"This was an entire movie of "I wish we could." -- Joss Whedon
At a Q&A after the premiere of Cabin in the Woods during Austin’s South by Southwest Festival in March, an audience member asked co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard if they meant to make the last horror movie of all time, the slasher flick to end all slasher flicks.
"Yes, that’s it for horror," deadpanned Whedon. "Hope you like rom-coms, because that’s all you’re getting now."
It’s hard to imagine any new directions horror movies can go now that these veterans of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer and
Angel have run rampant through the genre. In their movie, the typical oversexed teens chased by the typical zombies are being manipulated by wise-cracking lab techs. That’s just the first of several bizarre twists that culminate in an ending at once completely satisfying and utterly insane.
The end result is both an homage to horror movies and a critique of them, raising such issues as the expendability of youth in entertainment. Mostly though, it’s just scary and funny.
The pair wrote the movie on a three-day creative bender in a hotel (separate rooms, they’re quick to assure) then made it for MGM Studios, Goddard directing and Whedon producing. They finished the project just in time for MGM to go bankrupt, and the film sat on a shelf for a few years until Lionsgate acquired and released it.
In the intervening years, cast member Chris Hemsworth went on to become a movie star (he's
Thor); Goddard is writing feature films Robopacalypse (2013) and a sequel to his
Cloverfield. Whedon transformed into a blockbuster director with his upcoming Avengers.
"Back when we did Cabin in the Woods I had hair," Whedon told the crowd at SXSW. "And I was actually taller than Drew.”
After the premiere, the two sat down with RevolutionSF to reflect on the strange turns their film takes and the strange turns it took to get to the screen.
RevSF: What inspired the story? How long had it been festering in your heads?
Whedon: The story itself really just sort of popped out. I was like one of those people who doesn’t know they’re pregnant.
Goddard: Prom bathroom.
Whedon: Prom Bathroom, The Sequel. Once the idea came, we spent years before we actually sat down and did it. But that’s what made it so easy to do when we finally did it because we bandied back and forth for so long. "You know what would be hilarious? You know what would be fun?" And this was an entire movie of "I wish we could." It’s two raging ids just enjoying themselves for 90 minutes.
RevSF: At the same time, things like the way the head zombie always cocked his head show the detail you put into this.
Goddard: The amount of time I spent working on the head cock! We actually had meetings where the meeting is Zombie Movement Meeting. And when that’s your job and you see that on the schedule you realize you have a pretty good life.
RevolutionSF: Your dialogue is so distinct. How do you make sure it meshes in well when you’re jumping from one genre to another?
Whedon: It’s a blessing and a curse to have your style recognized. Part of the great thing about running a TV show is that you get a bunch of people together who both influence it and can echo it. So Drew and I, when we write, we speak each other’s language. There’s no, "Oh, that’s clearly Drew, that’s clearly me.” There are a couple of things I recognize as clearly coming from one or the other, but it’s the same voice. Ultimately I don’t want people to hear my voice. I don’t want people to think about what we wrote. I want them to think "Oh, what’s going to happen to Marty?" You don’t want the distance that that brings.
Goddard: But we’re still us.
Whedon: Yeah we are! Every day!
Goddard: We try not to be.
Whedon: I look in the mirror: "Goddamn! I’m still not the Coen Brothers!" I’m not even a brother.
RevolutionSF: You both have a reputation for killing characters, given the body count in Buffy and Angel and your other works. So a horror movie seems like a natural fit. Did it feel that way?
Whedon: I think we like killing characters. We’re ready to step it up and kill actual people. A whole Leopold and Loeb thing. Can I say that into a tape recorder?
RevolutionSF: It’s the next obvious meta-step.
Whedon: Right. I do not look forward to killing people. I love people. No, I don’t love actual people, I mean the people we write about.
Goddard:Right, let’s clarify that.
Whedon: I don’t love drifters, so it’s going to be OK. I’m not going to forget about that at the last minute. You know, part of the idea of this movie is definitely about the idea that people are not expendable, and that as a culture, for our own entertainment, we tend to see that they are.
And although I absolutely love horror movies and always have, I love them the most when I really really care about the people who are in dire trouble. With the exception of Alien, I think.
Goddard: You don’t care about the people in Alien?
Whedon: It’s not that I don’t care about them, it’s that I was very frightened by that movie because they didn’t care about each other.
Whedon: I didn’t think they were going to band together and fight back. I thought, "These guys will sell each other down the river in a heartbeat.” It actually freaked me out almost more than the Geiger counter stuff.
Goddard: The Thing has the same problem.
Whedon: Yes, yes. But with The Thing, that’s part of the structure.
Goddard: Yeah, but I disagree: I love when they turn on each other.
RevolutionSF: You have a The Thing reference near the end of the film when you -- Actually, I guess that’s a bit of a spoiler. I’ll retract that.
Whedon: These are going to be like the Nixon tapes.
Goddard: This movie is very much about our love of the entire genre, so almost every horror movie that we’ve ever seen is an influence on this movie in one way or another.
RevolutionSF: How much female empowerment was it important to have with the women characters?
Whedon: That’s really (Goddard’s) thing. You know, I don’t really get that female empowerment thing. Those “Femi-Nazis,” as I like to call them. You know, it was important for the characters to have integrity and to pretty much leave it at that. This is not a movie about gender. And oddly enough, I’ve seen the movie several times and there are no adolescent girl super powers. That’s weird for me. But I’m dealing with it.
RevolutionSF: During the process was there anything you fought for or argued about?
Goddard: I can’t remember any specifics. I’m sure we did argue.
Whedon: NO WE DIDN’T!
Goddard: I’m sure we did, but passion always won. Whoever felt strongly about something always won.
Whedon: Yeah, I can’t think of an example, but it weirdly came so much from both of us. It’s like you may have some arguments about raising a child, but you both made it. You don’t go, "You know, this doesn’t feel like my son."
RevolutionSF: What’s the silver lining to the movie’s long-delayed release?
Whedon: For me the advantage is simply that you’re not busy trying to just dial in the last bits of it, you’re not looking at it fresh going "Wait!" The pain of childbirth is somewhat forgotten and all of this is now a big gift.
Goddard: Yeah, it felt like everything happens for a reason and everything has worked out for the best here. We have a studio that loves this movie and is behind us 100 percent. Our actors are turning out to be huge superstars, which they were not when we cast them. We keep saying be careful what you worried about. This is actually the best possible thing that could have happened to us.
RevolutionSF: When the movie switched over to Lionsgate, did you go back and tinker with it at all?
Goddard: No. When there’s a shift in management, especially with a film like this, you worry that they may not see what you’re trying to do, and they may make us change something. And to Lionsgate’s credit they saw it and they said, "Don’t change a frame, we love this movie." They let us do what we wanted to do. And so when we locked it we said "This is it, this is what the movie is." And it was more about protecting that. And Lionsgate was so supportive we didn’t even have to protect anything.
Whedon: They liked it way better than we did.
RevSF's Cabin in the Woods Saturation Coverage
This review by Gary Mitchel has zero spoilers.
This review by Tammie Snowden has a couple of spoilers.
This review by Chris McCaleb has another couple.