After working on such cultalicious TV shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, and Lost, and then writing the 2008 film Cloverfield, Drew Goddard is finally making his directorial debut with The Cabin in the Woods. It’s a movie he’s been cooking up for a couple of years with his co-writer pal Joss Whedon (who also produced). The movie is a brilliant, bloody, hilarious riff on the teen-slasher genre by two experts in gore (and monsters — yes, there are monsters). It’s a movie of many wonderful secrets — none of which we want to ruin. Fortunately, Goddard was willing to talk a bit about the role that horror plays in our culture, the genre’s archetypes, and even Tom Cruise.
Is it tricky talking about this movie? Let me know when we get too far into spoiler territory.
In a way, I wish we didn’t have to tell people anything. But people who’ve already seen it have been protecting the movie for us, and saying, “No, it’s better to be surprised.” If you want it to be spoiled, it can be. I was worried with Cloverfield that we were giving too much away in the first trailer, but that’s not what we’ve done here.
There were several points in the movie that I wanted to freeze frame, like the board with all the names of the monsters, because it goes by so fast. Even if you’re paying close attention, you’re going to miss some.
We certainly made this movie for repeat viewing. This is what I do for fun — brainstorm about monsters!
What about the ballerina with the teeth for a face?
The ballerina dentata?
Is that what she’s called?
Absolutely. We’re creating our own mythology here, so we can call her whatever we want. We didn’t want this to be just a mash-up of other movies, but the fun is also how we’ve packed this thing full of Easter eggs to make you pause at various places. Especially when they’re figuring out how to summon the monsters.
You’d think after all this time, you’d know not to pick up and play with a creepy-looking Rubik’s Cube–like puzzle because you might summon someone like Pinhead [from Hellraiser].
That’s the thing about puzzles — they always make you want to play them. [Laughs.] It’s human nature. And even with every horror movie we’ve ever seen, we’re still going to play with them. With this movie, it’s more than a reference or a homage to those films.
Because you’re redefining the genre. Or subverting the genre. Or deconstructing the genre.
I guess so. I’m going to leave that to others to decide. If subversion comes along, so be it. I just love that we’re throwing the ultimate horror party. And really, we’re telling stories about why we tell stories, with what the characters go through. That’s the nature of creation.
The characters in Cabin become archetypes — the whore, the virgin, the athlete, the scholar, the fool. Why do we need these archetypes?
Because we’re influenced by mythology, and there’s a need to idealize youth, to make people into one-dimensional creatures. This happens over and over again in storytelling. Those archetypes exist because there’s something about us that we need to compartmentalize, and this isn’t just related to horror films, and it isn’t just about our own culture. This is about myth, and if you’re dealing with myth, you find where it fits inside us. It’s about storytelling, and our need to create heroes, for lack of a better word.
With the blonde character — the “whore” who isn’t a whore — what was the discussion about how to present her like?
The nudity? We absolutely discussed it. It’s crucial to that part of the genre, and we felt we had to honor the genre. You have these conventions for a reason, and the reason is bigger than just, “What do kids like?” Since the beginning of time, we’ve been throwing virgins in the volcano, so to speak, so we felt it was necessary to examine it.
There’s also a sense of glee on the part of two main characters seemingly in control whenever they kill someone off. Could these two guys in control be a metaphor for writers or directors? For you and Joss?
I don’t know if that’s what we set out to do, but there’s something there. [Laughs.] I don’t like killing off anyone, but sometimes it’s necessary. I mean, I love these characters, and if it were ever fun to kill them, then I didn’t do my job right. You have to feel a little sad. But you also sense that no matter what these kids choose, it’s going to end up badly for them.
Along the way, Tom Cruise was one of the people giving you notes on this film. What did he have to say?
He was very supportive. The best thing I could say about him is that he had so much enthusiasm for this movie. I don’t want to speak for him, but he definitely made it better. And that’s the thing studio heads do, is give their thoughts.
You did get some notes about a raping tree, though.
We were doing a visual-effects review, and the tree was getting too fresh, so we had to pull back on the groping scale. It’s [now doing] more uncomfortable petting than penetration. The hardest thing about this movie is getting the tone right, and it’s so subjective, because it basically comes down to my taste. And then I’ve got to get 300 people to understand that. The line is admittedly sort of crazy and hard to predict, but you find it as you go. If our actors got too broad, we’d have them pull back. And the whole movie now is exactly what I want it to be.
Speaking of actors, you caught a lucky break with Chris Hemsworth, who is now Thor, but wasn’t when you cast him.
It’s the best thing that could have happened to us!
Will you be donning your own super-villain costume anytime soon? Will you be back as Fake Thomas Jefferson in the Evil League of Evil, should a Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog sequel shoot this summer?
Nothing would make me happier. [Laughs.] Please have everyone tell Mr. Whedon that the fans demand it.