triumphant nihilism.” We didn’t want it to feel like a downer. This is supposed to be fun.
HENDERSON: I would liken it less to “torture porn” and more to, say, a disaster movie. You sort of want to see this. It’s sort of fun but illicit.
GODDARD: That’s what we were going for. We didn’t want a traumatic horror film, we wanted a fun horror movie. One where you’re laughing as much as you’re screaming.