October is here once again. Along with the influx of pumpkins piling outside grocery stores, this month inevitably brings one thing to my life: horror movies. To be more specific, bad horror movies. The crisp autumn air, the faint whiff of Pumpkin Spice Lattes and crunchy leaves on the sidewalk really just make me really want to watch cheerleaders get disemboweled by axe-wielding mad men. Ahh, fall.
Drew Goddard’s 2012 horror flick “Cabin in the Woods” started out no different than any other bad horror movie that I arbitrarily choose from Netflix on lazy Saturday evenings with my wife. The characters in this college scream flick were typical: the Jock, the Jezebel, the Virgin, the Stoner and the Mysterious Stranger. Within the first 10 minutes they’re already embarking on their “weekend getaway” to the mountain cabin of someone’s random cousin, ready to shake off the shackles of rigorous university life. They mention how remote their destination is, “This road isn’t even on the GPS!” and soon meet the token scary dilapidated gas station attendant who quotes scripture and cryptically warns them of what lies ahead. It seems like everything about this situation should be telling them to turn around. Should be. Once they arrive, more clichés occur. People get pushed off the dock into the lake; other people get drunk and dance like a stripper by the fireplace. Remember, this is college.
What sets this movie apart from other movies like it is what’s going on behind the scenes. These five college students are not just having an innocent weekend away. They are unwittingly the pawns in an elaborate ritual, expertly manipulated by high-tech devices and emotionally detached puppeteers who operate in a control room filled with screens and buttons. The NASA of horror movies. A thousand tiny cameras capture everything they do, the temperature is carefully monitored and even pheromones and medication is piped into the cabin through vents and surrounding woods to encourage certain behavior. At one point, Jock and Jezebel are in the woods alone, but Jezebel expresses that it’s a little chilly in the forest, too cold and dark for what Jock is eagerly suggesting with his body language. The men behind the cameras take note – they increase the temperature, turn up the moonlight and engage the “pheromone mist.” Mission accomplished. The mysterious audience of this sick “Big Brother”-esque show gets what they want: sex, and then horrific violence. Oh, and zombies. A “Zombie Redneck Torture Family” to be exact. Later on, as characters start to die off, Jock suggests the ones still alive stay together as a group for safety. This doesn’t seem to bode well with the men in the control room – maybe these kids are harder to kill if they’re not on their own? – so they pipe in a mist of medication that immediately upon being inhaled makes Jock turn around and say “No, I was wrong, everyone go to their own room. We are safer if we’re separate.” And so it goes in this movie, one horror cliché after another inspire minor eye rolls from the viewer but are then immediately followed by a somewhat humorous manipulation of circumstance by the masters behind this whole horror ritual and a slowly evolving reason behind all this madness.
This all culminates in an elaborate, if not a little confusing ending in which the world…well, ends. Yes, it seems that these five college students and their nocturnal activities are so important that when it all goes horribly wrong (doesn’t it always go horribly wrong?) the consequence is death for the entire human race. But, of course, with a little room for a sequel. Maybe a prequel.