31 Days of Halloween — Day 25: The Cabin in the Woods (2012) — by Dr. Shock

hmp-cabininwoodsEditor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

There are those who believe that 2012’s The Cabin the Woods is a straight-up spoof of the horror genre, and I have no doubt that, at least to some degree, that’s what writer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard were going for when they made it. But, in my opinion, it’s also a loving tribute to the horror movies of old, taking the clichés that have been well-established over the decades and turning them on their heads, resulting in a very original, highly entertaining motion picture.
Five college friends: the virginal Dana (Kristen Connolly); uber-jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth); party girl Jules (Anna Hutchinson); the pot-smoking Marty (Fran Kranz); and Holden (Jesse Williams), a newcomer to the group, head deep into the woods to spend the weekend at a cabin owned by Curt’s cousin. As it turns out, this cabin is well off the beaten path. In fact, according to an incredibly rude gas station attendant (Tim DeZarn) they meet along the way, the cabin has changed hands many times, and after what’s happened to some of its previous occupants, nobody bothers to stay there anymore.

Undeterred, the group eventually arrives at their destination, and while unpacking they discover a few strange things about the place (including a one-way mirror that separates Holden’s room from Dana’s). But they’re determined to have a good time, which is exactly how the weekend goes until later that first night, when the wind blows open a hatch in the floor, revealing a basement filled with an assortment of odd (not to mention creepy) knick-knacks. One that catches Dana’s eye is a diary from 1906, written by a girl named Patience Buckner, whose family was clearly into some terrible stuff (including torture and murder). The diary’s final entry has a phrase at the end of it, written entirely in Latin. Fearing the worst, Marty begs Dana not to read the passage aloud, but to no avail. And sure enough, those few words penned in that ancient language kick off a chain of events that could spell trouble for all of them.

But what these five don’t know is that a pair of technicians, Gary Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Steve Hadley (Bradley Whitford), are watching them from the comfort on an underground bunker, and are using high-tech equipment and hidden cameras to track their every move. Sitterson and Hadley are members of an organization that, for reasons unknown, is very interested in what happens to Dana, Curt, and the others. What’s more, there are hints that these two gentlemen, and all of their compatriots, have done this before, and that, despite their often-flippant attitude, something very important is at the center of it all.

It’s how these two very different scenarios link together that makes The Cabin the Woods so unique, and such a blast to watch.

There is comedy in The Cabin the Woods, to be sure, most of which comes courtesy of Sitterson and Hadley, who, despite the horrors that are descending upon the college chums, seem to view the entire thing as a party. They even operate a betting pool that’s somehow connected to the cabin and its occupants (to explain this connection any further would be a spoiler), with every department that works within the bunker (maintenance, R&D, security, etc.) getting in on the action. As for the five college friends, they are, in many ways, typical of the kind of characters you’d find in a horror movie: young, cocky, sexually active, and a little careless. But as the film progresses, they become even more stereotypical than they were at the outset, and exactly how (and why) that happens adds yet another layer of intrigue to an already compelling story.

As for the horror, it’s effective and bloody, and what starts as an homage to both slashers and zombie movies soon expands to include many, many other sub genres (all of which contribute to the film’s wild and crazy finale). So even if The Cabin the Woods does take the occasional light-hearted jab at the genre we know and love, it does so in an extremely clever way. And after watching the film, I get the distinct impression that Whedon and Goddard know and love horror just as much as the rest of us.

— Dr. Shock

Links for Dr. Shock:
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Dr. Shock also appears on this horror podcast: Land of the Creeps

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5 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 25: The Cabin in the Woods (2012) — by Dr. Shock

  1. Day 25: U Turn (2016)

    Rating: 8.5/10 (high-priority rental)

    Note: This is a great film for anyone looking to dip their toes into Indian cinema, and is currently streaming on Netflix in the U.S.

    — — — — — Contains spoilers — — — — —

    What I liked:
    – The film conveys an important message about road safety in general and, specifically, about this particular stretch of road in Southern India; it also provides good social commentary on the idea of karma beyond just road safety.
    – The cinematography is beautiful and, at times, purposefully disorienting (like in the very beginning with the upside-down camera shot.
    – The pacing succeeds in keeping this 2-hour film engaging and tense throughout.
    – The suspense progressively increases as the mystery unfolds, and really ramps up in the final 30 minutes.
    – The idea of “karma” being the spirit of a scorned mother seeking blind revenge for the senseless death of her and her daughter; so good.
    – The ending is intense, with twist after twist after twist; and how, after the final twist is revealed, the ultimate punishment for Ritesh is to live without his wife and daughter.
    – Pokes fun at itself a little with a meta joke early on about how awful and silly supernatural horror movies are.

    What I didn’t like:
    – The karma message was a bit on the nose.
    – The one clear use of special effects (at the end) was not executed well.
    – I would call this “horror lite” despite the supernatural twist, playing out more like a tense crime thriller than a horror film for the majority of its runtime (difficult to fault the film for this, though).


    Day 25 – Pieces (1982)

    Along with a few other movies, Pieces was one of the movies that just missed the cut from being watched and reviewed last October. I was gutted that I didn’t get around to watching it and I imagine I was subconsciously putting off watching it so I could get around covering it for this October. Without ever seeing the movie before and mostly just hearing some really positive talk for this, I was expecting one of the best slashers ever made. I’m talking an epic serious slasher classic that I would instantly join the other fans that praised this movie. Upon reflection, my expectations couldn’t be further from the truth.

    The movie starts off well enough with a scene that I would credit as the best of the entire movie. It’s reminiscent of Psycho, particularly Psycho 4, with a poor boy that is terribly emotionally abused by his crazy mother. In this scene, she walks in on her young boy putting together a puzzle of a naked woman. She goes apeshit on her son and threatens to burn everything. Naturally, this young boy has one logical conclusion – hack his mother to death with an axe. It’s twisted and incredibly bloody. Yet, the scariest moment of this scene doesn’t happen until after the death and the police shows up. This young child had enough sense to rush into the closet and act as if he’s a traumatized child, covered in the blood of his own mother after an unknown invader had killed her. Knowing this young boy so casually killed his mother, chopped off his head, and had the forethought to act innocent makes him one sick kid.

    Being that the last movie I had watched prior to Pieces was Texas Chainsaw 3D, Pieces gave me what I felt was lacking in TC 3D – chainsaw related kills. There’s multiple chainsaw death scenes and you get to see plenty of gore and even more blood. This movie featured the amount of blood you think you originally saw in the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre before you realized that 1974 film featured very little blood at all. Even when the chainsaw isn’t involved in the kills, the death scenes remain a fun sight to witness. Besides the axe kill at the start of the film, there’s a basic knife kill that stood out thanks to it happening on a waterbed. That meant the already plentiful blood was allowed to make a larger mess as all of the water turned red. If you’re someone who cares more about fun deaths than story, Pieces is the sort of movie you should go out of your way to watch.

    My original assumption that this would be a serious slasher was severely incorrect. Basically, Pieces was one of the most nonsensical horror movies I can remember seeing. Very little of the plot and lines spoken make any sense. Early on, I thought perhaps I was just watching a poorly dubbed copy of the movie. Yet, the longer the movie went on, the more difficult it became trying to explain away scenes that made little sense as just being problematic because of the translations. There’s one scene where a man attacks a female teacher with martial arts. He ended up getting hit in the balls and that’s when it’s revealed that her would be attacker was just the martial arts professor. Uhh…okay then. Speaking of the female teacher, Mary Riggs, she makes even less sense as a character since her role is fairly substantial. From what I gathered, when the kills on campus began, the police decided that it needed to plant two female police officers on the staff so that they could gain an insider’s idea of which faculty member was behind the kills. That somehow resulted in Mary Riggs, a tennis player, to be hired on despite the fact that she doesn’t have any police background. Meanwhile, the second police officer that was supposed to join the staff never does and it’s completely baffling why they were ever mentioned in the first place. The police also utilizes one of the students, Kendall, to help protect Mary Riggs. For whatever reason, the police officer in charge of the case, puts his full trust in Kendall despite the fact that his sorta girlfriend was one of the victims and Kendall was seen running from the scene of her murder early in the movie. WHY IS KENDALL TRUSTED WHEN HE’S ONE OF THE TOP SUSPECTS?!

    It gets to the point where this bizarre movie even becomes a comedy. After one death, Mary Riggs has this over dramatic reaction where she just keeps yelling “BASTARD!” over and over. One of the main red herrings, Professor Brown, is asked by the police to help them determine if a chainsaw was responsible for the death of a girl when the bloody chainsaw is literally right next to the cut up body! Luckily by the end of the film, we learn that Brown can’t possibly be the killer because he actually happens to be a homosexual. What Brown’s sexual orientation has to do with anything is beyond me. There’s another point where the big player on campus, Kendall, is with one of his many conquests and he actually stops to complain about how loud of a moaner she was being. The biggest chase scene of the film was kicked off by absolutely nothing. The student simply became paranoid and began running for her life before stumbling upon the killer at the elevator (How the killer got there when she had such a head start and he slowly walked is a mystery) and she’s suddenly relaxed. Even little things like inflections and tones can randomly change in just one scene. A character can seem bored one moment, anxious the next, and casual to close out a minute long talk with another character without any explanation for the random changes.

    The big question I had after completing Pieces is was it supposed to be a serious movie? Were the filmmakers under the impression that they had actually made a terrifying movie that made even the tiniest bit of sense? If the intention was to create a serious horror, they failed miserably. Despite this colossal failure of making a logical movie, I had so much fun watching Pieces. It’s a bizarre movie that you can’t help but laugh throughout due to the plot, quotes, and awful acting. While those aspects were so bad that they ended up being good, the actual gore and death scenes were straight up great horror. In some weird way, by the time the credits hit, I think my original expectations of seeing a horror classic were actually met. If you’ve never watched Pieces, go out of your way to watch it before the end of October. I’ve purposely left out some of the other hilarious characters, illogical moments, and baffling ending because it’s well worth seeing everything for yourself. I can see myself enjoying this movie more and more with each additional view now that I fully know what to expect.

    Rating: 8/10

  3. Great review, Doc! The Cabin In the Woods is one of my all-time favorites. I felt like it was ripped straight from my brain. You ever see a film like that? Where you feel as though you might have written somehow but just forgot? This is that for me.

    I think I was about 12 years old when I began to notice many of the horror genre’s trappings and pitfalls, and it was because of this that I always wanted to write a story about some people in a horror film who suddenly realize they’re in a horror film and have to “act” against who they really are in order to survive the movie. I tried writing it when I was 20 or so but just bailed on it. Any way it is, I will always hold this film in high regard, and I’ll always smile when I read reviews that hate on it for not doing “what it was supposed to do.” I’d love to write so much more, but… spoilers.

    Much love, Doc. Great review.

  4. Day 25: The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
    Rating: 6/10

    This is the last in Hammer’s Dracula sequels. A town in China is plagued by vampires and Van Helming (Peter Cushing) is there to help. This is really a kung fu film with vampires and it’s great! Actually, it’s probably a 6 but I like it a lot more than that.

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