Horror Culture & The Cabin in the Woods

The horror genre is something that’s been around for a very long time. Rooted in Greek and Roman mythology, European folklore and ancient religious traditions, these stories almost always involved death, evil, demonic entities and spirits, and characters learning horrible lessons through suffering. I mean, why do you think horror movies like The Conjuring, The Exorcist, The Omen and countless others revolve so heavily around the Bible? The Bible is one of the most horrific stories ever told, and it’s from like…a long time ago, I’m pretty sure. But over time, something happened. While the themes and morals all remained the same, the shape and form of horror started to change with advances in culture, literature, and film, until eventually we arrived at one of the most prominent and done-to-death eras in the horror genre…the teen slasher. 

Ignoring the warnings of locals, a group of sexually promiscuous college students travel to a secluded cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway, but soon discover they’re safer outside the cabin than in it. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the basis of pretty much every teen slasher flick from the last 40 years. But if you think you know how this story goes, you’re dead wrong. With a brilliant script from Joss Whedon (Marvel’s The Avengers) and Drew Goddard (Bad Times at the El Royale), The Cabin in the Woods embraces its cliched premise with more than a few twists and turns along the way. 

It’s easy to watch a scary movie and think to yourself “Don’t go into the creepy cellar, you idiots!”, or “What are you doing? Never split up!”, but in The Cabin in the Woods’ case, our characters aren’t the typical dumbasses we’re familiar with in horror movies. They’re likeable, resourceful, and make intelligent decisions, but are being manipulated like puppets by an organization of underground scientists. As their night in the cabin progresses, they begin behaving strangely, adapting more and more to the stereotypes of their characters. The jock, who is actually a gentle anthropology major, turns into the douchey Alpha-male; the “dumb blonde” who is actually an academically charged student relying on brains instead of her looks, but is influenced by a noxious hair dye into becoming the stereotypical “whore” of the film, shedding light on the way most women are over-sexualized in horror; and the stoner, who is typically just thrown in as comic-relief and dies straight away, is actually the wisest out of all of them! However, my favourite characters are by far Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water) and Bradley Whitford’s (Get Out) pair of lovable scientists, Sitterson and Hadley. These two are the ones orchestrating the massacre that’s taking place just a few miles above their heads, and serve as a B-plot to the above-ground horror. They’re also, without a doubt, the funniest characters in this thing. 

So, after their friends are torn apart by murderous redneck zombies, lone survivors Dana (Kristen Conolly, Revolutionary Road) and Marty (Fran Kranz, Donnie Darko) make their way down an elevator to the mysterious underground lab. The elevator scene is one of my personal favourites, simply because of how creative and reminiscent of other horror movies it is. Dana and Marty come face-to-face with a slew of terrifying creatures, each taken or inspired by pre-existing films, and realize that their fate was decided by none other than themselves. It’s a powerful scene, but it’s also fun to think about how different things could have been if, instead of summoning redneck zombies, they summoned cannibalistic ballerinas or giant Hellraiser-inspired bondage Lords. 

The Cabin in the Woods has one of the most fun, and batshit insane endings I’ve ever seen. I’m not joking. A bunch of killer clowns get blown away by machine guns and a dude gets his face eaten by a merman… it’s fucking nuts. After unleashing the horde of nightmarish monsters onto the lab, Dana and Marty continue deeper underground, until they encounter the Director, played by the legendary Sigourney Weaver (Alien). They learn that they are part of an eons-old ritual sacrifice, meant to keep a race of God-like beings called the Ancient Ones from rising. It might sound absurd, but words cannot describe how much I love this ending. It’s so different. You don’t watch a teen slasher expecting it to end with the destruction of the entire planet, but that’s just one of the things that make The Cabin in the Woods so fresh, and a major departure from the classic formula. Also, Dana and Marty sitting down and smoking a joint while the world comes to an end around them is perfect.

As I stated in my opening paragraph; horror has been around for a long time, and will continue to exist for as long as there are stories to be told. Every now and then, something will come along to leave its mark on the genre, and become an instant classic. The Cabin in the Woods is one of my favourite movies, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. It’s hilarious, original, genuinely scary at times, and demands more than one viewing (I’ve probably watched it a dozen times, yet I still catch myself noticing tiny details here and there). If you’re a fan of horror (or just entertaining movies in general), do yourself a favour and watch 2011’s The Cabin in the Woods.