Tag Archive: horror films


REVIEW: SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE

SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (2000)
Starring John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Cary Ewles, Catherine McCormack & Eddie Izzard
Directed by E. Elias Merhige
Written by Steven Katz
Produced by Nicolas Cage & Jeff Levine
Cinematography by Lou Bogue
Music by Dan Jones
Edited by Royinba Onijala

Satisfying your need for bloodthirsty vampires and fabulous manicures all in one sitting!

   Sooooo it is the 31st of October, dear readers, and you know what that means – it’s time for me to kick this off by greeting you with a jubilant and somewhat obligatory “Happy Halloween!!!” Being that it’s the spookiest time of the year, I thought it would be fitting to do a review about one of my favorite movies of all time – a truly unique and expertly crafted horror film released in 2000 by the name of Shadow of the Vampire. Of course, I use the term “horror film” very loosely with this one, because it’s really more of a darker-than-coal black comedy. In fact, I would even go so far as to say this film establishes a very interesting and unique new type of genre:  gothic comedy. Because, while Shadow of the Vampire definitely sets a sublimely creepy/spooky tone and builds an atmosphere which compliments its subject matter perfectly, the movie excels in delivering ironic and well-thought out laughs which sink in deeper than the teeth of the titular vampire in question, daring to really get into the bloodstream of why vampires and cinema mix together so deliciously well. (Yeah, I really just went there. Deal with it.) Shadow of the Vampire is, in many respects, the most perfect vampire movie ever made – or certainly one of them, at least. And not only that, it’s also one of the best movies ever made about the act of filmmaking itself, and the trials, obsessions, and lengths a brilliantly mad artist will go to in order to truly manifest his exuberant vision for the world to behold and appreciate. And how can you not love that?

   Shadow of the Vampire is a movie about the making of another movie called Nosferatu. Unless you’re completely unfamiliar with the annals of film history, you’ll know that Nosferatu is a bonafide cinema classic, a legendary film which is considered to be one of the most powerfully influential and realistic German expressionist films ever made. Its director, F.W. Murnau – who was already considered to be a legend in his own time (that being the late 1910s/early ‘20s) – got around the troublesome minutiae of copyright infringement by simply changing the names of the characters in Bram Stoker’s Dracula story and naming his own film Nosferatu. The result was an unprecedented masterpiece, widely regarded as one of the first true horror films of the silent era, firmly cementing Murnau’s place in cinema history. But Shadow operates under one bizarre and extraordinarily juicy premise: what if not everything with the making of Nosferatu was exactly what it seemed? What if Murnau actually had the audacity to track down and hire an actual fucking vampire to portray the nightmarish vampire depicted in that 1922 masterpiece? It’s a weird premise for a movie to be sure, but one which was squeezed of every single last drop of dramatic excellence by its vastly gifted team of filmmakers and actors, and the results, my friends, are impeccable.

With fancy eyewear like that the results had damn well better be impeccable.

   The film opens with one of the most compelling, eerie, and strangely beautiful opening credits sequences I’ve ever seen. We’re treated to a series of slow tracking shots depicting abstract and surreal gothic artwork, set to a steadily rising and evocative piece of scoring which eventually crescendos into a blast of dramatic glory before it swiftly dwindles down again and we’re pulled slowly out of the nightmarish vortex of medieval-looking artwork and set gently back into the real world. It’s one of the most effective and exquisitely appropriate opening credit sequences I have ever witnessed, and it sets the tone of this strange, dark, and daringly beautiful film perfectly. Next, we find ourselves on a movie set in 1920’s Berlin, where we’re introduced to most of the principal cast and some characters are effectively built. The real-life filmmaker F.W. Murnau is portrayed with perfect obsessed brilliance by John Malkovich, who easily demonstrates why he gets nominated for Academy Awards and you do not. The guy is on another level in this flick, and his performance grounds the movie in some kind of absurd yet weirdly relatable context as we watch him portray a man willing to do anything to achieve his ideal vision for the perfect vampire film. It’s high caliber stuff, people.

   We see Murnau directing his female lead Greta Schröder (Catherine McCormack) in a minor scene involving her playing with a cat in a window, and we get a taste of her spoiled movie starlet attitude as she and Murnau trade subtle barbs. She’s quite displeased about having to act in front of a camera, and also at the fact she’ll have to leave Berlin to shoot on location in Heligoland. In fact, most of Murnau’s crew, including producer Albin Grau (Udo Kier), screenwriter Henrik Galeen (John Aden Gillet), and cinematographer Wolfgang Muller (Ronan Vibert) – all real-life people except for that last guy, I’m pretty sure – are confused as to why Murnau is choosing to leave the comfort of the studio to shoot at real locations. Albin tries to get Murnau to tell him some details about the mysterious actor who will be portraying the film’s titular character, but Murnau simply avoids answering him and leaves to do crazy German 1920’s drugs and do weird sex things at an endlessly peculiar club/brothel-type place. The crew is told by the other main actor in the film, Gustav (played with considerably dramatic chops and humorously arrogant gusto by standup comedian Eddie Izzard) that the mysterious actor’s name is Max Schreck, and that he already went to the location months ago to get a feel of the place. On top of that, Schreck will only be appearing onset in full makeup and completely in character as The Vampire, and the shooting of his scenes will only be done at night, in a somewhat overbearing form of method acting. Perplexed yet warily trustworthy of their director, the cast and crew set out for the location where they will finally meet the star of their movie.

He’s a charming, happy-go-lucky type of fellow, for certain.

   And what a star he is. Without a doubt, the vampire created in this film – referred to in the credits as “Max Schreck”, even though that’s definitely not his real name – is one of the finest depictions of a true-to-legend vampire in modern cinema. Once we get a glimpse of this living, breathing realization of an iconic screen villain in the “real world” of the film, it makes your hair stand up on the back of your neck…the dude really looks creepy! Willem Dafoe portrays the vampire portraying an actor portraying a vampire in a German silent film, and he singlehandedly gives one of the best performances of his – or anyone else’s, really – entire career. Dafoe exudes tormented brilliance as Schreck the vampire, putting an extra amount of effort and detail into every facial expression and jilted movement this centuries-old creature makes. To watch his character spar with Malkovich’s is truly the stuff of cinema gold; the two actors play off of each other with absolute perfection. I really can’t say enough good things about Dafoe’s performance – if I could compare it to another, more recent complete immersion into a character’s psyche by an actor, it would have to be Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. In fact, it might even be a little bit better than that already legendary performance. To see Dafoe twist himself into new shapes, emote with his gnarled vampire voice, and contort his face into hideous yet humorous expressions is to see the true embodiment of what it is to be a devoted actor: you forget you’re watching an actor in makeup. Quite frankly, this movie would completely fall apart without the right actor in the pivotal role of the Vampire, and Dafoe is the only actor in the world who could have done it. While Dafoe was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2001, he unfortunately lost to Benicio del Toro in Traffic – not necessarily the worst call in the world, as Benicio is quite exceptional in that film, but it is a complete overlooking of the absolutely harrowing transformation Dafoe undergoes in this movie – no other actor could do what he did in this role, and I think he unquestionably deserved the Oscar that year. But, what can ya do?

   Anyway, back to the movie: after a transitional train sequence over which Malkovich gives one of the most powerful monologues I’ve ever heard regarding the power of motion pictures and their group’s place in it, the cast and crew arrive at their destination and begin noticing strange things right off the bat. It seems Murnau has brought along some bottles of actual blood, and Muller the cinematographer seems to be experiencing some type of strange sickness after their first night at the inn they’re staying and filming at. Despite the odd occurrences, the group begins shooting the following day, until a woman interrupts Murnau’s shot to admonish them for taking the crosses off the walls. “The crosses are NOT for decoration,” she warns gravely. Something is definitely a bit awry with these proceedings, and everyone except Murnau seems to acknowledge it.

You think you’d be entertained at least slightly after a night full of silly vampire antics…but judging from their faces, it’s not as fun as it might sound.

   Finally the night to shoot Schreck’s first scene comes, and Murnau has it all planned out: Gustav (in character) is walking into the shadows when suddenly, Count Orlock emerges from them, giving Gustav the convincing amount of shock and terror to translate perfectly onto the screen. Satisfied with the first take, Murnau calls it a night, much to his producer Albin’s dismay. “I would have gone anywhere at any time for that look on Gustav’s face,” Murnau professionally declares. Despite the brevity of the shoot, Muller again has another episode, falling to the floor and looking quite pale…almost like something is sucking the life force from him. Muller is rushed back to the inn to rest, and when he arrives the sight of him frightens the innkeeper lady from before, causing her to exclaim “Nosferatu!”and run away. Undeterred by the declining health of his photographer, Murnau continues shooting, with Schreck’s contract-reviewing scene with Gustav being the occasion when the entire crew finally gets a glimpse of this unconventional “actor”.  After a mishap and some confusion on the set due to Gustav actually cutting himself with a knife (at Murnau’s sly direction) and a generator blowing, Murnau finds Schreck biting the neck of Muller when the lights come on. Muller is taken away as Murnau chastises his star, telling him to stay behind. Not that Schreck minds; he seems to be in utter delight at his actions…and why shouldn’t he be? He just got to taste some sweet, fresh blood from some hapless victim, just like the good ol’ days.

   Shadow of the Vampire succeeds at blurring the line between fantasy and reality, bridging the gap between cinema and the macabre in a subtle and creative fashion. To see a real, live vampire (in the reality of the movie) trying to act alongside regular actors is not only highly unusual, it’s absolutely hilarious. Dafoe has the strange task of convincingly portraying an actual vampire who is terrible at acting, but is accepted as a talented actor by everyone else simply because he looks and behaves so damn convincing. It’s an awesome joke that only gets better as the movie goes along: there’s an absolutely great scene a little later in the film, after Murnau flies back to Berlin to find another cinematographer due to Muller being hospitalized and most likely killed because of Schreck’s vampire needs. Albin and Henrik are sitting around getting drunk in Murnau’s absence, and are unexpectedly joined by Schreck, who they still believe is just some crazy guy much too invested in his role. They jokingly and belittlingly begin asking him vampire questions, not expecting any real answers, but this real vampire begins providing them. He goes on at length about the novel Dracula’s inherent loneliness, expressing how absurd it is that Dracula would prepare food for his guest when he himself has not eaten food for centuries, how Dracula has to convince the man that “he is like the man.” While Albin and Henrik inquire as to how he became a vampire, Schreck pulls a bat from the air with cat-like agility and grotesquely sucks it dry in front of them, then proceeds to enlighten them on how being a centuries-old, undead, blood-sucking creature can really start to do a number on your memory. Schreck eventually stumbles away creepily, leaving Albin and Henrik to look at each other and come to the same conclusion: “What an actor.” Out of a large quantity of brilliantly written scenes in this film, this one probably takes the cake for its milking of the film’s premise for all its worth in a genius fashion.

Murnau learns quite quickly that you should never grip a vampire’s collar unless you mean some serious fucking business.

(I’m gonna stop summarizing the plot here, mainly because I don’t want to give away what else happens in the movie, but also because I just want to talk about other things now. If you don’t like it, then bite me like Orlock muthafuckaaaaaa!)

   Worth pointing out is composer Dan Jones’ quirky and evocative score, which is just as memorable and influential to the film’s feel as the characters themselves. The score really runs the horror gamut from creepy, unsettling background noise-type music, with barely audible low rumbles complimenting the film’s more intense scenes, to more melodic, jaunty tones achieved with woodwind instruments and lush string arrangements that really bring out the chilling edge to the scenes of the terror lying underneath. It’s a very appropriate score, and one that doesn’t just sound like your average movie music – an unfortunate precipice that many other film scores fall into. Another thing worth mentioning is the film’s commendable feat of recreating some of the iconic scenes from Nosferatu and showing them to us from a different perspective, namely, that of the filmmaker’s. This is probably obvious, but I should point out that anyone who is a fan of the original 1922 Nosferatu would be an absolute tool to miss out on this movie, and should probably get on seeing it ASAP if they haven’t already. Seeing the black-and-white recreations of the classic scenes from the movie is a really cool visual treat, and they’re pulled off quite proficiently.

   Possibly the one greatest thing about Shadow of the Vampire – as amazing as it is in its direction, makeup effects, performances, setting, cinematography, music, pretty much everything – the reason the movie is a triumph is because of its brilliant script. Screenwriter Steven Katz’s first script is unfathomably clever, self-knowing, and most importantly, entertaining. This movie is really an example of all the right people coming together to create something unique and special – a true filmmaking dream. The movie gets right into the nitty-gritty of what makes movies movies – the spectacle, the illusion of it all. Murnau has set up the illusion of an actor playing the part of a vampire with an actual vampire, to capture the illusion and put it up on the screen for people to see in reality – it’s all meta and self-referential, two things that I highly appreciate from my movies. As much credit as Steven Katz gets for scribing this polished gem, all hats go off to E. Elias Merhige for keeping all the components together and making one of the most smartly directed films I’ve ever seen. Every nuance, every line in every scene has an extra added weight, and the tone is kept remarkably grim – you really get a feel for what the characters are going through, and what their intentions are.

   Having just said that, I want to talk about the only real plot hole I’ve found in the movie. (Yeah, I like contradicting myself. What of it?!) It might be something implied within the context of the movie, I’m not really sure…I just want to elaborate on it a bit. Having watched this movie a few times, I am still not quite sure as to why Muller never just said he was being attacked by a vampire, and that the very same “actor” they’ve been filming was the one doing the attacking. It would have hurt the plot if he did, obviously, but that’s the very line of thinking where plot holes are born from. Maybe Muller isn’t the kind of guy to make waves even when something dreadful is happening to him? Maybe he didn’t think anyone would believe him if he did try to say something? Or maybe – and this is my most prevalent theory as to what might be the case – Murnau and him have some kind of weird past, one that allows Murnau to have some sort of mental control over him. Not in a psychic way or anything, but in this weird, sexual, dominating way. It’s heavily implied throughout the movie that Murnau is into weird freaky sex shit, probably of a violent nature, and at the beginning of the film there’s a scene in which the crew ponders where Murnau could be running off to after shooting is done. Henrik suggests “perhaps he has a woman?” and Muller chimes in with “Or a man.” The fact Muller says that, and some other VERY subtle evidence given through Malkovich’s performance when Muller starts getting sick, suggests to me that there’s some sort of weird, unspoken tryst between these two men that prevents Muller from telling everyone what’s really happening. The point I’m making here is, it’s never directly explained why Muller doesn’t say anything about being attacked by a fucking vampire. It is something that bothers me about the movie, and the only real “flaw” I can find with it in terms of plot progression. In the long run it doesn’t really matter, and it’s doesn’t detract from the movie necessarily, but it’s still something that puzzles me, and something I wish was more directly examined in the film. Because other than that, it’s pretty damn near flawless.

Ya gotta admit, despite the everlasting centuries of eternal pain, torment and unquenchable bloodlust, sometimes bein’ a vampire has its perks.

   Shadow of the Vampire excels as a dark yet humorous examination of the power of cinema, the mystique of illusion, and the very unstable line between what is fantasy and what is reality. Although a complete work of fiction, the movie treats its story as if it is completely genuine, taking its subject matter deadly serious. Perhaps more than any other vampire movie I’ve seen, other than Let the Right One In, it examines with an un-romanticized eye the brutal realities of what being a vampire would be like. The cold, insufferable loneliness, the bane of being shunned for centuries, the sense of longing and tragic desire within a heart that lusts for blood…never before have I seen a vampire character so depressingly pathetic yet entirely engaging. Again, it’s a testament to Willem Dafoe’s acting abilities than he was even able to pull this hideous creature off, and actually make him pretty damn likeable along the way. The movie really brings into question as to who is really the bigger monster: the vampire hired by the director, or the director Murnau himself, a man who will do anything in his power to execute his obsessive vision – no matter who or what must be sacrificed. In the end it produces cinematic gold and inspires millions of people all over the world for generations, but is that end really worth the means? It’s a question Shadow of the Vampire brings into question but sneakily refuses to answer, leaving you to ponder the ramifications of such notions long after the credits have rolled. It’s a haunting film that leaves a lasting impression on your psyche: even if you absolutely hate Shadow of the Vampire, it’s undeniable that you will not be able to forget it for a long, long time.

   So final thoughts? I highly, HIGHLY recommend checking out Shadow of the Vampire in some way before you pass into the next realm. It’s a movie that challenges perceptions and calls into question why we even love movies in the first place, and thrillingly exhibits those very reasons with utmost practicality and professionalism. It’s simply a well-made, well thought-out film that lingers with you after you see it. Not only that, but it’s PERFECT for the Halloween season, and will more than likely imbue your evening with that appropriate blend of fun and spookiness that accompanies the holiday. Do yourself a favor and check it out! And remember – this is what REAL vampire movies are supposed to be like.

   Aaaaaand, just for good measure, here’s what they’re NOT supposed to be like:

It’s like someone barfed out some Count Chocula mixed with Lucky Charms onto a piece of paper and decided to sell it to excitable 12-year-old girls….

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REVIEW: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
Starring Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, & Jesse Williams
Directed by Drew Goddard
Written by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon
Produced by Joss Whedon
Cinematography by Peter Deming
Music by David Julyan
Edited by Lisa Lassek

You know, on paper the whole Rubik's cube thing seems like quite a cool idea, but a bit of the novelty wears off once you find yourself in desperate need of a bathroom.

   If there’s any genre truly dedicated to embodying the simplistic fun the world of films can be, it’s the horror genre. In my opinion, no other genre of moviemaking lends itself to the intrinsic silliness, the pure, imaginative, and almost decadent spectacle associated with grabbing a camera and shooting stuff with it – a single genre obsessed with portraying the most abstract, depraved, mindfucking type of experiences you could ever achieve in a theater. One thing that humans beings love is watching other human beings pretend to meet gruesome, horrific fates. Groups of friends gather together ceremoniously to watch horror movies and willingly share in getting the ever-living crap scared out them. Basically what I’m saying here is, the horror genre is a very crucial part of the filmmaking universe – it encapsulates everything magical about the art of cinema, even if it can be incredibly gross and macabre at times.  I mean, think about it – almost every important and influential filmmaker out there has crafted at least ONE horror movie: Spielberg, Scorcese, Kubrick, Coppola, the list goes on for ages. Countless young filmmakers start their careers by making cheesy little horror flicks on cheap, shitty cameras – it’s just fun making horror movies!

   However, despite the continous love the populace feels for horror movies, an unfortunate stigma the genre has acquired over the years is that it’s just grown so…..repetitive. Redunant. Boring. Played out, even. It’s gotten to the point where you can literally guess exactly what’s around every turn, who’s going to die, HOW they’re going to die, etc. etc….even if you’re not really a horror film buff! There seems to be a blatant sense of laziness clouding the genre nowadays, a notion that “hell, people have paid for this shit time and time again…..so why would they stop now?” I believe If there’s one thing that should be absolutely dreaded by any creative force in the world, be it an individual artist, a group, or even an entire industry, it’s mindless repetition. I’d rather people just stop creating things, or at least take a break once they’ve reached a creative plateau, instead of endlessly churning out the same run-of-the-mill product, effectively diluting anything imaginative or original. Once you stop looking for new ideas, creative ways to bend storytelling to new limits, and genuinely interesting premises, then the entire world can feel the gears beginning to rust – the horror movie especially has become both a victim and perpetrator of this heinous crime.

   Bringing a big, fat can of oil to the party is the new film The Cabin in the Woods, directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, both of whom hail from cultish fanboy fame and glory. These two dudes have a bunch of underground TV hits under their belts – Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Angel, and Dollhouse are just a few of their credits. I myself am not a part of the Goddard/Whedon following, but after seeing this film, I could easily see myself checking out their other projects. Basically, The Cabin in the Woods is a tale we’ve seen a billion times before – a group of young, college-age friends go out to a cabin in the middle of the woods and suffer horrific and terrifying fates at the hands of……some ungodly creation from hell. But, one thing that The Cabin in the Woods does – as it quite loudly proclaims in its advertising – is take that age-old (read: clichéd) idea and take it to some unpredictable, mystifying new heights. And hooooooo baby, you ain’t never seen anything like it before.

For one thing, it's got rampant woman-on-stuffed-animal action....an interesting turn of events to say the least.

   Now, before I continue, I just want to warn you: The Cabin in the Woods is not an easy movie to talk about adequately without giving away what happens. If you are genuinely interested in seeing this movie, then please, DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW. If you want to truly experience a movie as strange and wonderful as this without any preconceptions, go to the theater right now and SEE IT. Because – and here’s a spoiler of my own review – this movie is REALLY good. If you want to know why and haven’t seen it yet, and have no problem with spoilers, then read on, my friend! But, if you don’t want to have an awesome experience spoiled for you, then I insist that you stop reading this and PLEASE go see this movie!

   Still with me? Good, because we have a lot to talk about. Like I said above in my spoiler warning, The Cabin in the Woods is an AWESOME movie, but not quite for the reasons you’d expect. One thing that needs to be stated about The Cabin in the Woods is that, as far as I’m concerned, it is secretly a comedy. This movie made me laugh a LOT more than it made me jump, and it wasn’t because things happening in the movie were corny or cheesy – this movie is genuinely clever and witty in its execution. Basically, The Cabin in the Woods serves a giant genre deconstruction – a movie made by true lovers of horror who are disappointed with the way the genre has turned out. It’s important to understand that this film is making a statement about the nature of horror films, while also working as one in its own regard – knowing this definitely plays a part in how the movie is perceived. If you’re going to this movie expecting something you’ve seen before, you are in for QUITE the surprise.

Another spoiler alert: creepy shit happens.

   The movie begins with a rather generic-looking title sequence – dripping blood with spooky images in it, red text, the works. But then suddenly, the film smash cuts to a plain-looking room in an office building, with two white-collar guys talking about something so mundane it’s just impossible not to laugh. We follow these guys – who turn out to be key elements of the story, and are expertly played by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins – out into a fancy-looking compound, continuing their droll conversation until giant red text cover the entire screen with cheesy horror music – THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.  It is truly an unconventional way to begin a movie labeled as a “horror” film, but then again, this is quite an unconventional film.

   We are then introduced to the protagonist of our movie: the very pretty Dana, portrayed by Kristen Connolly, who is getting ready to leave for the weekend with her friends. We soon meet those friends in the same scene, and they appear to be the normal horror movie fodder – a jock, a smart jock, a bimbo, and a stoner. But one thing I appreciate about this movie is that it actually establishes character very well – at least, as well as it needs to. This scene is full of great little moments and lines that set up these characters’ personalities, and all of the actors compliment their roles very adequately. My favorite character in the movie is definitely Marty, the quite articulate and surprisingly wise stoner who is hilariously played by Fran Kranz – he rolls up smoking a giant bong that turns into a Thermos and is soon waxing intellectual about the state of humanity and the fact we’ve let things get too far out of hand. “Society needs to crumble,” he says while rolling a joint, “we’re all just too chickenshit to let it.” Regardless of how you may feel about such a notion, I definitely give Whedon and Goddard props for introducing such a heavy theme into a mainstream horror flick – it doesn’t mean a lot at this early point in the movie, but it will definitely come back later in full effect.

That moment of curious recollection where you feel you've seen all this somewhere before...it usually happens before somebody does something stupid.

   Anyway, the kids get to the cabin after having a run-in with a particularly foul gas station owner named Mordecai, but are fully unaware their every move is being monitored by people in the facility we saw at the beginning. Jenkins and Whitford’s characters are sort of the main puppetmasters, pulling all the strings and manipulating events to influence the decisions of the 5 kids. That dude Mordecai I mentioned is actually apart of their scheme – in one of the film’s funniest scenes, he calls the puppetmasters to preach all kinds of creepy and ridiculous nonsense, unaware that he is on speakerphone and everyone listening to him is trying not to laugh their asses off. You see, Mordecai is the “Harbinger”, the guy who basically screams “YOU WILL DIE” at the “guests” before they arrive at the cabin. His purpose is to intimidate the cabin-goers, and establish a sense of unease in them that they inevitably choose to ignore. By pointing out this paradigm, giving it a name and reason for existing, the film effectively singles out every other time this ploy has taken place in countless other movies. How many horror movies have you seen where the main characters encounter some strange, undeniably creepy fellow who sets an uneasy tone for the rest of the movie? From my own experiences, my personal answer is WAY too many to count.

   This is where I’d like to talk about the interesting dynamic that sets this film apart from all others – the notion that there are people behind the scenes, actually controlling what’s going on according to a strict set of guidelines. The people running this operation know exactly what they’re doing, and how to achieve it – there are brief mentions of toxins in the newly-dyed blonde hair of the character Jules (played by Anna Hutchison) that alter brain operation, and more obvious manipulations with the “pheremone mists” that are deployed when Jules and Curt (Chris Hemsworth) are out in the woods to get a little busy. You see, this movie offers up a sort of ridiculous explanation for why characters in horror movies always make the same stupid and obviously pre-conceived mistakes – there are people directly manipulating it. And this is actually TRUE, because the people writing the scripts for those movies are usually following the general, pre-plotted outline and make their characters act accordingly. This whole “puppeteer” foil is brilliant – acting as its own entity inside the reality of the movie, while also making the external audience (you know, us) aware of the almost routine exercises that lead to these people being brutally slaughtered. The characters played by Whitford and Jenkins have a sort of detached sense of humor about what they do – they’re portrayed as regular Joes whose job just happens to be orchestrating the violent deaths of young, college-going human beings. The other people in their facility are equally detached – at one point, the entire staff starts making bets on which horrible atrocity will be unleashed upon our unwitting heroes. It’s maintained that this is just a job – a horrible one, but one that human beings must commit and cope with for…a purpose. As a self-aware, genre-critiquing foil, the whole “Death Operation” idea is executed perfectly, and I believe it’s what makes the movie great. There are two stories happening at once – the main story with the kids in the cabin, and alternate story with the people behind the scenes controlling it all. Eventually, these two stories collide, and the results are, simply put – a doozy.

I dunno about you but I would completely trust a multi-billion dollar internationally top secret undercover operation to these people.

   So the kids start to get murdered by a “zombie redneck torture family”, a choice unwittingly picked by Dana out of a cornucopia of hellish freaks, beasts, and monstrosities. This is where the horror movie aspect of the movie works really well; the zombies actually look pretty damn scary, and there are even a few creative embellishments here and there. I especially enjoyed the zombie that wielded a bear trap as a weapon and swung it around in the air like a lasso to latch onto the backs of escaping victims – even if I saw that in a normal horror movie I’d STILL think that was a hilarious idea. Eventually the kids start to understand that something is NOT right when the tunnel they’re escaping through caves in due to an explosion (cued by a frantic Jenkins at the facility, trying desperately to keep them from leaving), and when Curt dramatically tries to jump the gorge that would lead to freedom, only to be killed instantly when he smacks directly into an invisible force field keeping them caged inside. Eventually the survivors come across an elevator that takes them down into the facility, where a blockade is set up to execute them before they cause any further trouble. Backed into an inescapable corner, Dana spots a conveniently large and bright red button that says “SYSTEM PURGE” and pushes it. This unleashes all sorts of hell and painful, torturous mayhem as the countless horror movie monsters run rampant on everyone in their path, resulting in what is undoubtedly one of the GREATEST climaxes to ever exist in cinema history! Seriously, if I had to choose one simple reason to see this movie, I’d pick the final 20 minutes of the film where absolutely absurd chaos reigns supreme….it is A LOT of fun to watch! There are many visual allusions to horror films past, and indeed the entire scene is a loving celebration of why horror movies are so damn awesome in the first place – any kind of horrific fate can and WILL happen, no matter what. The survivors use this chaos and unpredictability to make their ways to the very bottom of the facility, where an explanation and the end of the movie both reside.

   So, at this point I’m gonna delve into the BIG spoiler of the movie, the big juicy secret which I’ve avoided mentioning until now. If you’ve been reading this and haven’t seen the movie, you might be wondering just what in the hell is the exact reason for all this brain manipulation and horrible acts of violence. The answer, to put it quite simply, is – human sacrifice. The fact of the matter is, the old gods which used to rule the Earth – they’re referred to as the “Ancient Ones” – have agreed to stay underground and let humans do their thing on the surface, so long as they are appeased by the bloody sacrifice of 5 particular youths at some sort of regular rate. The gods demand the blood of certain human archetypes: The Whore, The Athelete, The Scholar, The Fool, and finally, The Virgin. These 5 people, whoever they may be, are manipulated and brainwashed into being unwilling sacrifices to these gods, so that the rest of humanity may live. That’s right, the entire plot revolves around an intricately elaborate sacrifice of young blood to ancient, as-of-yet dormant gods. And my guess is, by the time you’ve finished reading that sentence, you’ll have already decided if this is the type of movie for you. Once the survivors make it to the sacrificial center room, we’re treated to an awesome cameo from Sigourney Weaver as The Director of the entire operation, who explains the details I just laid out for you. If the blood quota is not met by sunrise, The Director says, the Ancient Ones will rise out of their dwellings and wreak havoc upon the entire human race, no doubt ushering in a new era of life on Earth…with significantly less humans. I won’t spoil precisely what happens in the end, but I will say that the whole “society needs to crumble” theme I addressed earlier plays heavily into the proceedings.

Bro, it's like....a cabin, inside of a cabin, inside of a CABIN....it's like, the Inception of horror flicks, no joke.

   Simply put, the premise for The Cabin in the Woods is inherently silly and over-the-top. Once you begin the apply real-world logic to it and try to pick apart how the whole operation could work, you realize the silliness of it because there’s no way it could feasibly function in reality – for example, whenever somebody is killed, the Puppeteers pull a giant wooden lever which siphons their blood into a sacrificial offering for the gods. The whole mechanism for how this blood is retained is never explained, and honestly, there really is no way to logically explain how they got the blood to flow exactly where they needed it to go. But, despite the flaws in logic that would normally make other movies fall apart, I feel that this absurdity is precisely why the movie works, and what makes it so lovably strange – it’s a completely outrageous story that exists to point out the tired clichés of a genre that might have gotten too needlessly predetermined for its own good, while establishing a new precedent in movie silliness. The movie is more focused on having fun than making sense in a truly logical way; the logic holds up just enough for the plot to work, and that’s really all it needs. I don’t feel that Cabin is a movie that should be held to “regular” movie standards, because it is clearly not a “regular” movie….it’s trying to be something a little more than that.

   The Cabin in the Woods is definitely a comedy in disguise, a critical smart-ass of a film that picks apart and pinpoints every expectation of the horror genre we’ve grown to both love and hate. It’s a self-referential, self-aware movie that deliberately doesn’t play by the rules…in fact, it completely defies those rules and makes us question if they should even be followed to begin with. It delves into the idea that things might go a little deeper than we previously assumed, the idea that there is something vastly greater going on right beneath our noses. These are the core reasons why I particularly enjoyed the movie – it exists to make the audience watching it aware of what makes these movies tick, while also existing as its own hilarious story which stands up on its own. I just enjoyed the themes of the movie, what it was trying to convey to the audience, and on top of that it was well-written, directed and performed outside of all that other “deep” shit. I have no qualms with saying that The Cabin in the Woods is a groundbreaking film in that regard. It’s an undeniably funny movie that provides a fresh and interesting perspective on what we’ve previously accepted as the norm, and not just in horror films. Like I said before, I’m not a big Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard fan, but I can definitely say that they have achieved something very original and needed in the realm of horror movies. I’m hoping that the movie finds a wide audience that will understand and be inspired by its convictions, although to be honest it is a very weird movie. If you’re the type of person who can deal with unconventional, self-referential moviemaking, then this is definitely a movie for you. If not, well…..the remake of Friday The 13th is always a safe option.