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The Cabin In The Woods (#110 of 6)

Summer of ‘88: Waxwork

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Waxwork</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Waxwork</em>

The Cabin in the Woods ends with a deliriously apocalyptic Grand Guignol in which just about every ghoulie that’s ever appeared in a horror movie is released from a subterranean prison to wreak bloody mayhem on their captors. But Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard were hardly the first to conceive of a finale of that kind, and on that kind of massive scale. The 1988 horror yarn Waxwork ends with a band of hunters—including Valley Girl’s Deborah Foreman and Gremlins star Zach Galligan—facing off against a slew of vampires, werewolves, mummies, zombies, even an Audrey II-like man-eating plant in a wax museum-set battle royale over the fate of mankind. Notwithstanding a very-’80s proliferation of cheesy one-liners before the heroes dispatch the various villains, this finale exudes a similar no-holds-barred spirit that the climax of The Cabin in the Woods would tap into 23 years later, albeit with a bigger budget and even less abandon.

For me, The Cabin in the Woods was condescending in its deconstruction of horror conventions, wrapped in a smart-ass concept—a government agency presiding over the fates of a bunch of innocent cabin-dwellers, not unlike filmmakers trying to come up with an audience-savvy product—that eventually turned its contempt toward the audience, supposedly for uncritically eating up this crap without desiring more from their entertainment. Waxwork isn’t nearly as clever, to be sure, and its execution is at times clumsy, especially with its wobbly sorta-campy tone. (The broad caricatures and cheesy acting in the film’s first 15 minutes alone are cringe-inducing.) But for all its shakiness and obvious low budget, Anthony Hickox’s film does at least display a sincere love for the horror classics to which it pays tribute, even going so far as to shoot a Night of the Living Dead-inspired sequence in black and white to match its source material. In other words, Waxwork is thankfully free of Whedon and Goddard’s smugness.

SXSW 2013: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and V/H/S/2

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SXSW 2013: <em>The Incredible Burt Wonderstone</em> and <em>V/H/S/2</em>
SXSW 2013: <em>The Incredible Burt Wonderstone</em> and <em>V/H/S/2</em>

Another opening-night gala screening, another crapshoot. Two years ago, South by Southwest gave the red-carpet treatment of Duncan Jones’s entertaining time-travel thriller Source Code, but last year Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s irritatingly snarky horror-genre deconstruction The Cabin in the Woods got the top honor, and now this year we have The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which, in spite of a nasty concluding punchline, can’t even claim the kind of cleverly subversive comic gusto The Cabin in the Woods has in abundance—for better and for worse.

Poster Lab: The Best Movie Posters of 2012

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Poster Lab: The Best Movie Posters of 2012
Poster Lab: The Best Movie Posters of 2012

Honorable Mention

American Animal: It may be a stretch to dub American Animal “the best art film ever,” as Screen Junkies does in this poster’s hyperbolic pull quote, but that’s the only strike against an otherwise spot-on one-sheet, which nails this odd indie’s unlikely blend of grating quirk and classy undercurrent. As pink as the undies often worn by Matt D’Elia’s ailing antihero, the ad wreaths its wiry subject in handsome curlicues, and even throws in a lit fuse to hint at his volatility. The poster, like the film, finds common ground between the high- and lowbrow, the artful and the infantile. [Poster]

The Cabin in the Woods: The poster for The Cabin in the Woods is one of 2012’s few whose design instantly doubled as an unofficial logo, so much so that a later one-sheet needed only include the established graphic’s silhouette. The cabin-as-Rubik’s-Cube may seem obvious and simple, but it’s also perfect and universally legible, rightly promising a mad puzzle of a horror picture. The vintage model eventually produced by Mondo Gallery is notable for its M.C. Escher influences, but it misses the true triumph of this campaign: a deceptively indelible signature image, defined by twists and turns. [Poster] [Article]

Compliance: No matter how you felt about Compliance, a divisive thriller more or less about the loss of dignity, the film’s poster easily trumped its in-text missteps, huddling poor Dreama Walker in a corner and surrounding her with meaningful details. Amid that fine stack of critical endorsements lies the film’s title, whose “C” perfectly encircles Walker’s eye, driving home the sick scrutiny her character endures. Best of all is that whiteboard’s message of customer-is-always-right encouragement, urging fast food employees to dutifully “smile!” The by-the-book irony expertly communicates the film’s themes, arguably even better than the film itself. [Poster] [Article]

15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

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15 Famous Cabins in the Woods
15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

This weekend sees the release of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, the most anticipated and buzzed-about horror film in some time. The setup is indeed the same one you’ve experienced over and over: a group of partying, young-adult archetypes head to a remote getaway, only to find terrifying carnage. But the guys behind Cabin delve far deeper into the geek abyss than many viewers will expect, emerging with a gonzo, convoluted send-up that stirs the pot even as it flies off the rails (no spoilers here, kids). The titular locale is but a dilapidated entry point, and we’ve got 15 more shacks that have opened their doors for audiences through the years.

Poster Lab: The Cabin in the Woods

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Poster Lab: The Cabin in the Woods
Poster Lab: The Cabin in the Woods

There wasn’t much to say about the initial poster for The Cabin in the Woods that wasn’t as plain as day in the image itself: “Oh, look at that. The house is twisted like a Rubik’s Cube. There must be puzzles afoot.” Nevertheless, the design proved to be one not easily forgotten, and highly amenable to, say, 3-D cardboard stand-ups for cineplex lobbies. Now, Lionsgate has wisely taken ownership of the image, as evidenced by the new one-sheet, recently revealed. Thanks to passerby double-takes and a swelling sea of buzz, that house is an emblem that can even work as a hollow shape, and while it may not be as iconic as The Blair Witch Project’s stickman, the powers that be are seeing to it that it’s on its way.

A heavy hitter on the festival circuit and overseas, The Cabin in the Woods has been met with a mess of early critical praise, which, given the cryptic plot details and banal TV spots, is thus far the most intriguing thing about it. The fire is then stoked with the new poster’s central detail—a jam-packed collection of more than 20 quoted raves. History has certainly shown that madness lies the way of trusting pithy blurbs stamped on film paraphernalia, but it’s exciting to see such enthusiasm emerge about a scary movie. Though largely drawn from London outlets, the quotes aren’t simply those of horror and genre gurus, who often give passes to titles that fail to grab a broader audience. The response suggests a widespread appeal, and it underscores an apparent mix of fright and comedy reminiscent of, as noted, The Evil Dead and Scream.

SXSW 2012: The Cabin in the Woods

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SXSW 2012: <em>The Cabin in the Woods</em>
SXSW 2012: <em>The Cabin in the Woods</em>

Horror cinema subversiveness need not preclude actual horror, a fact that’s unfortunately lost on The Cabin in the Woods, a brainchild of writer turned director Drew Goddard (Cloverfield, Lost) and co-writer Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) that sets aside actual scares for what’s-going-on suspense and diminishing-returns cleverness. Genre aficionados both, Goddard and Whedon are interested in playing with convention in slyly self-conscious ways throughout this collaboration, embracing clichés while reconfiguring them in ways that are both surprising and, more fundamentally, speak to the relationship between horror filmmaker and viewer. It’s a potentially exciting endeavor that reaps initially intriguing rewards, as the early sight of apparent government agents Steve (Richard Jenkins) and Richard (Bradley Whitford) discussing mundane everyday stuff while prepping for work in a steel subterranean facility immediately implies—especially thanks to the abrupt, jarring full-screen title credit that ends the scene—that the forthcoming material will be more than it initially appears. What that might be, however, remains shrouded in mystery once attention turns to college student Dana (Kristen Connolly), her suddenly blonde BFF Jules (Anna Hutchison), her studly boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth), his nerdy-hunky friend Holden (Jesse William), and stoner Marty (Fran Kranz)—typical horndog types travelling out to Curt’s cousin’s remote cabin for a weekend of secluded drinking and sex.