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Things in the Basement

Once upon a time, there was a blonde girl in an alley, and she looked like easy prey for a hungry vampire. But that girl’s name was Buffy, and the vampire was totally wrong

Once upon a time, and another time, and another time before that, there was a group of kids, and when they thought they were going to have a nice weekend in a cabin in the woods, they were totally wrong

You know where this is going, if you’ve ever seen a scary movie or even a preview for one. But the story heads down a different ominous dirt road in Cabin in the Woods, which has co-writer, co-producer and Buffy mastermind Joss Whedon’s fingerprints all over it. This means wisecracks fly faster than fists or weapons, and chances are good a poorly CGIed giant reptile will turn up sooner or later. It also means that things are always likely to be much more than they seem, often in a way that melds deep-seated fears with an even deeper understanding of pop culture. 

Whedon’s co-writer and the film’s director, Drew Goddard, also has some experience with mysterious tales; after writing for Buffy and Angel, he did time on Lost, which likewise did some strange things with a seemingly straightforward location. Scream is also in the film’s family tree, though Cabin’s view is bigger and broader than that self-aware series. Why are horror stories often so familiar, even as they’re built to frighten? What’s the point in telling these stories, with these characters (here including Chris Hemsworth as the jock and Dollhouse’s excellent Fran Kranz as the funny one), over and over again? Where do your nightmares come from, and where do they go when the night’s over?

Cabin in the Woods taps into something primal, creepy, funny — and gory. Whedon and Goddard don’t slack on the bloody hijinks as they meld horror movie tropes with a smart, perfectly absurd take on the things that make horror stories happen. Is that vague enough? Don’t let the spoilers get you, kids. They lurk everywhere.