Director blazes new path to 'Cabin in the Woods'
Goddard, Whedon redefine genre with horror film romp
If fright fans are expecting a bit of backwoods horror with "Cabin in the Woods," they're certainly going to get that, since that's what the title implies. But the cabin in this cinematic set of "Woods" is really only the launching pad, as the film takes twists and turns and goes to places audience members will never imagine.
If that sounds ambitious, there's no need to worry, as the co-writers of this concoction of horror, humor, blood and gore have a long-established pedigree. In addition to being the scribe behind "Cloverfield," "Cabin" director Drew Goddard has written for "Lost" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"; and "Buffy," of course, was created by producer and Goddard's frequent collaborator Joss Whedon.
Goddard knows the initial setting for "The Cabin in the Woods" somewhat hearkens Sam Raimi's masterful "Evil Dead" films, but, as he told me in a recent interview, the film is a salute to so much more.
"The entire movie is a homage to horror films. We love horror films, and certainly 'The Evil Dead' plays an important part in that and is an important part to me," Goddard said, laughing. "But in total, the whole movie was inspired by mine and Joss Whedon's love of the genre."
The pathway to the release of "The Cabin in the Woods" -- opening in theaters nationwide on Friday -- has been a long and winding one that has hit some interesting dead-ends. "Cabin" was actually filmed in 2009, but its release was held up over the financial troubles of its studio financiers, United Artist and MGM.
Lionsgate, the studio behind "The Hunger Games," eventually came to the rescue and snapped it up for distribution, and three years later, Goddard and Whedon's "Cabin" will finally see the light of day.
"It was frustrating some days but we weren't the only ones caught up by the bankruptcy," Goddard recalled. "'The Hobbit' got delayed and the latest James Bond film got delayed, so when you see heavyweights like that dropping beside you, you say to yourself, 'This isn't about us.' When you're dealing with billion-dollar bankruptcies, so much of it is above your pay grade there's not a lot you can about it. I just had a lot of faith in the film. I knew that it would all work out."
Perhaps the most interesting fact of working with the UA/MGM, Goddard noted, was that a film icon was among those calling the shots at the studio. The good thing for Goddard and Whedon was this studio honcho had plenty of experience on both sides of the camera.
"Tom Cruise was sort of in charge of United Artists at the time," Goddard explained. "He was mostly just supportive of us, and got that we were trying to do something different. Since he's an artist, he responds to other filmmakers' passions. It was definite a surreal feeling when you come into the board room for a meeting and you're talking with Tom about the stuff that happens in this movie."
The delay of the movie, while initially frustrating for the filmmakers, ultimately turned into a mixed-blessing. That's because among the cast is Chris Hemsworth, whose known worldwide to movie fans as title character in "Thor" and part of the team assembling for the Whedon-directed "The Avengers."
When Hemsworth auditioned Goddard and Whedon, however, he was a relative unknown. The odd thing is, Hemsworth had previously shot his pivotal role as George Kirk for "Star Trek," directed by Goddard's "Cloverfield" producer J.J. Abrams. But since Hemsworth's impact on "Star Trek" was yet to be seen, the "Cabin" filmmakers really had no idea of what the actor was capable of.
"J.J. had just finished shooting 'Star Trek' and started editing it by the time we started casting, and just by the virtue of that he worked with J.J., we knew he was worth looking at," Goddard said. "We probably looked at 100 people for his role. He walked in like any other actor would for normal casting session, but just blew us away. He walked out and I looked at the other people in the room and said, "That's our guy."
"The Cabin in the Woods" follows a group of five college friends (Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Amy Hutchison and Jesse Williams) who trek off to a remote getaway in the woods, not having a clue of the horrors that lie ahead. The premise may sound familiar, but behind the ghouls and creatures that terrorize these typical horror film dolts is a control room full of technicians (including Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) who are controlling their every move -- setting up a series of events that, if thrown off-kilter, could have a devastating effect on all parties involved.
What comes next in "The Cabin in the Woods" is blood -- and plenty of it. But the film stops short of falling into not-so-affectionately-titled "torture porn" subgenre, and there's a good reason for that, Goddard said. People don't generally laugh at torture porn.
"We wanted to fall in the category of 'fun horror film' rather than 'traumatic horror film,'" Goddard said. "There are those types of movies that are really well done that I like. But that's not what the type of film we wanted to do. We wanted to do the one that's fun. We want you to be laughing as much as you are screaming."
Besides, Goddard added, "The Cabin in the Woods" wouldn't be a true horror film if it didn't entrench itself in the roots of the genre.
"I respond to the classic horror films. I like to let the dread build, rather than just show people sawing into flesh," Goddard said. "Those are the types of horror films I grew up with."
By respecting the classic genre and stretching the current genre to its limits, Goddard with "The Cabin in the Woods" is effectively is coming up with a word you don't hear associated with horror films: fresh.
"As a director I want to push myself to do something new," Goddard enthused. "Who wants to do the same old movie?
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