John, I'm actually not wearing any panties. Wanna come over sometime?
Brandon, I loved Titanic when it first came out. I saw it twice in the theater--a tiny theater in Wellsville, NY, that was still using the same mono speaker system they'd been using since the twenties or thirties. There was an intermission while they changed the reels. John's been there; I can't imagine him not sharing my love for that little cinema. I soured on Titanic after it became a marketing juggernaut and haven't seen it since. I have no interest in seeing it in 3-D, but I will point you all to the latest episode of The Bugle, which has a hilarious segment about the anniversary of the Titanic, including commentary on this false but widely reported bit of news about its censorship in China.
On to what you've all been anxiously waiting for--my thoughts/responses to Cabin in the Woods. Yes, I loved it. Yes, I say it set a new standard for horror. I still think those things, except I will revise my "new standard" statement to "continues the new standard" that was set by Cabin Fever, then usurped (somewhat ironically) by a little torture porn flick called Hostel by the same director. Cabin Fever is almost the perfect horror satire in that you don't know that it's a satire unless you are somewhat versed in horror conventions. Whedon goes further and grander and is decidedly more up front about it, but nevertheless puts forth a film that is well crafted in its own right, while also paying tribute to what has come before. I can hear Adrienne saying that a difference between the two is that Cabin Fever turned various horror tropes on their heads, which CITW doesn't do (it embraces them instead). But both films are self-aware and well-educated and wonderful homages to the genre. Roth's having a little get together, while Whedon's rented a convention hall, but I see their objectives as very similar. Unfortunately, Hostel was so successful (not to mention that it came out practically on the heels of Saw, released a year earlier) that it rendered Cabin Fever practically impotent before it had a chance to truly be appreciated. The reign of modern torture porn had begun. Horror fans weren't quite ready for Cabin Fever, but I maintain that it fits in right alongside CAITW and another practically unnoticed but brilliant horror satire, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. Satire doesn't even feel like the right word, because these films aren't cynical at all, they're more the wink-wink-nudge-nudge-axe-to-the-skull sort. These films love horror and remind me in different ways why I like horror, too. In its own way, the Scary Movie franchise does the same thing, but its heavy-handed slapstick and stuffed-to-bursting bag of references (which I heartily enjoy, don't get me wrong) makes the films too clunky and obvious (and after the second one too self-referential) to be in the same category as the aforementioned trilogy.
Why I think Whedon's film could be important is because it's been marketed to a much wider audience that the other two films I mentioned, and has the potential to reveal to a much wider audience some of what us long-suffering horror fans have known all along: horror is awesome. And, this, I think, is the real message of Cabin in the Woods. Jeff (I think) said that it wasn't that scary, and I think it's important to acknowledge it. Whedon doesn't pull any punches--this is a real horror film, no doubt about it. But it's a film that has a wide enough appeal (because it's so fun) that I think non-horror fans can enjoy it, too. And maybe they'll talk to their friends who love horror, who will point out the references and talk about the formula and think to themselves, "Hmmm, I wonder if I would enjoy Hellraiser/Friday the 13th/The Ring/Chainsaw Massacre/Godzilla because I didn't think I liked horror, but I liked this movie." I said to Adrienne after it was over that it was the "horror film to end all horror films," because, really, Whedon laid it all out on the table. He proposed a contstruct that tied together in one mythology all the horror films that have ever come before it. I can't think of any horror film I've seen before that attempts that. And I won't be surprised if every horror film I watch from this point on, I'll be thinking in the back of my mind with a smile, "it's all a sacrifice to the ancient evil gods." But, as such, it also can be for some people the horror film to begin all horror films. It will definitely be included on my list of films to recommend to new horror fans along with Cabin Fever and Tucker and Dale.
[side note: hey, Adrienne and Brandon, wouldn't it be cool to make a list of top ten horror for non-horror fans?]
This is going to be all out of order, but I'm realizing that the Evil Dead films fall in the same category here. Bruce Campbell really was the original meta-horror hero, wasn't he? So I'll revise my assessment further--"Whedon has made a meta-horror film in the tradition of Evil Dead, Cabin Fever, and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, but on a grander scale than any of those films. And he ties horror subgenres together in a way that no other horror film has done before."
Okay, enough rambling. On to my responses.
Great post! I was expecting "nonplussed," and read what I thought was a generally favorable review. I liked all the same things you liked, and will agree with you that I admire homemade horror FX more than CGI, but I'm not such a purist that CGI gets in the way of my enjoyment of a horror film. I didn't notice it to be particularly bad (I've seen far worse), but for some horror fans, that it's in there at all is enough for dismissal. I loved the purge sequence, and will agree that "in real life" there would likely be a much more layered security system if you had that many nightmares locked up, but that would be boring to watch, right? It's a film about tropes and formulas, so why not throw in a few more?
I do actually enjoy watching losers being hacked up, though I don't see them as losers. Part of what I like about slasher horror is the thrill of feeling like you could be right there in the film--and if you were, what would you do to get away? I always think that way when I watch horror.
"I want my horror to mean something."--I'm quoting you here, John, but I don't really have a clear response. The statement just struck me as being--what?--ironic? Aren't meaningless deaths a part of horror's general worldview? What meaning can there be in a world where time and time again, killers can wreak havoc on human beings without real consequence? I suppose I understand what you're saying in Adrienne's context, but she and I differ in that I can (and do very much) enjoy horror on a craft/aesthetic level. It's still a funny-sounding statement.
"no different from Pirahna 3-D"--I disagree here. CITW is a very different film with very different objectives. But maybe I'm interpreting the statement out of context.
"those...who think that this cliched horror...is ridiculously boring don't care much for commentary"--If that's truly the case, then CITW isn't going to do much for you at all. You need say nothing more.
"connected emotionally"--I think I prefer to see myself as connecting with horror on a primal level rather than an emotional one. If I were invested on an emotional level, I doubt I'd watch much horror. It would be far too upsetting.
"clever screenwriters drawing attention"--nice line, and I agree. CITW has Whedon written all over it. But that's one of the reasons I like it so much! But there's more to it than that, in my opinion.
I agree with you that the "batshit crazy" ending was rushed. I wanted to see these fantastic creatures in action more, wanted to identitfy references, etc. But maybe they rushed it because they knew their CGI was crappy.
"walk away unchanged"--I didn't uncover any emotional or spiritual truths, no, but I was reminded that "horror is awesome" and my appreciation for the genre was raised. I definitely want to see CITW again, and think that it will reward those who will watch it more than once.
I've made references to the notion of a horror film needing to have "deep meaning," so I won't repeat myself here. One reason I like modern art so much is because it focuses almost entirely on form. The meaning is entirely subject to the viewer, but the form facilitates it. Part of my enjoyment of horror is its form, conventions and all. And films that explore, expand, and play with that form in intelligent ways greatly appeal to me.
I also liked the fact that there was a mystery of sorts, but it was thinly veiled. Again, a part of what draws horror fans again and again to the genre is the predictability--we'll watch the same formula over and over again and love it. But we appreciate new twists and creative kills (there's that phrase again) and other ways filmmakers can freshen up the form of the genre. Whedon does a great job of combining predictability while still keeping the audience guessing, and almost perfectly balances the two.
"hero of the story is also a guy who selfishly wants the world to be destroyed along with him"--I'm going to piggyback on John's response to this pretty much word-for-word. I read a great book by Shusaku Endo called Silence, about a Catholic priest who, under threat of his life, denounced his faith only to take it back up again when the threat had passed. Most of the book was him wrestling with his decision--is it better to be alive and able to serve, or to die remaining true to an ideal? I'm with John in that humanity is not worth preserving if that's the cost. Stoner guy knew that and was wiser for it. Besides, if the Ancient Evil Elder Gods require all that, they're just a bunch of bullies and assholes. Let them destroy the world and then have nothing left to entertain themselves. See how long it lasts before they start making some more people out of clay.
Finally, John, I was very disappointed as well that there were no tentacles. I didn't mind the hand, but I was totally expecting tentacles.