We here at The Playlist haven’t been shy about our appreciation for writer-director Drew Goddard’s marvelously subversive entry into the horror genre, “The Cabin in the Woods,” with members of our staff doling out high praise after catching the film’s debut at SXSW in March, and eventually giving it a spot on our Best Films of 2012…So Far list over the summer. The film tells your standard tale of a bunch of horny, college-aged kids heading into the woods for a weekend getaway complete with nudity and keg stands, only to find out true terror awaits.
While the history of the film’s journey to the silver screen has been recounted many times – it was shelved for almost three years after it wrapped following some financial woes at the film’s original studio MGM – distributor Lionsgate helped to usher Goddard’s film into theaters this past spring where it was met with a strong critical reaction and did decent business for a genre flick that asked its viewers to look beyond the modern trends of packing films with brainless kills and bloodshed. With the film having faced obstacles such as ever-changing release dates and a moment that almost saw it receive a 3D post-conversion, Goddard recently told The Playlist that, “It’s really satisfying to see the response it got, which was beyond my wildest dreams – I definitely dodged some major bullets there.”
Suffice it to say it’s not always easy to make a film that attempts to go for both scares and humor and have it appeal to folks outside of die-hard horror hounds, so it should be no surprise to learn that Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon (who really needs no introduction at this point) looked in and around the genre for inspiration for the film. We caught up with Goddard while doing press rounds for the release of “Cabin In The Woods” on DVD and Blu-ray today, and he was more than happy to talk about the films that helped influence the creation of one of the wittiest and most entertaining American horror films in ages. Though for those of you out there who still haven’t seen the film, be warned, spoilers lie ahead. So avoid the mumbling doomsayer at the deserted gas station, steer clear of reciting any ancient text that could possibly raise the dead, and go get your hands on a copy of the film to watch before you read any further!
“The Thing” & “Hot Fuzz”
With tales of Goddard having shown his crew Edgar Wright’s “Hot Fuzz” prior to filming ‘Cabin’ having swirled around the internet for awhile now, it wasn’t too much of a surprise to hear Goddard cite the Tony Scott-by-way-of-sleepy-English-town action picture as an influence, but it’s the film he paired it with that came as a slight shock.
“I’ve got to go with ‘The Thing,’ even though it’s a little obvious, Carpenter is just such a huge influence on me – and particularly this type of film. And specifically, this is why I also looked at ‘Hot Fuzz,’ because both the ‘The Thing’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’ are just such beautiful movies,” he said. “There’s a real sort of elegance to how they’re composed and how they’re shot, so those are two movies I watched with my director of photography, just to get a sense of color palette and camera movement, because it’s all just so well done.” Goddard had much praise to heap upon Wright, quipping that, “Edgar is just so good — I definitely felt that sort of need to just rip him off.”
As for the lineage from “The Thing” to “The Cabin in the Woods,” Goddard explains, “I got in an argument with a friend of mine as to whether or not ‘The Thing’ counts as a cabin movie in general, because it is a small amount of people trapped in one place, which I feel like all great cabin movies, that’s what they are. It’s just about isolation and paranoia, that’s why ‘The Thing’ was very much at the soul of ‘Cabin.’ ”
“Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”
Though for those of us already initiated into the cult of “The Cabin in the Woods,” we know there’s a funnier, more subversive side to all the horrific happenings of the film, and surprisingly, Goddard took on the influence of Stanley Kubrick’s seminal Peter Sellers-starring war satire “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” for that side of things. The mysterious corporation raising the redneck zombies from their graves, and wreaking havoc upon the weekend of the film’s five leads is seen through the War Room-like setting of operators Steve (Bradley Whitford) and Richard (Richard Jenkins).
“One of the things I love about ‘Strangelove,’ is the sense of seriousness they take to the ridiculous. It was very much something I wanted our crew to watch, because Kubrick is so good – and Peter Sellers in particular is so good — at never breaking, even though there are ridiculous things happening around him. He’s very good at keeping within the moment, and it was crucial for Bradley and Richard to have that feeling that ‘even though this is about to get absurd, we need to keep our characters at all times,” Goddard explained.
We can certainly see how that came into play during the monster mash of the film’s third act. While many critics drew comparisons to “The Truman Show,” Goddard says, “I saw ‘The Truman Show’ in theaters when it came out, but I haven’t seen it since. I liked it, but I barely remember it. I see why people say that though – because we both deal with cameras recording live. It was much more about ‘Strangelove’ to me, because even the control room, if you looked at the way it’s designed, there’s things about it that harken back to the way the War Room in ‘Strangelove’ was designed.”
“Big Trouble In Little China”
Goddard doesn’t stray far from his love of Carpenter with his choice of “Big Trouble in Little China,” especially the look of the film, for which he mentions that the aesthetic Carpenter helped create with noted “Jurassic Park” and “Back to the Future” cinematographer Dean Cundey is “engraved on his DNA.” Goddard reasons that his choice of “Big Trouble in Little China” involves “again, color palette, and this I didn’t realize until after I had shot ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ – I went and saw John Carpenter introduce ‘Big Trouble In Little China’ on film here in Los Angeles, because it’s one of my favorite films of all-time – when I watched it I was I was like ‘Oh my God, I totally just stole his color palette.’ All I did was make it look exactly like “Big Trouble in Little China,” because again, it’s another film I think is beautiful.”
Looks aren’t everything, though, and Goddard mentions that both Kurt Russell’s legendary performance as Jack Burton and Carpenter’s sensibilities played a part in ‘Cabin,’ noting that, “The thing that’s wonderful, that I love about ‘Big Trouble,’ is that Kurt Russell is so good at doing nothing heroic through the whole movie. It’s sort of playing with convention, and playing with genre convention– I remember specifically watching ‘Big Trouble’ the first time around and thinking, ‘Oh my God, he’s doing something different here, he’s actually taking on expectations and subverting them.’ And it was crucial to keep that spirit alive and well doing ‘Cabin in the Woods.’ ”
“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
While Goddard notes that the imprints of films such as “Alien” and “The Evil Dead” are clear throughout the film, he admits “another left-field one” is 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” – a film that’s played a key role in influencing many generations of filmmakers across various genres. But Goddard explains that his crew was a bit puzzled by his insistence that they watch it at first. “I had Fran [Kranz] and Kristen [Connolly] watch it specifically, because neither of them had seen it, and I didn’t tell them why I wanted them to watch it, and they told me ‘Honestly for three-fourths of watching it, we had no idea why the hell you were making us watch the film.’ ”
Though for anyone who sat in the movie theater in awe as the world crumbled to the ground at the end of ‘Cabin,’ leaving survivor girl Dana (Connolly) and stoner conspiracy theorist Marty (Kranz) smoking a joint as the world met its end at the hands of a God (literally), you’d probably agree with Goddard when he states, “Then you get to the ending, and you realize, ‘This is what the ending of ‘Cabin’ is.’ It’s two characters, against all odds, making jokes with each other, and seeing the rapport between the two of them even in the face of insurmountable odds. I always loved that ending. I always thought ‘This is great, what a perfect way to get out,’ and I wanted to capture some of that spirit with the ending of ‘Cabin.’ ”
While the ending seems pretty definitive in our eyes, there have been some rumblings of sequels/prequels to the film, but Goddard insists, “I’d love to return if there was a way to do it, but I’m not sure it’s going to be worth it – we’ll see.” As for his next directorial outing, he claims that he’s, “sort of writing my next project, but reading scripts out there to see if anything sparks, because you never know where inspiration is going to strike,” and kept tight lips as to what exactly he’s currently writing. Hailing from the J.J. Abrams school of secrecy, Goddard also remains pretty mum on the recent talk of him taking over a “Daredevil” movie – especially now that Whedon has the reins of the Marvel projects – saying that “there really isn’t a Marvel character I wouldn’t like to tackle.”
Speaking of Abrams, Goddard jokingly blames his being wrapped up in post-production duties on “Star Trek Into Darkness” for keeping him and director Matt Reeves from settling into any talks regarding a sequel to “Cloverfield,” the film that helped make his name in features back in 2008, but we get the feeling it’s an idea they all have sort of grown cold on. He also claimed to be “naïve” regarding the publicity surrounding his rewrites on the troubled, Marc Forster-helmed “World War Z” over at Paramount, stating that he didn’t really know there was bad buzz surrounding the project until he started talking to film journalists. Mostly, Goddard seems pretty content to quietly work on his upcoming projects – which include co-writing director Steven Spielberg’s 2014 blockbuster “Robopocalypse.” But most importantly, we have “The Cabin in the Woods” now, and we’re pretty sure that’s reason enough to celebrate for the time being, as many repeat viewings and dissections of the film are certainly in order now that it’s available to watch at home.