To be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods, so don't take my questioning it as a sign that I'm trying to tear it to shreds. Quite the opposite, actually. I'm here to celebrate Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's enormously inspired and entertaining movie by bringing up a few of the things I was still thinking about long after the credits rolled, because I kind of don't want to stop talking about it.
Obviously there are spoilers ahead, so please only read on after you've seen the film. And please, do chime in below with answers to these questions, or post any queries of your own.
1. Why no Ghostface? Jason? Freddy? Chucky?
The obvious answer here is that a rights issue prevents any known horror icons from appearing in the movie, but I'm still surprised there's no analog for the biggest names in the business. The basement is packed with triggers for familiar genre characters and various supernatural norms, but there's no hockey mask, no landscaping glove, no cheesy costume mask, no creepy child's doll. And that wouldn't surprise me, because all of them together would be a little too on the nose. However, Cabin does include their Pinhead variant (who they call Buzzsaw), and there's absolutely nothing subtle about his inclusion. So why does Hellraiser get the hat tip and the other horror greats get the cold shoulder? I'm not complaining, I like the first Hellraiser more than any of the Elm Streets or Friday the 13ths, but its inclusion is made all the more curious by the absence of the others.
2. Is the Harbinger actually a psychic?
My favorite character in the movie might just be Mordecai, the gas station harbinger of death; mainly because he's such a great riff on the creepy gas station attendant we all know too well, but also because he's the only sincere person from the 'other side.' Sure, by the time the sh*t so gloriously hits the fan, everyone underground gets a bit more serious, but he's the only one who takes the ritual seriously from the get go, and he's made fun of for it. But, I digress. The real question here is, is Mordecai an actual psychic? His speakerphone call to headquarters is played for laughs, but it does include some actual doom prophecy for the engineers down below. Is he just in-character? Or is he an actual psychic? Either way, I love that with a few lines of dialogue that are mostly laughed over, the ominous omen for the college co-eds actually becomes the death omen the people downstairs ignore.
Side question: What's Mordecai's equivalent in the other arenas? A creepy, super wrinkly old woman in Tokyo? The weird guy in the pub in London or Stockholm?
3. What happened in Stockholm?
Well? What did happen. They're the first other arena we hear about, but all we know is their rapid failure is a surprise to everyone. Was their yeti too easy to kill?
4. Was the bird into the grid a studio note?
This question comes from our own John Gholson, and it's not something I thought of. When the co-eds take the pass through the mountain, a majestic eagle enters the frame and soars beak-first into the grid. It's a great moment that cranks the 'this isn't your normal cabin in the woods movie' dial to 11. However, when the grid finally comes into play later for the demise of the athlete, it's played like a total surprise that they're contained. Obviously it's a surprise to the characters, but imagine how that moment would have played to an audience who hadn't already seen the grid. If all we had to go on was the moment of Marty getting high, looking at the sky and remarking that he thought there'd be stars, the canyon jump sequence would have been a real holy sh*t moment. It's still constructed with tension in mind, but it's robbed of any because we know exactly what's going to happen. Was the eagle's death added in after someone complained that the later revelation of the grid was too extreme of a surprise?
5. How were they supposed to put the Buckners to rest, anyway?
The co-eds screw themselves by reading the Latin from the deadgirl's diary, which then summons her pain-worshiping family back to life in search of more torment, but how exactly were they supposed to get out of the scenario? They're not supposed to, obviously, but the entire point of the sacrifice is that these are innocent people who are undone (mostly) of their own volition, and it's the possibility for redemption that presumably makes their deaths satisfying to the slumbering ancients. So how were they expected to kill the Buckners? The emphasis is placed on Patience, the little girl, and she even comes back at the very end and brings with her the implication that maybe they can put her spirit to rest at the 11th hour, but how were they supposed to do that? Burn her diary?
6. Where does the blood for the machine come from?
Once the co-eds start dying, the blood machine is set in motion and it starts filling a vessel which then drips out onto the wall carvings. At first it seems like the blood must belong to the poor souls above, but then Marty is presumed dead and the fool's carving is allowed to fill with blood. But then Marty is revealed to still be alive, so whose blood went into the fool's carving? If it's not the sacrifice's actual blood, why do they even need to kill people in such an elaborate way?
7. What all is on the white board?
This one I have an actual answer to, thanks to Titan Books' amazing The Cabin in the Woods: The Official Visual Companion. Thanks to a clear shot of the board in the book, it includes: Werewolf, Alien Beast, Mutants, Wraiths, Zombies, Reptilius, Clowns, Witches, Sexy Witches, Demons, Hell Lord, Angry Molesting Tree, Giant Snake, Deadites, Kevin, Mummy, The Bride, The Scarecrow Folk, Snowman, Dragonbat, Vampires, Dismemberment Goblins, Sugarplum Fairy, Merman, The Reanimated, Unicorn, Huron, Sasquatch/Wendigo/Yeti, Dolls, The Doctors, The Redneck Torture Family, Jack O'Lantern, Giant, Twins.
Those are hardly the only classic baddies in the movie, though. The book is packed with a ton of images of all the creepy crawlies, some that are easily recognized from the movie, some less so. For example, there's several shots of 'the blob' being created for the film, but I don't remember seeing him actually in it. Same goes for their badass, Krull-worthy Cyclops.
8. Why is the virgin's status and fate so arbitrary?
The whole movie is built around the idea that the virgin needs to be sacrificed, either literally or emotionally, to complete the ritual, but then when it comes time to make good on it, the movie completely laughs off the fact that Dana is not a virgin when the Director says, "We work with what we have." It gets a good chuckle, but it does kind of undercut the film's otherwise elaborate evolution of the whole blood sacrifice storyline. What kind of lazy old ones are they trying to appease? The slumbering elders require a virgin, but she doesn't even have to die? And even if she does die - and if she does, it absolutely must be last -, meh, she doesn't really need to be a virgin? I get that it's a poke at the genre and the current state of the final girl, but it's one of the only moments in the movie where the humor actually gets in the way of the story they're trying to tell.