Cabin Fever

Jerry Aronson, one of my weekly poker game buddies, gave me a last-minute invitation to a sneak-preview. Jerry’s a retired film instructor, and the movie in question was by one of his former students who had graduated back in 1998. That student was Drew Goddard, who later found success as a writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, and Lost (to mention only his TV work, he also scripted Cloverfield, as well as its pending sequel, and Robopocalypse – which Spielberg will release next year). Drew is currently scheduled to set the world on fire this Friday the 13th with The Cabin in the Woods, a directorial debut he co-wrote and co-produced with Joss Whedon.


The Cabin in the Woods recently made big waves on the fest circuit (it opened SXSW) and has reaped many rave reviews. Some of the enthusiasm for the film is due in no small part to the way it straddles two divides. On one hand there is deliriously fun horror, such as can be found in Evil Dead 2 (Goddard makes several playful references to Sam Raimi’s masterpiece). On the other hand you have the knowing winks and genre-bending that are the coin of Whedon’s realm.

To say that the fanbase has been whipped up into an unusual frenzy for this film does not quite do justice to the long lines of people I saw at the multiplex hoping to get in. People drove from near-and-far and camped out early. Many would not make the cut and were destined to get shut out. I was lucky that Jerry got the V.I.P. treatment along with two reserved seats. Even better, Drew was quick to approach Jerry once we were inside and this is when I was introduced to the director. Despite the beard, he was vaguely familiar, which was not too surprising as I started working at the C.U. Boulder Film Studies Department a year before Drew graduated. When I asked Drew if  he’d consider coming back to Boulder in the near future for a special presentation as part of the campus film series I program he enthusiastically replied in the affirmative. As we talked, it was hard not to notice that the 37-year-old director is about six and a half feet tall, he towered over us near the aisle. From his vantage point it was easy for him to spot other people in the crowd that he knew, and after exchanging a few words with us he walked over to talk with some of the redneck zombies from the film who were sitting nearby. Then it was on to the intro, where he singled out Jerry for attention. Drew added that it was his connection to the C.U. Boulder Film Studies Department that made him want to end his two-week long and 10-city sneak preview tour with a blow-out finale near his old alma mater. He also told the crowd that they had his permission to make as much noise as they wanted during the film, because it was meant to be a boisterous affair full of laughs and shocks in equal measure.

Picture by Jerry Aronson.


Having now seen the film I can say: mission accomplished. I won’t go into any details, or a formal review, because much of the pleasure to be derived from The Cabin in the Woods comes from the gleeful way in which Goddard and Whedon confound both audience and studio expectations. I’m not alone in saying that the less you know going in the better. But what I will add, which shouldn’t spoil anything, is that the film had intelligent and moral things to say about our voyeuristic tendencies. Expanding on this point is a quote from Joss Whedon that can be found on the Wikipedia entry for The Cabin in the Woods:

“On another level it’s a serious critique of what we love and what we don’t about horror movies. I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be alright but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful. The things that I don’t like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had swung a little too far in that direction.”

For the Q&A after the film, Drew was joined on stage by Amy Acker, who has a role in the film and also previously worked with Drew on the TV series Angel. Much of the terrain covered in the Q&A has already been well documented elsewhere, including how the bankruptcy of MGM stalled the initial release date several years ago, how “the suits” that came later hoped to re-jigger the film into 3-D over the filmmaker’s objections, and on to the eventual happy ending of getting Lion’s Gate to set aside their reservations and finally release the film that Drew and Joss intended.

Pictures by Jerry Aronson.

When someone asked Drew about his favorite horror films, he mentioned Alien (which afforded a detour into what it was like for him to later work with Sigourney Weaver), as well as the work of John Carpenter in general. It was at this point that he brought up his film teacher again to thank him for an internship that Jerry had wrangled for Drew in New Mexico. The internship itself was for a forgettable TV production, but it happened to be near where Carpenter was shooting Vampires and it was that particular bloody production that Drew was interested in visiting. As Drew reminisced on the thrill of seeing actors being prepped by f/x gore for Carpenter’s film it was self-evident that this singular experience left an indelible mark – and now he’s grabbed that same torch and is ready to pick up where his idols left off.

As the evening wrapped up, Jerry was hand-picked to cap off the Q&A with the last question. Jerry started by recalling the student film Drew made while at C.U. Boulder. It was a black-and-white film about appendicitis based on Drew’s own experience of having his appendix removed while attending school. The 10-minute-long short was artful, ominous, and funny. Jerry wanted to know what relationship there was between that film and The Cabin in the Woods. Drew’s answer was that at the time he was surrounded by people making documentaries about how sad they were, and as a happy-go-lucky guy he didn’t fit into that scene. The worst thing that had happened to him was having his appendix removed, so he conflated that into an existential spoof. (Jerry recently showed me the short, and it reminded me of what La Jetée might have been like had Woody Allen been at the helm instead of Chris Marker – circa Bananas, not Interiors.) Making this mockumentary about appendicitis (see Easter-appropriate screen-grabs below) reinforced Drew’s intuition to ignore what others are doing and to focus instead on marching to his own drumbeat, an experience that he says has served him well in L.A.

0 Response Cabin Fever
Posted By Carol : April 8, 2012 2:39 pm

You say that you want to avoid giving anything away about the movie, but isn’t the last line of your second paragraph a spoiler? I certainly hadn’t read about that before, and I’m a Whedon fan who has followed some news of the movie despite not being interested in the horror genre. Or am I reading too much into something meant to be metaphorical?

Posted By Carol : April 8, 2012 2:39 pm

You say that you want to avoid giving anything away about the movie, but isn’t the last line of your second paragraph a spoiler? I certainly hadn’t read about that before, and I’m a Whedon fan who has followed some news of the movie despite not being interested in the horror genre. Or am I reading too much into something meant to be metaphorical?

Posted By keelsetter : April 8, 2012 3:04 pm

Hi, Carol -

You bring up a good point, and there are three elements brought up in that sentence that flirt with spoiler terrain. I meant “doomed youth” in the broad-strokes sense only, insofar as that is a normal horror film trope. As it was not a literally accurate description anyway, I’ve changed it to “youth in peril.”

We see scientists before the title card, so that’s fair game to mention, I think. And it won’t be a surprise to anyone in a film that is paying homage (in part) to EVIL DEAD 2 that H.P. Lovecraftian terrain is touched on. To go further than that would certainly risk pulling the curtain too far open, but if in even mentioning these few ingredients it reveals too much I’ll contemplate trimming that sentence further if others chime in.

Thanks for the suggestion!

Posted By keelsetter : April 8, 2012 3:04 pm

Hi, Carol -

You bring up a good point, and there are three elements brought up in that sentence that flirt with spoiler terrain. I meant “doomed youth” in the broad-strokes sense only, insofar as that is a normal horror film trope. As it was not a literally accurate description anyway, I’ve changed it to “youth in peril.”

We see scientists before the title card, so that’s fair game to mention, I think. And it won’t be a surprise to anyone in a film that is paying homage (in part) to EVIL DEAD 2 that H.P. Lovecraftian terrain is touched on. To go further than that would certainly risk pulling the curtain too far open, but if in even mentioning these few ingredients it reveals too much I’ll contemplate trimming that sentence further if others chime in.

Thanks for the suggestion!

Posted By Carol : April 8, 2012 3:43 pm

Hi keelsetter,

The first element seems obvious, given the genre, and I knew about the second element from the trailers. I hadn’t read anything about the third. I know that on Whedonesque, at least, many are even avoiding trailers because they’ve heard that they should avoid knowing *any* details about the movie at all.

As I mentioned, I’m not interested in the horror genre, so I have no idea what’s in EVIL DEAD 2. I’m not even sure I knew that there *was* an EVIL DEAD 2. :) I don’t know how knowledgeable people are about it in the Whedon fanbase (or others).

Perhaps there could be a note at the top suggesting that those who wish to avoid knowing details going in should avoid the second paragraph (and maybe the comments now too)? That way anyone who may not be regular readers (Whedonesque searches for items relevant to Joss, so I wouldn’t be surprised if someone finds this and posts about it there) can skip over it while enjoying the rest of your interesting post, while others can still read it and perhaps become more intrigued by the movie. I don’t know how much one site should try to accommodate the desires of other people who may not even show up here.

I should point out that spoilers don’t bother me, so you haven’t ruined anything for me: I was simply surprised to read about those elements, especially when you said later that you didn’t want to give anything away. I guess I’ve become too used to reading the other site. I still like this one much more.

Posted By Carol : April 8, 2012 3:43 pm

Hi keelsetter,

The first element seems obvious, given the genre, and I knew about the second element from the trailers. I hadn’t read anything about the third. I know that on Whedonesque, at least, many are even avoiding trailers because they’ve heard that they should avoid knowing *any* details about the movie at all.

As I mentioned, I’m not interested in the horror genre, so I have no idea what’s in EVIL DEAD 2. I’m not even sure I knew that there *was* an EVIL DEAD 2. :) I don’t know how knowledgeable people are about it in the Whedon fanbase (or others).

Perhaps there could be a note at the top suggesting that those who wish to avoid knowing details going in should avoid the second paragraph (and maybe the comments now too)? That way anyone who may not be regular readers (Whedonesque searches for items relevant to Joss, so I wouldn’t be surprised if someone finds this and posts about it there) can skip over it while enjoying the rest of your interesting post, while others can still read it and perhaps become more intrigued by the movie. I don’t know how much one site should try to accommodate the desires of other people who may not even show up here.

I should point out that spoilers don’t bother me, so you haven’t ruined anything for me: I was simply surprised to read about those elements, especially when you said later that you didn’t want to give anything away. I guess I’ve become too used to reading the other site. I still like this one much more.

Posted By Carol : April 8, 2012 4:08 pm

I’ve sent a message to someone with a public email address who posts at Whedonesque (only members can post and I’m not one), so maybe the link will be posted there with spoiler warnings before anyone from there finds it first.

Posted By Carol : April 8, 2012 4:08 pm

I’ve sent a message to someone with a public email address who posts at Whedonesque (only members can post and I’m not one), so maybe the link will be posted there with spoiler warnings before anyone from there finds it first.

Posted By keelsetter : April 8, 2012 4:34 pm

Hi, Carol -

I’ve edited out the one sentence in question, as I’d rather err on the side of caution and agree with you that what EVIL DEAD 2 fans grok might not translate intuitively with others. And, oh, how jealous I am of people poised to discover EVIL DEAD 2 for the first time! Pure analog horror fun sans CGI – still makes my heart sing. I hope new viewers to ED2 see it with the same kind of rowdy crowd that Drew and Joss have in mind as their target audience for THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.

As to any spoilers in the comments section, readers should always approach open forums at their own peril. Once THE CABIN IN THE WOODS opens this Friday, all kinds of fun tidbits will soon be fluttering out with wild abandon. It reminds me of how when THE USUAL SUSPECTS came out it was near-impossible to not know the surprise ending within two weeks of its opening.

Thanks for keeping me honest, and for reading. TCM readers are the best.

Posted By keelsetter : April 8, 2012 4:34 pm

Hi, Carol -

I’ve edited out the one sentence in question, as I’d rather err on the side of caution and agree with you that what EVIL DEAD 2 fans grok might not translate intuitively with others. And, oh, how jealous I am of people poised to discover EVIL DEAD 2 for the first time! Pure analog horror fun sans CGI – still makes my heart sing. I hope new viewers to ED2 see it with the same kind of rowdy crowd that Drew and Joss have in mind as their target audience for THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.

As to any spoilers in the comments section, readers should always approach open forums at their own peril. Once THE CABIN IN THE WOODS opens this Friday, all kinds of fun tidbits will soon be fluttering out with wild abandon. It reminds me of how when THE USUAL SUSPECTS came out it was near-impossible to not know the surprise ending within two weeks of its opening.

Thanks for keeping me honest, and for reading. TCM readers are the best.

Posted By FaveFOUR : April 8, 2012 5:02 pm

[...]  The more I hear about it, the more excited I get.  It premiered at SXSW, where it received strong reviews and more fan attention than is typical for the comedy-horror genre.  The clever writing and [...]

Posted By FaveFOUR : April 8, 2012 5:02 pm

[...]  The more I hear about it, the more excited I get.  It premiered at SXSW, where it received strong reviews and more fan attention than is typical for the comedy-horror genre.  The clever writing and [...]

Posted By Carol : April 8, 2012 5:11 pm

Thanks! I shall keep ED2 in mind for future viewing. :)

Perhaps some day I will feel brave enough to post more in-depth comments here on the site. I do enjoy reading all of the posts. TCM readers are the best because TCM posters are the best!

Posted By Carol : April 8, 2012 5:11 pm

Thanks! I shall keep ED2 in mind for future viewing. :)

Perhaps some day I will feel brave enough to post more in-depth comments here on the site. I do enjoy reading all of the posts. TCM readers are the best because TCM posters are the best!

Posted By dukeroberts : April 8, 2012 7:59 pm

I haven’t really had much of a desire to see the movie. If I knew something a little more interesting about the film then I might be intrigued enough to see it. As it stands, it looks like typical, current horror movie fare, with a little twist thrown in. I’m not particularly interested. I will be seeing Lock-Out next weekend though.

I’m also not particularly a fan of Whedon. I never liked Buffy or Angel, but I did like Firefly and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. However, I extremely excited for his take on The Avengers coming next month.

Posted By dukeroberts : April 8, 2012 7:59 pm

I haven’t really had much of a desire to see the movie. If I knew something a little more interesting about the film then I might be intrigued enough to see it. As it stands, it looks like typical, current horror movie fare, with a little twist thrown in. I’m not particularly interested. I will be seeing Lock-Out next weekend though.

I’m also not particularly a fan of Whedon. I never liked Buffy or Angel, but I did like Firefly and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. However, I extremely excited for his take on The Avengers coming next month.

Posted By Susan Doll : April 8, 2012 9:46 pm

I was on the fence about CABIN, but I am a horror fan, and my students are generally horror buffs. After your blog post, I think I will see it. Besides, I loved Buffy and Angel and have yet to find a show I liked as much,and it will be good to keep up with Whedon and Goddard’s work.

Posted By Susan Doll : April 8, 2012 9:46 pm

I was on the fence about CABIN, but I am a horror fan, and my students are generally horror buffs. After your blog post, I think I will see it. Besides, I loved Buffy and Angel and have yet to find a show I liked as much,and it will be good to keep up with Whedon and Goddard’s work.

Posted By maroon5gurl88 : April 9, 2012 1:48 am

Been waiting over a year for this movie! Only a few more days!!!

Posted By maroon5gurl88 : April 9, 2012 1:48 am

Been waiting over a year for this movie! Only a few more days!!!

Posted By tdraicer : April 9, 2012 7:45 pm

>I’m also not particularly a fan of Whedon. I never liked Buffy or Angel

Whereas they are my favorite entertainments (in any medium) of all time. I’m with the critic who wrote, “There are two kinds of people: those who believe that Joss Whedon is a genius, and those who are mistaken.”

Posted By tdraicer : April 9, 2012 7:45 pm

>I’m also not particularly a fan of Whedon. I never liked Buffy or Angel

Whereas they are my favorite entertainments (in any medium) of all time. I’m with the critic who wrote, “There are two kinds of people: those who believe that Joss Whedon is a genius, and those who are mistaken.”

Posted By dukeroberts : April 9, 2012 10:51 pm

Huh?

Posted By dukeroberts : April 9, 2012 10:51 pm

Huh?

Posted By Carol : April 10, 2012 10:58 am

Being a fan means thinking all of his work is good. I couldn’t get into Angel at all despite enjoying Buffy (the show: the character was my lease favourite part), found Dollhouse to be rather a mess, and am not interested in the Avengers (although I’ll probably watch it some day when it shows up on TV). The upcoming work I’m very excited about is Much Ado About Nothing.

Posted By Carol : April 10, 2012 10:58 am

Being a fan means thinking all of his work is good. I couldn’t get into Angel at all despite enjoying Buffy (the show: the character was my lease favourite part), found Dollhouse to be rather a mess, and am not interested in the Avengers (although I’ll probably watch it some day when it shows up on TV). The upcoming work I’m very excited about is Much Ado About Nothing.

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