The James Clayton Column: Creepier than The Cabin In The Woods
With Joss Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods about to arrive in cinemas, James wonders whether woodland cabins are really that scary…
The main man at the multiplex this month is the esteemed Mister Joseph Hill Whedon (you can call him Joss). He appears to have appointed himself April Emperor and that’s fine by me, but only if the two big movies he’s dropping in theatres deliver the goods. If not, I’ll have to start throwing mud and complaining, “well, I never voted for him!”
I’m optimistic, however, that the two Joss Whedon projects released this month will be excellent pieces of work and I, thus, eagerly place myself in the cult icon’s arms. The major event is Marvel’s The Avengers (a.k.a. Avengers Assemble) but before we see the superhero supergroup ensemble blockbuster that Whedon’s directed he’s going to take us on a trip into the forest for a horror flick that he’s co-written and produced.
Directed by long-time collaborator Drew Goddard, The Cabin In The Woods is a highly-anticipated movie that I’ve done my best to hide from so I can come into it completely cold. I want to be Hoth frigid when it hits the cinema and not have any prior knowledge of the movie. This is the prime condition in which to approach a horror film - without spoilers or a set of expectations, you’re more likely to be surprised, exhilarated and scared silly.
All I really know about The Cabin In The Woods is that it stars Thor and that - as the title implies - it’s about a cabin in the woods. Unfortunately, the title itself is already summoning up a stack of assumptions and memories of Friday 13th, The Evil Dead and a whole spate of imitators that run along the lines of ‘kids go on a countryside vacation and one-by-one get gruesomely killed off’.
That said, the buzz that The Cabin In The Woods is generating - the buzz that my wilful ignorance filter fails to deflect - suggests that Whedon and Goddard are offering up some fresh twists to the formula and doing something interesting with a format that’s riddled with clichés.
The Cabin In The Woods - we’re led to believe - is not just another cabin in the woods film. For all I know - and I apologise if I’m revealing spoilers - the titular cabin may in fact be the Seventh Circle of Dante’s Inferno, the Red Skull’s new high-tech secret lair or a portal into the brain of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (‘Being Sarah Michelle Gellar’ probably has more popular appeal than Being John Malkovich).
I don’t know and I won’t know until I’ve seen the film, and by discussing it I’m already building up expectations to expect the unexpected and paradoxically damaging the experience. I better shut up right now, shove my fingers in my ears and lock myself in the freezer to get back to ‘Hoth frigid’ condition.
Before I do that though, there’s a crucial issue to address. Regardless of whether The Cabin In The Woods is an innovative or even a good film, its arrival has got me questioning whether cabins in woods are actually scary.
It’s my belief that they aren’t. They’ve only become crystallised in people’s minds as terrifying propositions due to the influence of unchallenged pop cultural depictions. Tucker & Dale Vs Evil illustrated it perfectly - these rural retreats are only frightening because ignorant city kids are all hooked up on movies about psycho hillbillies and party vacation trips that turn into wilderness tragedies. Perhaps lingering ancient anxieties about witch houses or fairytale legends about hermit grandmothers getting ravaged by werewolves play a small part as well.
Take a step back and you see clearly that these fears are irrational and psychosomatic. Looking ahead to the summer holidays, I personally would love to hole up in a cabin in the woods to hang out with Tucker and Dale and catch up on my reading (I’m saving the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis especially for the trip).
What I’d like, therefore, is The Cabin In The Woods to be the formula’s final spin and for filmmakers to spend time in settings that are more genuinely terrifying. You don’t have to travel far to find truly disturbing locations that have been overlooked by the movies and these sites could provide the foundations on which to innovate and construct the traumatic horror pictures of the future.
If making a leap into the unfamiliar seems like too much effort and is deemed too risky from a commercial point of view, all they really have to do is remake Evil Dead II, substituting the cabin in the woods for one of the following settings...
The Drive-Thru in the Retail Park
Few spaces are as soul-destroying as dislocated, automobile-friendly fast food joints in the car park of commercial centres in the middle of nowhere. They have hungry families driven to despair after unsuccessful shopping trips. They have burger-flipping zombies feeding people pink slime, genetically-modified chicken guts and other ‘special ingredients’ (see Harold & Kumar Get The Munchies).
If it’s simply a remake of Evil Dead II, the possessed hand is the leftover remnant of a former employee who perished in an industrial accident by the nugget oven. It wants your French fries.
The Public Toilets in Town
Few spaces are as horrifying as the hygiene nightmares that are the majority of municipal facilities designed for popular convenience and sanitation needs. They have an overpowering stench of urine, rogue faecal matter and... good grief, I have no idea what the hell that is.
If it’s simply a remake of Evil Dead II, the possessed hand is the amputated appendage of a dirty philanderer who got mutilated by a psychotic vagrant driven crazy by constipation. It wants to give you a vigorous, non-consensual hand job.
The Blue Screen of Death
Few spaces are as frustrating, devastating and downright inconvenient as the azure emptiness of a computer that’s crashed to that infernal blue freeze-frame. They have nought but cruel silent laughter (or hideous continuous beeping) and they trap you in a state of existential despair as you confront ultimate impotency under the will of a malicious machine.
If it’s a simply remake of Evil Dead II, the possessed hand is a cursor that suddenly appears out of nothingness to blaze across the screen in an angry motion-trail of pixels. In the absence of anything to click on it wants to attack you, right-click your face and adjust your settings.
I’m now scared stupid. I’m going back to my freezer to calm down and get into Hoth frigid condition ahead of The Cabin In The Woods.