“I still smell the blood in my sleep,” says Drew Goddard. The filmmaker is talking about the psychic aftershocks of shooting his debut movie, The Cabin in the Woods, a horror comedy he co-wrote with Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator and Avengers director Joss Whedon. That Goddard’s subconscious is still haunted is testament to the volume of fake red stuff in his movie, which stars Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Whitford, and Richard Jenkins. Why? Because Goddard shot Cabin in Vancouver way back in 2009, only to see its release delayed by more than two years due to the bankruptcy of the film’s original studio, MGM. That’s long enough for Hemsworth to have played the role of Thor twice, the second time in Whedon’s Avengers, which would arrive in cinemas just three weeks after Cabin. “We shot the film and had an amazing time,” says the Australian actor. “Then it disappeared for three years.” Here, in a piece originally published last April as the movie finally hit theaters, is one of the year’s best making-of stories.
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That waiting game officially ended on March 9, when the gloriously grotesque Cabin was screened at South by Southwest (the music and film mega-festival held in Austin March 9-18). The film was received rapturously at the city’s Paramount Theatre — so much so that at the post-screening Q&A, Goddard admitted he was close to tears. “It did feel like a rock concert,” says Jenkins, who attended the event with Goddard, Whedon, and several other cast members. “People were so pumped.”
And with good reason. The film’s basic plot outline may sound far from revolutionary: Bad things happen to five college kids when they drive out to a you-know-what in the you-know-where. But that’s almost beside the point. During the course of the twist-packed movie, Whedon and Goddard shuffle the horror deck with a demented enthusiasm not seen since Scream. As Whitford says, “It was clear when you read the script that this was a fierce, idiosyncratic vision.” Indeed, the truly remarkable thing about Cabin is not that it took three years to arrive on screens but that its pair of creators thought anyone would let them make it in the first place.
Goddard and Whedon are longtime friends and collaborators, the former having scripted episodes of Buffy and its spin-off, Angel. The two habitually meet up to chat about movies over drinks, and in the spring of 2007 Whedon told Goddard that he had an idea for “a cabin movie,” the horror subgenre which includes both The Evil Dead and Friday the 13th. “We’re both big horror fans,” elaborates Whedon “and I basically had had an idea that would let us really write a move that was about horror movies while being a straight-up, good fun and scary horror movie. It was an idea that was very logical and very absurd. And if you’ve ever spent any time with Drew you’ll know that that’s the perfect match for him. He’s extremely great about structured storytelling and he’s extremely dedicated to his connection to the audience — but he’s also out of his mind. When I have my weirdest ideas, he’s the guy that I go to and say, ‘Shouldn’t we do this?’ and he’s like, ‘That’s totally awesome!'”
And Goddard did indeed think Whedon’s idea — which we will not be elaborating on in the course of this article — was totally awesome. “I lit up,” recalls the Cabin director who also wrote the J.J. Abrams-produced 2008 monster movie Cloverfield. While invoking — and playing with — classic horror tropes, the duo also envisioned the film as an alternative to “torture porn” movies like Hostel and Saw. Instead, they wanted to invoke the more “fun” likes of The Evil Dead, John Carpenter’s slasher classic Halloween,and Wes Craven’s phantasmagorical A Nightmare on Elm Street. “We’ve had a growing disconnect between watching people getting murdered and ‘horror,’ which is not actually about murder,” says Whedon. “It can contain murder, but it’s not limited to it. We wanted to go back to old-school thrilling scares.”
The pair developed plot and character concepts over the next few months and then checked into a suite at a hotel in Los Angeles, determined not to leave the premises until they had a finished script. In the end, it took them just three days. “When we were working on Buffy the Vampire Slayer we would write very quickly,” says Goddard. “There’s an energy that comes when you’re writing fast. There’s something about jumping off the cliff and seeing where you land. You end up taking more chances because you don’t have a choice to say, ‘Well, let’s put that away for a while and see what happens.’ Joss and I were talking a lot about how we missed that energy. So we said, ‘We are not allowed to leave this hotel until we have a finished script. It definitely inspired us. It was the most intense amount of writing in a period I’ve ever done in my life and it was also, amazingly, the most fun.”
Goddard says the pair’s expectations as to what might happen with the script were not so much low as nonexistent. “The spirit of Cabin was always like, ‘We didn’t care,'” he says. “We were absolutely at peace. It’s like the samurais: You believe that you’re dead before you go into battle so then nothing bad can happen to you. We didn’t care what happened with this movie, we just wanted to write what we wanted to write.”
The pair were aware studio executives might be tempted to tinker with their script’s unusual plot machinations, and traveled as far down the development path as they could before shopping the project around. “We did the budgets, figured out the schedule,” recalls Goddard. “We did all the legwork and said, ‘This is the package, take it or leave it.’ Because this is the type of movie that can easily get killed by committee. Luckily, people got it.”
Next: “It was like, ‘F—k, if I don’t get this part, it’s going to haunt me.'”