Deadly Vacation Cabin

I’m not that into horror, on the page or the screen. For instance, I’ve never seen any of the Jason, Freddie, or Chucky, movies. Maybe it comes from having a different set of fears, but slasher movies never did anything for me. The gore doesn’t bother me. It’s more finding it all kinda silly and ultimately tedious.

But there are definitely exceptions. Some horror stories — usually comedies or parodies — manage to find a new spin on old tropes. When it comes to storytelling, I am a big fan of new spins, almost regardless of genre.

Which is why I really enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods.

This is a 2012 movie, so I am rather late to the game. (It predates my retirement!) It generated a lot of critical regard when it came out (Roger Ebert gave it three-of-four stars; Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 91%/75% rating).

It’s always been on my list of movies to someday see, so I was glad to see it show up on Hulu recently.

I gotta give this a Wow! rating. I definitely want to watch this again.

If you haven’t seen it and plan to, don’t read the Wiki page, because it’ll spoil the plot. What seems like a straightforward twist has more to it than at first appears.

The setup is traditional: Five young friends go for a vacation in the woods to a cabin that one of them just inherited (or bought? I forget). There is even the traditional weird threatening hillbilly running the gas station they stop at for gas and directions to the cabin.

But as they pass through a small tunnel (that will later be blocked!), we see a force field switch on locking them into the area (a bird crashes into it and vaporizes)…

So right away we learn this isn’t the usual slasher in the woods story. This involves a group of people using technology (ala NASA launch control center) to run some sort of … horror experiment?

The thing is, that’s not a spoiler. It’s what we learn right off. The secret is what’s behind it all.

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The film was written by Joss Whedon (of Buffy and Firefly fame) and Drew Goddard (who has also done stuff).

Whedon produced, and Goddard directed, so the whole thing is mainly a collaboration between two people. I think that adds clarity and vision to a production. One thing that makes the Resident Evil movies so engaging (to me, anyway) is that they are singular visions by Paul W.S. Anderson (they’re also a definite exception to my not caring for horror movies — I love those).

This likewise applies to the Pitch Black films (another exception) by David Twohy. The later films aren’t quite as good, but Pitch Black is a classic. (Another rather horrific auteur I really like is Quentin Tarantino.)

There is something extra that comes from both writing and directing a film.

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The Resident Evil and Pitch Black film series both fall into the science fiction horror category, for which (as an SF fan) I’m far more disposed.

I really like the Alien series, for example. I’m even okay with the recent entries and crossovers, although some of it does tweak my “this is silly” bone. And I think the original Predator film is one of Arnold’s best.

I thought Event Horizon (1997) was silly the first time I saw it, but watching it again I kind of enjoyed it. Even bought the DVD when I saw it in the $5 bin. (Now it’s on Hulu or Netflix, I think.) It was directed (but not written) by Paul W.S. Anderson.

Another not bad SF horror movie is Supernova (2000), which features a very young James Spader and Robin Tunney.

I’m a bit more inclined towards ghost stories. Monsters and slashers don’t strike me as that interesting, but ghosts do. Maybe because 13 Ghosts (1960) really scared the crap out of me as a kid.

Even as an adult, Ju-on (2000) and The Ring (2002) gave me goosebumps.

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On the other hand, I love a good comedy, so I tend to like good comedy horror (not being bothered by the gore).

I really enjoyed the Scary Movies film series, for instance. (Although, I didn’t realize there were five. I bought the first four, though.)

The Scream series was kinda cute, at least at first. I enjoy deconstruction, too. That’s a big part of The Cabin in the Woods.

There was a TV series, Scream Queens (2015), that was kind of cute. (But second season had sequel stank.)

Speaking of comedy and Chucky the horror doll, I saw a perfectly on the nose skit from Astronomy Club in which a man is being treated as a hero for having defeated a horror doll (ala Chucky). The man didn’t understand why he was being treated as a hero. Man versus doll. He just kicked it across the room and that was it. No biggie.

One of the best comedy horror movies I ever saw was Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010). Talk about deconstruction and role reversal. I highly recommend it.

Best comedy zombie movie has to be Shaun of the Dead (2004), but Cockneys vs Zombies (2012) gives it a bit of a run for the money. Fido (2006) is also pretty good. All three are must-see for zombie fans.

The current Walking Dead and general zombie craze owes a lot to those films.

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As I say, horror isn’t really my genre, but I really got a kick out of The Cabin in the Woods and thought I’d recommend it for all those of us house-bound.

Thought I’d also mention some other movies you might find diverting depending on your tastes.

I’ll try to think of some other out-of-the-way movies and books to explore (check those links for previous “reviews” of might-be-interesting stuff).

Stay horrified, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

13 responses to “Deadly Vacation Cabin

  • Wyrd Smythe

    It’s almost weird how monster movies never grabbed me, even as a kid. It might come from having figured out early how fake it all was. Even though the TVs were crude back then, so were the special effects. It made it hard to believe monsters were real.

    The effects for ghosts, on the other hand, often involved simple optics tricks or even suggestion. Mere suggestion or tricks of light work with ghosts, but we want to see the monster — that’s part of the draw. So I always found ghost stories easier to believe.

    And, in fact, I can make an argument for the reality of ghosts, but the only monsters I know of are all too human.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I’m generally not a horror fan, but Cabin in the Woods is a special case. Part of it is the comedy, and the interesting mystery about what the big organized project is about.

    But I think a core aspect is that the characters manage to be proactive, and at least for some of them, it’s not all in vain. It makes a difference.

    It didn’t hurt that the whole thing felt vaguely like a grown up version of Scooby Doo (well, minus Scooby). Marty even looks like Shaggy.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Completely intentional, I’m sure. Those guys were always investigating “supernatural” stuff, so they’re definitely part of that genre.

      That’s a good point about the characters. When I think about it, having and using agency does seem a part of (what I see as) the better horror movies. (Certainly part of the Resident Evil movies.)

      Ever see Tucker & Dale?

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I almost think of the Resident Evil movies more as action than horror, although I guess they’re both, and the fact that they all end in a moment of despair puts them solidly in that genre.

        I haven’t seen Tucker and Dale. I’m not sure I’d even heard of it until now, but it has a very good Rotten Tomatoes score.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The Resident Evil movies are quite a mash-up: zombies + hard SF + action + horror + mystery + plus “chicks with guns kicking ass”. (Although I guess “zombies” is really a sub-set of “horror” given the usual gore involved.) And I guess all based on a video game. All I know is I’ve been a big fan since the first one, although the last two have tested my loyalty a bit.

        If you liked The Cabin in the Woods, I think you’d like Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. They both get a (mild) Wow! rating from me.

        On a different vein, but another small delightful gem, is FAQ About Time Travel, one of the more fun time-travel movies I’ve seen. Well worth seeing, IMO.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Apparently a reboot is underway for the Resident Evil movies. Supposedly they will be closer to the game. I never played the game, so I’m not sure what that would entail. And RE without Milla Jovovich would be weird.

        Thanks for the recommendations! Next time in the mood for comedy, I’ll check them out.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, you know how I feel about reboots, and I totally agree about the weirdness without Jovovich. (I really liked it when Ali Larter was part of the mix, too, although I’ll always have a soft spot for the first one.) I doubt I’ll pursue any reboots.

        I just started reading Ste(ph|v)en Baxter’s novel Manifold: Time (it’s “Stephen” 😉 ). It’s part of a trilogy where, as I understand it, each book takes place in a different universe although each book involves the same characters (in different roles). Sounds interesting.

        Apparently the five-book series he did with Terry Pratchett (which I plan to read next) also revolves around multiple realities, but I think involves characters who know about them and can travel among them. (An SF device that goes back at least to Roger Zelazny’s Amber series, which I always really liked.)

        (All free through the Cloud Library. Also reading Jim Baggott’s Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth free from the “liberry”.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’ve heard good things about Baxter’s novels, but the descriptions never really seem to hook me.

        The Cloud Library google coughed up seems integrated with local libraries. Is that the one you’re using? Just curious.

        There’s been a lot of heat lately about the Internet Archive’s “National Emergency Library”, which author associations and publishers are labeling as piracy, although I can’t tell from their material whether or not that’s fair.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’m about halfway through Manifold: Time… it’s not blowing me away with new ideas but it’s a reasonably serviceable hard SF story. I’ll be interested to see how his collaboration with Pratchett is.

        Yes, Your Cloud Library interfaces with local libraries. You need to have a library card to check out books. Essentially, it’s an ebook connection with your local library.

        I’ve seen the headlines on articles about the “National Emergency Library” but haven’t looked into it, so no clue what it is or why people are mad about it.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Authors and publishers apparently have suspected for a long time that the Internet Archive’s “checkout” process is a bit dubious. I’ve never used it, so I’m not sure.

        But with all the library closures, the IA declared that they were suspending all their waiting lists through June, apparently not keeping checkouts tied to the “inventory” of copies that have been donated to them. A lot of people are interpreting it as a blatant giveaway, violating copyright. A lot of authors on Twitter got worked up about it after NPR ran a sympathetic story on the emergency library.

        The IA has a statement on their site essentially saying “BS!” to those allegations, but the details they provide seem limited.

        From what I can see, the books are scanned images of physical copies, so they don’t strike me as that tempting, but then I have the money to buy any book I really want in polished ebook format.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You know I’m a little lukewarm about copyright, so I have a hard time getting too excited about this. From my experience with Cloud Library (Amazon Prime also has a “checkout” aspect), checking a book out still leaves that book under source control — the book can be removed from you. (We seen that even things you’ve “bought” can be removed from you.)

        So I guess my first question would be whether this IA retains some control of checked out books. My second question would involve revenue streams: does each checkout result in a royalty, or are the rights sold to IA? Assuming IA retains ultimate control, and assuming there are no royalties (as with any library), I can’t say I have any sympathy for copyright claims during this crisis. If fact, if that’s the situation, complaining sounds damned ungracious to me.

        And if you’re right it’s all scanned material, then I really don’t care. It sounds like it’s what the name suggests: an archive. Which makes it of great value to someone researching something and not much more than a curiosity for the rest of us.

        (If people are complaining about works older than 20 years, then I extra especially really don’t care. I don’t think copyright should be completely abolished — I think an artist’s work should be protected from reuse — but I agree without reservation with those who suggest a 20-year limit as with patents.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I covered my thoughts on copyright in our other discussion. I agree that this doesn’t seem especially threatening to author interests. They may be overreacting.

        On the other hand, most authors don’t make enough money from their writing to quit their day job, and a lot of them are hurting as much as anyone. I can understand their emotion when they see a threat to their backlist money, which may be all they have coming in right now.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        In the specific case of the IA (in this crisis), I think it depends on actual damages. Is revenue associated with checkout? That would be my main question. Sounds like we both see it as a teacup tempest.

        As for copyright law in general, it needs (at the least) updating. As a case of synchronicity, Tom Scott came out with this video just recently:

        He makes some really good points, and I generally agree.

And what do you think?

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