Drew Goddard‘s new horror-comedy epic The Cabin In The Woods offers a sci-fi like twist on the rural horror subgenre. Co-written with producer Joss Whedon, the film references everything from Evil Dead to Friday the 13th to Hellraiser. The set-up is simple: five college students head off to the titular location unaware that they are being monitored from a bunker, and that their choices and subsequent killer encounters are part of a larger experiment. That’s all that can and should be said prior to viewing it. No trailer can really do it justice without spoiling it, but be assured that the movie combines the right doses of edgy scares and tension-relieving laughs as the plot twists and turns in unexpected ways.
Goddard spoke with A.D.D. about the state of horror, genre conventions, film versus television writing and the future of CGI in horror.
We’ve had this huge horror wave over the last decade, and it’s gotten so meta-meta that — just as with Scream in the mid-90s– we’ve gotten to The Cabin In The Woods. Do you think it’s time that horror went back underground? That it’s hard to bring something new to the genre?
I don’t think so. I feel like with any genre, any time we think that it’s impossible to bring something new, some kids will build something in their garage that blows us all away. I never think anything’s dead. What happens is stuff becomes successful, and as it becomes successful studios just make more of the same. Things become stale in success; it’s just what happens in all genres. I think that’s what happened to the horror genre a little bit because they were having such success. That’s why we got all those films. Anytime you write a genre off as dead, it always comes back and surprises you.
You’re playing with a lot of the conventions of the slasher genre, including the types of characters that end up going to the cabin, like the virgin, the stoner/smartass, the nice guy, the dumb jock and the slutty girlfriend. You wrote Cloverfield, and there were a number of different annoying characters that got killed off throughout the story. Do you find it therapeutic to write about annoying people and place them in horrendous situations?
Not for me. It’s not like I set out to make these characters annoying. I definitely love every character, it just depends on what purpose they need to serve for the narrative. It would be sadism to simply create characters to watch them get slaughtered.
“I think seeing something actually happen in front of you…there is a visceral quality that the computer cannot generate.”
I used to tease somebody who loves reality TV. This person would never admit that stuff is crap, but I would admit a lot of slasher movies I liked were crap. But I justified what I liked by saying that at least the people that annoyed me on those shows died in my movies.
Most reality television would be better if every now and then a monster would rage through there and just eat some people.
Have you ever written any television episodes that dealt with reality TV?
I don’t think so.
Could you imagine yourself doing a horror reality kind of parody?
Not really. I just don’t like lampooning anything. I just like telling stories. You never know. If there’s a story to be told in the reality genre that’s interesting, I’m all for it. It never starts from a place of lampooning anything. I don’t really care about stuff like that.
You wrote some episodes of Lost, and I recall Damon Lindelof speaking at the New York Television Festival last year and admitting that when he and J.J. Abrams first came up with the series, they really had no idea what they were doing. How challenging was it to write for a show that some people suspect did not have a planned ending? Did you have any idea that he didn’t know what was going on?
I think Damon was being a little facetious because he did have a lot of it planned, and the truth is any television show runner who tells you they know everything is lying. Working on Lost wasn’t any different than working on any of the other shows I’ve worked on because you have enough of a plan. TV evolves. It just does. And if you think you’re still going to do the same thing that you originally thought of seven years ago — because most TV shows are seven seasons — you’re not evolving as a writer or storyteller. It wasn’t strange at all because certainly J.J., Damon and Carlton [Cuse] had enough of a plan and enough of the guideposts worked out. Along the way, that’s the fun of being a writer, finding stuff that’s new and interesting to you.
You’ve worked both in film and TV. Which medium do you tend to relate to better as a writer?
It’s hard. The thing that makes TV amazing and also makes it difficult is every eight days you need a new episode, so you’re creating an hour’s worth of content every eight days, which is electrifying. The enemy of creativity is second-guessing yourself, so in TV you can’t afford to do that. That’s nice, you have to do it. On the flipside, that’s also extraordinarily stressful. The stress of television is unlike anything else in the world, so I go back and forth. There are days that really miss the energy that happens when you don’t know what you’re going to shoot on Monday, and it’s Sunday night and you better come up with something. There’s something really fun about that, it feels like you’re with your friends just creating out of the blue. But it’s also stressful. There’s something exciting about features where you can take the time to get it right, which is also nice.
“Most reality television would be better if every now and then a monster would rage through there and just eat some people.”
I’m starting to venture into TV writing, and one of the things I’ve realized is that you just have to spew it out. Just do it.
That’s right, you have to do it. I was just reading something about Facebook and how they have on their company walls, and I’m paraphrasing, “Done is better than perfect.” That to me is the perfect quote for television. It’s better to just get it done than it is to make it perfect, and that can happen a lot more easily in features where everyone can start second-guessing things. In TV, it’s better to just get it done.
Considering all the references in Cabin In The Woods, did you and Joss go back and watch a lot of films that you loved?
To be honest, we didn’t do any research at all. Not even a lick. This totally came out of our subconscious. It was the easiest thing because this is what we do for fun anyway. What I do for fun is think about monsters. That’s what I enjoy doing in my spare time, so Cabin definitely gave me the chance to play with the play box of my dreams.
Out of curiosity, have you ever seen The Changeling with George C. Scott?
Absolutely. One of the all-time great bathtub drowning scenes.
That’s my favorite haunted house movie ever.
That movie scared the hell out of me. The séance scene in The Changeling is so good. I still have nightmares from that movie. By the way, maybe it wouldn’t scare me [today], but it scared me when I saw the movie, that’s for sure.
And have you ever seen the apocalyptic film Miracle Mile?
Oh sure. We talked about Miracle Mile all the time for Cloverfield. That was a huge influence in Cloverfield. I loved it. What a great ending.
We just invoked a great low budget thriller, and there’s a trend in action movies now where people are working with lower budgets and trying to make things look more real and not overdoing the CGI. They’re doing all of these crazy chase scenes that are organic. Do you think that aesthetic is going to spill over into low budget horror in the future?
I hope so. We forget that CGI is still relatively new in the big scheme of things. It’s only been around for the last 20 years, so it’s still very young. I think people are still figuring out the best ways to use it and the best ways not, and we’ll just continue to evolve. I think seeing something actually happen in front of you — whether it’s in an actor film or a horror film, if there’s a creature actually there or a fight actually happening — there is a visceral quality that the computer cannot generate. Or at least we just haven’t figured out how to do it.