Editor’s Note: This Commentary Commentary, published back in 2012, has been republished, as going to Fantastic Fest and seeing a bunch of great horror movies reminds us of Drew Goddard’s exceptional film.
Since audiences feasted their eyes on The Cabin in the Woods earlier this year, many have waited for the day they could listen to the commentary. To hear Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon wax nostalgic on horror and let us in on the secrets behind the making of this highly inventive movie would truly be a joy.
Now, the DVD/Blu-Ray has been released for this film that’s sure to be on a number of top 10 lists, and not just those of horror fans. So sit back, click off the lights – your computer should light up enough so you can read – and check out all the things we learned listening to this commentary for The Cabin in the Woods.
Cue the harbinger.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Commentators: Drew Goddard (co-writer, director), Joss Whedon (co-writer, producer)
1. The two start off the commentary describing the chardonnay they’re drinking. This item is listed on here for the number of people asking how many commentaries are done while the commentators are inebriated. They usually don’t talk about it unless it’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone. On this commentary, Goddard suggests we get our own bottle and join in. “
This isn’t like just two nerds sitting in a dark room who made this movie because they have no friends and girls won’t date them. It’s more like we’re very elegant,” adds Whedon.
2. “Opening the movie with this scene is one of my favorite things that we accomplished,” says Whedon over the opening scene with Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. Goddard agrees adding that he thought it would be a creative way to open the film by making the audience think they had walked into the wrong movie. The studio noticed this, too, and raised their awareness to Goddard and Whedon. “There were some fun discussions with our studio at the time,” adds Goddard.
3. Whedon notes some “conversations” he had with the studio, who were worried that the audience would be too confused too early on. “Well, they’re not going to walk out,” Whedon had said to them. Goddard notes that it goes back with Whedon to his “Buffy” days, how he lets the audience in on the secret without being coy about it.
4. “Did this guy do anything again?” asks Whedon when Chris Hemsworth shows up, filming a scene he did probably a year before Thor came out. “I can’t remember,” the co-writer jokes.
5. The car Marty (Fran Kranz) pulls up in near the beginning of the film is the same car Goddard drove throughout high school, and the action of locking his door without rolling his window up was something the director pulled from his real life, as well. Maybe a few other things about Marty come from Goddard’s real life, but he doesn’t talk about it.
6. The first day of filming was at the gas station location where the group meets Mordecai, The Harbinger. Goddard notes it was his first day of directing a feature film, and when they showed up to the set it was covered in snow. Whedon jokes that, as the film’s producer, he should have known this would be the case, as it was snowing the night before. Goddard remarks this was the moment when he realized he and Whedon were in charge and had to figure things out on their own.
7. Each of the characters had their own scenes specifically written for the auditioning process. Goddard notes The Harbinger (Tim De Zarn) was cast using a scene that had him fighting with a vending machine over a dollar while remarking on grand, existential ideas. He and Whedon were looking for actors who performed their scene more subdued, that they would “bring the silly.”
8. The Cabin in the Woods shot in the woods outside Vancouver, the same woods where the latest Twilight film was shooting concurrently. “If you pan left in any shot, you’ll see Bella and Edward,” jokes Goddard. The real monsters of the horror genre.
9. The way Goddard remembers it, the two always planned for him to direct and Whedon to serve as producer. He recalls Whedon deciding halfway through writing the screenplay that he wanted to direct it instead. Goddard was saddened but took it as a good sign that the movie would get made.
10. The way Whedon remembers it, he and Goddard had no idea who was going to direct it, and the two bandied around director’s names while they wrote. He recalls they landed on Jeepers Creepers director Victor Salva. This information comes right when Jesse Williams is taking his shirt off, but we’ll just chock it up as coincidence. Goddard and Whedon do both note they like the Jeepers Creepers movies.
11. The scene with The Harbinger calling in to the control center was the first scene Goddard and Whedon wrote after Whedon came up with the overall idea. Goddard remembers the idea of him calling in from a payphone was more a logistical answer than trying to come up with something creative or funny. “Everything that this movie is about is encapsulated in a Harbinger being stuck on a speaker phone,” he says. “It kind of has both worlds.”
12. An early idea that Goddard came up with was “Truth or Dare or Lecture” as the game the group plays where one person would lecture someone else in the group about something they didn’t like about them. Evidently, the lecture cut from the script involved Holden lecturing Marty about marijuana. The line “I’m living in a world of reefer” was a call-back to this scene, which Whedon notes was sadly cut due to time. Goddard notes the only things cut from the script were in the first act.
13. “Either they find it disturbingly sexy, just disturbing, or they think the wolf is going to eat her face,” says Whedon, explaining precisely why that particular scene works.
14. The Cabin in the Woods was written by Goddard and Whedon as “something for us,” as they had both just come off feature film projects that didn’t pan out. The two holed up in a hotel room and spent the weekend writing the screenplay as completely as they could, a challenge they put on themselves. The finished film was born out of that weekend.
15. The two discuss “belief systems” of characters and how you rarely empathize with the bad guys’ point of view, and they wanted a film that showed that side of things. “At the end of the day, if you look at this movie, both sides are right,” says Goddard. He notes that he got the idea to work on that angle after watching The Breakfast Club as an adult for the first time and understanding the adults’ side of the film.
16. Goddard grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and he took aspects of his childhood, seeing people like Hadley and Sitterson who go to their job every day creating weapons of mass destruction, for the film. Whedon notes the retro look of the old weapons plants is very evident in the film.
17. Another influence from Goddard growing up in Los Alamos is the fact that the town has the highest number of churches per capita of all the US cities. “You realize that because they’re building weapons of mass destruction, they need faith,” he notes.
18. “Lotta pot being smoked also,” jokes Goddard. Whedon notes right away that pot saves lives, and the two give us a lesson on weed cards. Whedon mentions Super 8 and the “drugs are so bad” line. “The difference between working with J.J. (Abrams) and working with Joss is on one hand, you have ‘drugs are so bad,’ and on the other hand you have ‘drugs save the world,’” Goddard explains. Whedon mentions he only knows about drugs from reading Beatnik books.
19. Goddard recalls shooting a particular scene of Hemsworth giving the group instructions, and he knew the young actor was bound to become an action star. It was soon after MGM saw these dailies that they signed Hemsworth to Red Dawn. Two days later, he landed Thor. That day in between was, apparently, hell on earth.
20. Goddard notes that, after writing screenplays for 15 years, he’s realized it all boils down to set-up and pay-off. He mentions the Merman as being at the top of test audiences reasons for liking the film, and it’s a set-up and pay-off that’s only about a minute worth of actual film. Goddard and Whedon note The Abyss as the best movie for set-up and pay-off. We can’t stop talking about James Cameron.
21. There were debates about the Japanese horror subplot and whether or not American audiences would understand what’s going on. Goddard notes that you don’t need to understand J-horror to get the basic idea of what’s going on, and viewers who know J-horror will be that much more inside on the joke.
22. Whedon notes a strange sense of failure in the scene where Hemsworth’s Curt jumps his motorcycle across a seemingly empty ravine. He recalls the SXSW audience and how several viewers were snickering at what was about to happen. It was their intention that the audience would have forgotten about the fence. Goddard notes the SXSW was more savvy and regular audiences usually did forget.
23. “It is that post process coupled with impending bankruptcy that I think caused more trouble that we would probably have had,” says Whedon after Goddard mentions the studio they were working with – that being MGM – wanted them to cut out much of the office’s celebration scene. The director also mentions his own self doubt became part of the editing problem, but that the celebration scene perfectly sets up the third act.
24. At one point, Whedon convinced Goddard that the celebration scene needed to be cut, and the director broke down in front of him. Whedon instantly called the studio and said they weren’t cutting a thing. Damn good producer.
25. Before he began directing The Cabin in the Woods, Goddard read an interview with Danny Boyle who said about his own first film, Shallow Grave, “You’re never going to have your first movie again, because your naivety will lead you to do things you’ll never do again.” Goddard agrees this theory was on full display while he worked on The Cabin in the Woods.
26. “By the way, ballerina dentata is pure Joss Whedon,” says Goddard. Whedon mentions she’s more a ballerina who wants to eat Luke and Han.
27. The two note their version of Pinhead is the closest the film comes to an actual shout-out, but they also argue that Pinhead has become such a part of the mythos of American horror that the Cabin in the Woods counterpart fits in with the rest of the monsters. Whedon notes the Huron, a Native American warrior that became the first American monster, is included in the film, as well.
28. “What? You would totally have this system purge technology if you had a bunch of monsters. What are you talking about?” asks Whedon just before the onslaught of awesome monsters appear. We’re too enthralled to care about logical plot points, so purge away!
29. Early iterations of the incredible shot where all the monsters are unleashed included a much rapier tree. Goddard instructed the digital effects team he wanted the tree to be more of a molester than a rapist. Big difference.
30. They could only get one shot of the Merman feeding on Hadley with blood spurting out its blow hole, because the set would be doused in fake blood after the effect. Goddard had the effects team hook the monster up to the largest batch of fake blood they could find, and a steady stream of blood shot up and out. The director jokes there is a nine-minute cut of blood shooting out of the Merman, but only the last ten seconds of this shot were actually used.
31. “She was great in Alien: Resurrection. How many people can you say that about?” comments Whedon introducing Sigourney Weaver. He notes the actor they chose for that part had to have some background with the audience, not necessarily horror clout, but genre helped. “We talked about so many people, and there’s nobody else who should be coming up those stairs,” Whedon adds.
32. Weaver’s first question to Goddard when she arrived on set was when the werewolf would be showing up. The horror icon was giddy about finally working with a werewolf and even mentioned to Goddard that she was saddened no one was sitting with the werewolf when they broke for lunch. A spin-off film can’t be far behind. Weaver and the Were-Beast.
33. Goddard notes the final scene between Marty and Dana was the best written scene he had ever watched. Whedon, who wrote the final scene, mentions it is a version of the “You’re an asshole, Gorman” scene from Aliens, but the idea of a heroine and the funny guy dying together as best friends was a concept Whedon has wanted to put to paper since his childhood.
34. Whedon notes he can’t let the commentary end without thanking Lionsgate, who loved and picked up the film after it sat on a shelf for years. He mentions the delay in the film’s release was no one’s fault and that it got tangled up in a bankruptcy mess, but Lionsgate was so behind the film that it re-convinced Goddard and Whedon that it was a good movie. They then compare their experience to Willem Dafoe’s death scene in Platoon.
Best in Commentary
“We did all the same things. We did every single one of the same things that we could do but wrapping it around our own movie. Girl dancing in undies…pretty much a ‘same thing.’” -Joss Whedon
“This tone, especially with this movie, five degrees to the left, we’re in exploitation territory. Five degrees to the right, we’re a broad comedy.” -Drew Goddard
“Kids, call us up if you have drugs.” -Drew Goddard
This commentary track for The Cabin in the Woods is fun but nothing groundbreaking. Goddard and Whedon certainly have a camaraderie between them that clearly shows how this fine film became a reality. There are a few instances of prolonged silence, and they mention at least four times the fact that Whedon directed The Avengers. Think he’s proud of that one?
Nonetheless, something as jam packed as The Cabin in the Woods can’t have everything about it explained in a single commentary track, and hopefully more will be recorded for a future release. One with the cast, particularly Whitford and Jenkins, would be ideal. Hearing Goddard and Whedon talk about the film will do for now, and it stands as a solid commentary complete with insight, anecdotes, and humor. Also Joss Whedon apparently directed The Avengers.