Whedon, Goddard Accused of Stealing the Idea for Cabin in the Woods

By  · Published on April 15th, 2015

In 2006, a writer named Peter Gallagher (eyebrow size unknown) self-published a book called “The Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines.” The book features a group of young people who are terrorized in a remote cabin by a murderous figure, but it turns out that the whole setup is being manipulated by shadowy, background operators. If that sounds familiar, Gallagher probably wants you on the jury.

He’s suing Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard and Lionsgate, claiming Cabin in the Woods stole directly from his novel. (The full legal complaint is here. It’s breezy. Spoiler alert: it’s a PDF.)

The complaint requests a jury trial and offers 25 points of comparison between the movie and Gallagher’s book. It looks a lot like a plot point breakdown, but it gets vague once it gets to the big reveal, so it’s unclear exactly how close the meta elements mirror one another (if at all).

Now, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment directly to the merits of the case, except to say that it’s going to be fantastically difficult to prove copyright infringement happened.

For one, the complaint states that Gallagher was selling his book at “the Venice Beach Boardwalk, the Santa Monica Free Speech Zone on the popular 3rd Street Promenade, and outside the Chinese Theatre on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,” pointing out that Whedon and Lionsgate live and function from Santa Monica in order to suggest that they would have come into contact with a book that sold around 5,000 copies.

To prove that they’d actually ever read the book (let alone knew about the book or had even heard of the book) is going to be extremely challenging. Especially with such a low circulation.

The other, more obvious, problem is that Gallagher is claiming copyright infringement on what amount to horror film tropes. His point-by-point comparison could be almost any slasher from the past fifty years. Young kids go to secluded space, two go off to have sex, someone dies, someone else dies, more people die, maybe someone survives. This is the fundamental difficulty of suing a meta, satirical homage that toys knowingly with well-tread ground. The twist is the key component, and that’s barely mentioned in the court document beyond the fact that there’s a group manipulating the events to make it seem like a horror movie (within a book, not within a movie). No mention of what that group’s goals are, or whether they have Cthulu-esque ties to the ancient beginnings of horror, and I have to assume that if the book also took that angle, they’d be hammering that similarity hard in the claim.

As it stands, they don’t. Twenty-three of the points of comparison are all standard slasher film elements.

Thus, the twist will be the hinge-point, and a lot will depend on how close the executions of the idea are to one another (again, if at all). Otherwise, Gallagher may as well sue Scream 4, too. Or My Little Eye. Or Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

Related Topics:

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.