Beset with problems on its journey to reaching the big screen due to MGM suffering financial difficulties, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods finally reached audiences in April 2012, when it was saved by Lionsgate and we were treated to an outstanding film that was both a love letter to and satirisation of the horror genre, in particular those classed as slashers or torture porn. On the surface it is your standard horror offering, as a group of teenagers, Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchinson), Holden (Jesse Williams) and Marty (Fran Kranz) go to a cabin off the grid for fun times but then things go drastically wrong. However, there is so much more to this film than what seem like the usual collection of horror tropes.
Due to its unique nature, it is best to go into the film on first viewing as spoiler-free as possible, which is obviously hard to do with a film that is six years old, but if you are at all interested I suggest you stop reading this right now and go and watch it! At the time of writing, it can be found on Netflix UK.
This is your opportunity to run away…
For those of you still reading, let’s take a closer look at some of the monsters and nightmarish creatures that the shadowy organisation has at its disposal to help prevent the Ancient Ones rising and destroying the world, and what other movies could have influenced their inclusion in the building’s vaults. When Dana and Marty instigate the system purge we obviously see all the creatures as the run amok through The Director’s (Sigourney Weaver) facility but the best way to identify a good amount of them is on the whiteboard set up in the control room.
The whole ritual is overseen by two senior technicians, Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), and as perhaps a way to cope with the enormity of what they and the other employees are having to do, a betting pool is run every time as to which monster will torment the sacrificial teens. They range from the obvious to the obscure to the very amusing. Some of the more interesting and recognisable ones are listed below, though there are many others. Should anyone wish to investigate further then there is a site that lists them and gives some details about each.
Summoned by an amulet and chosen by the finance department, the werewolf has been a staple of the horror genre for decades. If you’re looking for one of the earliest depictions there is the 1941 classic, The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr and Claude Rains. Other strong offerings would be John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London, which still has hands down the best transformation sequence in film history, and Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers, which sees a group of British squaddies trying to survive the night against a group of werewolves. Both films use practical effects rather than CGI and still stand up today.
Picked by the Bio-Med Department, the Giger-esque looking creature we get a glimpse of is clearly a homage to the facehuggers in Ridley Scott’s Alien, but that isn’t the only outing in which people are hunted by extraterrestrials. There’s the found-footage film Alien Abduction in which a family on a camping trip are picked off by aliens one by one and the action is viewed through an eleven-year old’s video camera. Another recommendation would be the original Predator, only it’s a group of commandos rather than a family.
The mutants in Cabin act in a similar way to zombies, hunting in packs, but instead of eating the office workers they are shown vomiting thick green sludge into their victim’s faces. Whether this is to turn the unfortunates into more mutants or to just melt their faces off with acid isn’t entirely clear, but either way it’s enough to make the Demolitions Department wager their money on them for the ritual. If you’re wanting to find other movies involving genetic mutants then there is always Wes Craven’s classic The Hills Have Eyes and the more recent remake, and both the Chernobyl Diaries and Wrong Turn would also satisfy the criteria.
Picked by the Chemistry Department, Zombies are like werewolves in that that they’ve been a part of the horror genre for a very long time. Although George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is often referred to as the first depiction of zombies in films there is a Bela Lugosi film called White Zombie which has a voodoo priest zombifying a young woman. 28 Days Later is a reworking of the zombie trope, although the infected in the film do not conform to the true definition of what a zombie is, and for a more humorous take but still full of scares is the Rom-Zom-Com Shaun of the Dead.
Picked by the Engineering Department, this particular incarnation of the unicorn demonstrates that the horn isn’t just for show by promptly using it to impale a worker as soon as it is released. While unicorns in modern storytelling are pure and virtuous creatures, the older stories never shy away from pointing out their more violent side. Attracted to virgins, the unicorns also weren’t shy about killing anyone who tried to pretend to be a virgin just to lure them in. If you want some more unicorn based movies then there’s the classic animation The Last Unicorn and Legend, starring a shockingly young Tom Cruise.
The Cabin in the Woods is a beautifully made homage and deconstruction of the horror movie genre, taking the tired old tropes, turning them on their head and then pulling them apart in front of the audience to let us all see just what makes them tick. A genuine treat for cynical horror fans tired of the same old scares, Whedon and Goddard gave us something new and fresh that still stands the test of time.