|Teaser posters having fun with the film's long delay|
Yesterday I saw the much buzzed-about and long-shelved Cabin in the Woods, co-written by Joss Whedon and Cloverfield's Drew Goddard, and directed by Goddard.
Completed in 2009, Cabin was held up while original distributor MGM debated upconverting it to 3D (which would have been awful), only to go bankrupt, leaving it languishing on the shelf until last year when Lionsgate picked it up. Was it worth the wait? Definitely. Like the Scream series, Cabin can best be described as a "postmodern" horror film. But unlike the Scream series, it's actually good.
The filmmakers start messing with our expectations right away. From the first frame. we expect to see kids getting stoned while driving down a country road in a VW van, but instead we're introduced to a couple of lab workers (Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) who seem to be involved in some sort of secret surveillance project. They talk about the Japanese and failed experiments, and none of it makes any sense.
Finally, we meet the gang of college students who fit the standard mode established by Friday the 13th and its ilk: The jock (Chris Hemsworth), the slut (Anna Hutchison), the good girl/final girl (Kristen Connolly), the brainiac (Jesse Williams) and the stoner (Fran Kranz). They all jump into the requisite RV and head to a cabin on a lake for a weekend of fun, sex and partying. But as the RV drives away, we see some governmental-looking guy, wearing an earpiece, observing them from a rooftop.
|Fran Kranz, Chris Hemsworth and Anna Hutchinson|
Sound familiar? Well, it may remind you of Evil Dead, but (aside from sharing Evil Dead II's cinematographer Peter Deming) that's where the similarity ends. I don't want to reveal any more because you really should see this film for yourselves. Let's just say that Whedon and Goddard take the slasher genre, spin it real fast and stab it in the head. And it's funny, too!
Speaking of revisualizations, I remember being surprised to see old-school advertisements in the L.A. Times for a film called Wrong Turn back in the late spring of 2003. Since it was playing at my neighborhood theater, I figured I'd fork out the price of a matinee ticket. What a delightful surprise! You'd almost have thought it was an undiscovered stalk-and-slasher from the '70s except that it featured Law & Order's Jeremy Sisto, Dexter's Desmond Harrington and Whedon favorite Eliza Dukshu.
|"You made a really wrong turn, pal!"|
That's it, plotwise. What it does deliver big-time is suspense and gore, and Winston's mutants are simultaneously repellant and disturbingly deviant. How I wished I'd been able to see it at a drive-in, so perfectly did it capture the '70s vibe. I could see myself sitting in my car at the Western Drive-In watching Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave...and Wrong Turn. Sheer bliss.
Wrong Turn has spawned a number of direct-to-video sequels, none of which I've seen, although fans seem to like Part Two, so I might have to check it — hey, score! It's on Fox Movie Channel tonight. DVR is set.
Speaking of backwoods mutants, Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes (1977) cornered the market on effed-up families. Here, a dysfunctional group of vacationers gets stuck in the desert when their RV breaks down, and a clan of mutant cannibals living in the hills nearby move in for the kill. Okay, it's not exactly the woods, but it is outside.
I had the poster (seen here) hanging in my room when I was a teen, and Michael Berryman's face was enough to creep out any visitors. Among the cast of relative unknowns is Dee Wallace, who'd go on to greater glory in such classics as The Howling, E.T. and Cujo. Shot in 16mm, the film is coarse and grainy, which only adds to its sleaze appeal.
|Stranded travelers stop to do the Time Warp in Hills II.|
Amazingly, Craven made this travesty just after what is arguably his masterpiece — 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street. Of course, he's always been rather inconsistent. For every Nightmare or Last House, there's a Shocker...or Music of the Heart...or Scream (if you haven't already guessed, I hate those things).
|Robert Joy in the Hills remake|
And how do you handle the sequel to a good remake of a cult classic? Bring in Craven and his son, Jonathan, to screw it up once again! Maybe they wrote it as a joke since the 1985 sequel was such a disaster. But in that case, shouldn't it have been sarcastically funny? This one is just ba-a-a-d. And there's not even a dog having a flashback.
Today's good news is that the sequel to Marcus Nispel's horrendous 2009 remake of Friday the 13th is still stalled. Now if we can only get Rob Zombie to stop desecrating the tombs of the classics...