Horror comedies are a funny thing, at least colloquially speaking. They’re frequently neither horrific nor funny. It’s a rare beast, spotted as frequently as a whale shark. Hope you brought that underwater camera as the plankton-eating behemoth is floating by.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil and Re-Animator stand tall in the horror comedy world, and you can add The Cabin in the Woods to that list — at least the bulk of it — before it stumbles across the finish line, overtaken by silliness.
A for Effort though and definitely an A + for Innovation.
The Cabin in the Woods is one of those variants on subject matter already covered by The Twilight Zone, ahead of its time, even with its 80s reboot, specifically, its episode entitled Special Service. In the show, a service technician doing maintenance work in a suburban home interrupts the owner’s morning routine with this bombshell, re: an acronym on his bathroom wall: “You see those letters JSTV? It stands for John Selig Television. You’re on television!”
In Cabin in the Woods, there’s even a moral conscience figure named Truman, as a tribute to The Truman Show, itself inspired by The Twilight Zone.
Five unwitting college kids head up to a dilapidated cabin. The group comprises two football jocks, both of whom surprisingly packing as much grey matter as muscle, a somewhat ditzy blonde, her innocent ginger friend and a conspiratorial weed-fiend. They’re all well-rounded, believable and funny.
One of the jocks finds a two-way mirror in his room, just as one of the girls is doffing her top, but he’s gentlemanly about it; this alone puts The Cabin in the Woods ahead of much of its competition in the horror space.
Soon, there are other clues that suggest the cabin is not as it appears.
And they’re right to be concerned. The five-some is actually the subject of a nefarious experiment, being run by what looks like Houston’s Mission Control, in which they’re all exposed to mind-altering chemicals to see how they fare against life-threatening scenarios. And what’s worse (OK, this isn’t really worse — just crass) the evil “puppeteers” behind it all are betting on survivor outcomes. It’s a twisted fantasy pool with life and death metrics instead of yards and touchdowns.
Redneck zombies are released and they’re soon breaching the walls of their cabin castle and no reinforcements are coming (if you’re wondering why the group can’t hop in their RV and drive away…wait and see).
The first two-thirds of Cabin is a master class in writing and buildup as its heroic antagonists must rise to the occasion to battle both evil creatures and their evil creators. The back-end misstep is more than forgivable.
***1/2 (out of 5)