Revered by horror lovers and haters alike, The Cabin in the Woods—Drew Goddard’s directorial debut—twisted the genre into something new, kicking it in the pants the same way Wes Craven's Scream did for slasher films in the 1990s. The 2012 film tossed genre clichés into the blender to create something surprising that also forced us to question our own, voyeuristic love of watching people get fictionally murdered.
In typical trope-y fashion, a group of young, attractive men and women head to a remote, ahem, cabin in the woods where they accidentally call down their own creepy doom that they can’t avoid because they make super dumb decisions. Fortunately, there’s a government bureaucracy to explain why they can’t escape slow-moving zombie killers.
Here are 10 facts about the meta commentary on scary movies.
1. THE OPENING SCENE WAS MEANT TO CONFUSE AUDIENCES.
“Opening the movie with this scene is one of my favorite things that we accomplished,” co-writer/producer Joss Whedon said in the DVD commentary about the early sequence where Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins chit-chat in a hallway about childproofing cabinets and an office betting pool. They purposefully wanted people to think they’d sat down for the wrong movie and had to convince the studio that people wouldn’t walk out.
2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE NUKES AT LOS ALAMOS.
Sure, it’s a slasher flick, but The Cabin in the Woods is really about bored employees ensuring the success of murder machines in the face of the end of the world. It might not be that surprising to learn that Goddard grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico. “The whole town exists because it’s a government lab that designs weapons. And that’s the only reason the town exists,” Goddard said. He and the production used images from Los Alamos in the 1950s to craft the set and even some costumes.
3. HORROR ICON HEATHER LANGENKAMP DID THE SPECIAL MAKEUP EFFECTS.
Legendary Final Girl Heather Langenkamp is known for playing Nancy in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, but she and her husband David LeRoy Anderson also do prosthetic makeup, monster costumes, and makeup effects through their company AFX Studio. She’s listed in the credits as Heather L. Anderson.
4. THE WOLF HEAD HAD POWERED SUGAR ON IT.
If you’re gonna make out with a taxidermized wolf head, a little sugar helps the medicine go down. That’s why prop master Dan Sissons helped out Anna Hutchison during her Truth or Dare scene with some powdered sweet stuff on the wolf’s tongue (which was detachable and made from silicone).
5. DREW GODDARD AND JOSS WHEDON MADE IT AS A “LOVING HATE LETTER."
The reason The Cabin in the Woods works for horror fans and non-fans alike is that it hews closely to the classic rules for the genre to deliver the scares, but also mocks them mercilessly. Whedon saw it as both an exercise in how much fun they could have (they wrote it over a single weekend) and as a serious critique of a genre they loved that had descended under a wave of needless torture and stupid characters crafted solely to be killed in terrible ways.
6. THERE WAS GOING TO BE A VIDEO GAME TIE-IN.
Video game tie-ins have become the standard for a ton of genre movies, but instead of making a crappy game on the cheap, The Cabin in the Woods was going to be ported into the already-popular Left 4 Dead series. It was a natural fit, as players could have fought their way through both the cabin setting and the underground bureaucratic office. There are still Left 4 Dead monsters inside the cube facility in the movie, but the movie never made its way into the game because the original studio went bankrupt, and the delay in release killed the crossover.
7. THE BREAKFAST CLUB HELPED SHAPE THE SCRIPT.
Who’s the villain of The Cabin in the Woods? The college crew getting drunk, having fun, and just trying to survive? The government entity putting them through the ringer to save the world? The Old Gods that demand blood? One reason the movie connected with such a wide audience is because all the characters display a distinct philosophy that we can relate to. Chris Hemsworth and friends don’t want to die, but the entire world depends on them getting slashed. According to Goddard, we have him watching The Breakfast Club as an adult to understand the non-teens’ perspective to thank for The Cabin in the Woods’ moral complexity.
8. THE FULL LIST OF MONSTERS INCLUDES A NOD TO SIN CITY.
There are too many baddies to name here (so here’s a list), but among the witches, sexy witches, mermen, and unicorns, there’s Kevin. He’s a kind-seeming dude who might show you where the movie section is in Best Buy but dismembers people during his time off. It’s possible that he’s a reference to the relaxed, quietly sadistic slasher played by Elijah Wood in the movie version of Sin City.
9. ONE OF THE MONSTERS IN THE CUBE FACILITY IS JUST A GIANT CAT.
Obviously the movie is crammed with references to genre icons like vampires, creepy clowns, mummies, zombies, Kevin, mermen, Hell Lords, and aliens, but there’s also just a big ol’ cat that could have ripped the attractive young people apart one by one. The Egyptian cat statue in the basement is what summons it, and it presumably would have tormented the kids by apathetically knocking things off shelves and cuddling.
10. THE BODY COUNT IS OFFICIALLY 69 BUT IT’S TECHNICALLY WAY HIGHER.
The next time this question pops up at bar trivia, you’ll know that 69 bodies hit the floor during the movie’s runtime, but if you want to be annoying about it, the death toll is technically 6,800,000,000 because that was the world population in 2009, when the film was shot, and the story ends with the planet’s destruction (which is also why it’s weird that people keep asking about a sequel).