Yes, it’s been out forever, but I have a galloping allergy to films everyone tells me I “have to see.” Seriously. Usually, because the majority of the human race has shit taste in film, and I hate Pretty Woman with all of my heart and soul.
Now, that said, I actually quite liked The Cabin In The Woods. We all know that while I enjoy much of Joss Whedon’s stuff, I am not a screaming Whedonista. And this film has not turned me into one. It’s fun. I get it, but it wasn’t made for me. Cabin in the Woods was made for horror fans who HAVEN’T been having intellectual discussions about horror, the tropes, and what those say about culture at large for 30 years, and people who hate horror movies (the Geek Husband What Rules).
I’m gonna get this out of the way, my introduction to the analysis of pop culture in the form of horror movies came from reading Stephen King’s Danse Macabre when I was 12. I highly recommend this book, if you love horror and you haven’t read it. It changed the way I viewed horror forever. It is also the reason why I hate torture porn. There’s nothing clever about torture porn, or even vaguely interesting. If I want to read about people being shitty to other people, there’s the news and countless true crime novels out there. Torture porn relies too heavily on the gross-out, and the problem with the gross-out is you have to keep topping yourself for it to be effective. After the Saw and Hostel franchises, anyone going for the gross out is going to have to fuck actual infants to death with razor edged strap-ons while being railed by crazed donkeys and actually blowing Satan. The real one. No weenie special effects, ACTUAL Satan.
And no, I would not watch that. Because it isn’t clever or interesting, and I hate torture porn.
So, back to Cabin in the Woods. Now, when I say it was made for people who haven’t been having this discussion for the last thirty years, what I mean is, this movie is an incredible introduction to the horror tropes and what they say about the societies in which these films are made. This film has fostered some awesome conversations among my younger friends. And that is fucking awesome. Also, I bounced up and down in my seat when they released everything and the room became a spray of blood. I loved that.
Now, yes, Cabin in the Woods does meet my criteria for horror: the menace is supernatural. All the menaces are actually supernatural, these “aren’t special effects” or robots, but actual supernatural entities kept caged so that they can perform this yearly ritual. The creature design was really great, and the callbacks to older films were fan-fucking-tastic. Seriously, the box thing? I have seen Hellraiser more times than I can count, I loved that. I actually had a shiver when Hemsworth’s character picked it up and started playing with it. And I loved the humor Whedon brought to it, for example with the failure of Japan, “Come ON! How hard is it to kill a room full of nine year olds?”
Whedon “toying” with the tropes was not so much toying with as demonstrating how fucking meaningless they really are. I mean, yes, Hemsworth’s character is a jock, but he’s also smart as hell, as demonstrated in the early scene. And the assignment of the Whore and Virgin roles were completely arbitrary. As far as the story revealed the blonde had sex primarily with her boyfriend in a devoted monogamous relationship, and the Virgin had just been dumped after sleeping with her professor. The message here is applicable to society at large, “You’re a whore because we SAY you’re a whore.” That one hit me really hard because of how true that is.
Marty was the best character, and not only because he’s Whedon’s stand-in (per usual) or because he survives, but because he had the best lines, and was incredibly well-written (as Whedon’s stand-ins tend to be) and the fact that even the audience wrote him off as a goner, then he pops up again. However, and I realize this is Whedon “playing with the tropes” but it kind of burns my ass that he fucks with the final girl trope. I mean, it’s the one pop culture trope where women really get to kick ass and be awesome, and Marty kind of steals that thunder. But that’s just my pet peeve with it, I still loved the character.
And the ending. And this is where people who hate horror (the GHWR) get theirs. This is Whedon saying outright, “If I have to follow these stupid, fucking tropes to make horror, I don’t want to make horror. I’d rather piss of f the Ancient Gods (horror going audience) and try to create a strange new world facing their wrath than keep doing this stupid shit.” I get that. And while that’s a bold statement, it isn’t really a conversation. I mean, yes, the outgrowth may now be that people start to actually fuck with the tropes (granted, independent horror films have been doing that for a while now), and maybe the broader audience can be convinced that we don’t need to keep replaying these outdated morality plays over and over and over.
So, yeah, that’s my take on it. Whedon didn’t play with the tropes so much as make them even more patently ridiculous than they usually are, but it’s a good place for people new to the genre, or the experience of dissecting everything they watch because of countless Lit Analysis classes, to begin the conversation about why the fuck we’re still letting film-makers get away with this lazy shit.
Things like, could we perhaps kill female characters for reasons other than who they do or don’t give access to their vaginas? Could we have actual intelligent decisions on the part of the “victims” but the monster is just that much smarter or luckier, or a monster? Seriously, torture porn was over after Edgar Allen Poe penned “The Pit and the Pendulum” or the “Cask of Amontillado.”
This is the thing, I love horror. I do. I read horror, I watch horror movies. Give me a supernatural menace and I’m a happy, happy girl. But as my buddy Jordan pointed out while we were discussing Cabin in the Woods and horror in general, “Slasher films and Torture Porn aren’t actually horror, they owe everything to the ultra-violent films of the 70s, to Peckinpah and Russ Meyers.” And he’s right, they aren’t horror. The movie Terror in the Aisles, which purported to be a documentary on horror, in the 80s, but was really an excuse to show all the goriest, scariest parts of all these films, included several films that aren’t actually horror, but tend to be lumped into the horror genre by the lazy and stupid. Wait Until Dark with Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin is sometimes included in round-ups of horror, and it really isn’t. It’s violent, yes, but violence alone doesn’t make horror, or Apocalypse Now or Platoon would be horror movies. And granted, both of those movies are about the horrors of war, but not the same thing.
Now is Wait Until Dark a scary fucking movie? Yes, it is. It’s terrifying. But it’s definitely a Thriller, not horror. And that is a valid distinction. A distinction that people forget exists, I think, and is kind of nebulous. The line is fuzzy in some cases, but it’s still there.
And who knows, maybe I’m just one of them there horror elitists who thinks that boobs and blood isn’t always enough for a film to get by. Granted, I will admit that sometimes it is, see my bizarre love for the film The Dead Want Women. It really isn’t very good at all, and it’s a bit of a chore to sit through the obligatory 20 minutes of “character development.” But it has things in it that I look for in horror movies.
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