Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin In The Woods wore its influences very much on its sleeve, but the horror roots of this whip-smarth satire go well beyond aping Eighties shockers, as star and regular Whedon collaborator Fran Kranz (Dollhouse, Much Ado About Nothing) is keen to point out…
Were you surprised by how well The Cabin In The Woods did?
Honestly, no I wasn’t. I thought the movie was amazing, it was one of the best scripts I ever read so I strongly – despite the delay, which obviously tested my faith in the movie – I was satisfied, I felt affirmed. I felt like I was right. I was not surprised. I thought the script was amazing and on set we were pulling it off. I was there and I was passionate about it so even on days off I wanted to be present, and so I could see we were doing a good job and I had a lot of faith in Joss [Whedon] and Drew [Goddard], and I heard good things in post-production.
So honestly, I mean, you know, whether or not that sounds a little cocky, it’s true, I was satisfied. Had it not been well received I would have written it off as ‘the world’s full of idiots’, or something. I was pleased and satisfied.
Do you think people are now more able to digest a subtler horror satire?
When I think of Scary Movie, I think more of a spoof, and Scream is more of a satire – with our movie, obviously it’s having fun with the contrivances and tropes and cliches that can be seen in horror films from the beginning, but I thought that the characters themselves lived in a real world. The world of the film, the story, was a sincere horror set up and I liked that about it. The fun that Drew and Joss had with the conventions of horror films was something that was there responsibility, and for the characters and actors – we got to play a sincere horror film.
Obviously I had a lot of funny lines, and I’m sitting there being suspicious and doubtful of the situation, but I do think it was in a very real, reality-based and sincere way. So I think we kinda got the best of both worlds in sense that we got to live the experience of a horror film in the story and the monster and the terror, while seeing this subversive comedy – something that shakes up the genre. It is subtle, it is satirical, but at the heart of it is this simply tried and true set up.
For me, I loved the Friday The 13th movies growing up, so for me to do a cabin movie with monsters is a dream come true, and then for it to have all these elements and layers of satire and poking fun at the genre, and pushing the envelope – I love it when people say ‘the horror film to end all horror films’ – to be a part of that when you get to play it truthfully and sincerely in the most classical kind of way is sort of the real gift of the movie from the production side. We got to have our cake and eat it. For me it checked off so many boxes.
Your Director of Photography worked on Evil Dead 2, what sort of impact did that have given the movie is one of The Cabin In the Woods’ major reference points?
I feel silly for not knowing who shot the first Evil Dead, but Peter Dening who shot our movie and did Evil Dead 2, he also just worked on Drag Me To Hell, also Sam Raimi. Drag Me To Hell I think is one of the better horror films in recent memory for me – I love that movie – I thought it was hilarious and terrifying and gross – it got it all.
Peter, we all looked at as a horror master, and if we ever got a moment we’d be geeking out and asking him about his experiences on both those films. The set up for Cabin and the cabin itself – the look of the cabin, literally – its straight out of Evil Dead. It’s a complete rip off, and I think that’s a nod to the movie – we are having fun with that. A lot of those shots must have been complete deja vu for Peter, but I think that was obviously intentional and he seemed to have a great time with it. He loved the movie, and got the movie, and understood the satire, and understood that it had to be approached in a sincere, in a true, in a scary way.
He got those kind of shots – I love those tracking shots in Evil Dead, the zombies, demons, evil spirits kinda moving through the forest, and we had his expertise and his experience, and had those similar kind of tracking shots. Obviously the aesthetic and how the film moves is so important to the suspense and the terror of it, yeah, I imagine Joss and Drew were adamant at getting an experienced veteran, to have literally one of the guys who shot one of the Evil Dead movies is perfect because of all the things that are sort of gestures and nods, that was obviously the number one reference.
As you’re all playing obvious horror archetypes, did you all get put through a horror bootcamp to get into the mindset?
Yeah, we definitely got the Evil Dead movies to watch, we got The Descent, Kristen [Connolly, who plays Stephanie] and I got Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid just for that final scene, and I’m pretty sure we got a Friday The 13th movie but, you know, the script was so good that all five actors that were playing the kids – they’re really smart actors – they got it, we all understood our jobs. Drew was really adament about playing it real, he could cover the clichés with the wardrobes, the lines and the exteriors, and it was for us to play five friends as honestly as we could was important to him because I think he wanted the film to have a real heart, care about the kids, approach it as classically, like a real horror film and he’d layer the satire more subtly throughout.
We all got our archetypes and all the actors were suited for their characters – for me, personally, I felt Corey Feldman in The Burbs – obviously it’s suspense with elements of horror – but Corey Feldman in Friday The 13th Part IV [also known as The Final Chapter], which is a sort of probably the most meta of the Friday The 13th movies – that’s not saying much – but he was a character who was aware of the Jason myth and I think at the end he confuses Jason by wearing the mask. It’s sort of bizarre, attempting to be meta – I forget exactly how it went down.
The fact I already had Corey Feldman in mind from The Burbs was great. That I also knew him as a character from a horror film who was kinda like Marty in that he had a higher awareness of what was going on, and the history of horror and his particular story. Other than that, often when you’re lucky enough to read a really good script, the character’s sort of there – it leaps off the page at you and you instinctively see it in three dimensions and see it in a much more comprehensive and realised way than other scripts, not as well written scripts. With this I kinda saw Marty immediately and it was a strong pace, it was slightly cartoonish, but I think that’s OK, because he has elements of Shaggy and Scooby, and it’s scary, but it’s a satire – it’s fun, and I thought it was OK to emphasise, especially early on, cartoonish, comic-book qualities of the character. I kinda had that goofy stoner thing from day one, and luckily Joss and Drew were on board with it.