M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Last month, counted down my favorite horror films from my first year of reviewing. Now it’s on to Year Two which began officially on October 1, 2011 and went through September 30, 2012. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around a bit. I’ve even added a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t!

How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st, 2011 and September 30, 2012 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number—31. Again, I never call myself any kind of expert in horror. I simply watch a lot of horror films and love writing about them. Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!

Released on April 13, 2012 and available on Video On Demand, digital download, and DVD/BluRay!


Directed by Drew Goddard
Written by Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard
Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, & Amy Acker
Find out more about this film here!

CABIN IN THE WOODS is everything folks are gushing about. It is an unabashed horror movie, and proud to be one with multiple scares consisting of fantastically timed jump scares and more complex ones that build in magnitude all the way to the end. In many ways, it is the apex of horror films, taking everything of what has been said and done before and smartly incorporating it all into one expansive story. Horror, in itself, is as much about convention as it is about scaring you, and CABIN IN THE WOODS embraces this fact cleverly and capably. Certain tick marks have to be made on a well-worn checklist for most modern audiences to enjoy horror films, and Whedon and Goddard do a great job of making those marks one by one throughout the story. There’s the cabin in the woods, there’s the group of rowdy teens, there are drugs, there is sex, there is an entire Mystery Machine full of Scooby Doo characters; Fred the jock, Daphne the tramp, Shaggy the stoner, Scooby the noble nerd, and of course, Velma the virgin. The thing that separates this film from the herd is the fact that all of what we have come to expect are present and accounted for yet this doesn’t produce eye rolling at the adherence to convention; instead it views these archetypes with fresh eyes. All of these roles are smartly crafted and much praise should go to Whedon and Goddard for shedding a refreshing light on these old standbys.

Without revealing too much, I’m sure most of you know that there are behind the scenes machinations at work that our residents of the cabin are unaware of. This is the aspect which both sets this film apart yet also makes me a bit leery of what this film means for the horror genre. In many ways, this is the end all be all horror film. It borrows quite a bit from scores of other films, and much like the archetypes of our young cast, it checks off all of these types of horror films in the same fashion. As self-referential as SCREAM was, CABIN IN THE WOODS does the same in a more complex and comfortable fashion. Instead of verbally vomiting these rules off one by one as it occurred in Craven/Williamson’s flick which half the time mocked the genre it firmly rested in, CABIN IN THE WOODS creatively implements them within the story. In doing so, this makes the film so much more enjoyable to sit through. SCREAM is the filmic equivalent of explaining a joke as opposed to experiencing it with CABIN IN THE WOODS, experiencing it being the much more satisfying option of the two.

For example, when a character suggests that they split up in order to investigate the strange goings on, instead of one of the characters stating “Every character in every horror movie makes the bad decision to split up and it always gets them killed!”, the character simply says “Really!?!?!” Same joke, but funnier because it avoids the tedious explanation and obnoxious wink at the camera. By having these characters go through motions we are very much used to seeing in horror films, yet restrictedly self aware in doing so, Goddard and Whedon makes it ok to see someone go off alone to investigate that bump in the night rather than running in the opposite direction, which would be the more realistic way of handling said situation. Without giving too much away, the filmmakers make every bone-headed move these cabiners make sensible in the context of the story.

But with CABIN IN THE WOODS hitting all of the right notes, does this mean that horror has hit such a level of self-awareness that there is nowhere to go? Surely, the way this film ends there really isn’t a lot of room for a sequel, but much like the tedious and repetitive aftershocks that the horror genre experienced from the annoyingly overly self-aware SCREAM (where every character must acknowledge they are in a horror film), I fear that the same will be a result of this film. And in a genre that has already been sucked dry by sequels, remakes, and films talking down to its audiences, it makes me fearful as to what Whedon and Godard have wrought with this film, which could be seen as the end result of the sum of all horror films.

Ramifications on the horror genre aside, Goddard has constructed a completely satisfying movie experience. The film does fall into its own conventions at times with its extremely good looking cast of campers (even the nerd has six-pack abs), but I’m willing to look past that due to the deft handling of scare scenes, fresh takes on old conventions, and expert construction of just about everything from practical effects to CGI to elaborate set pieces. The climax of this film does toss everything against the wall, but most of it sticks. Though the guest appearance at the end is a bit distracting, it is, like the rest of the film, an ode to horror convention and I didn’t take very much issue with it. As I mentioned above, there is a definite ending to this film, one that might be hard pressed to squeeze a sequel from, but the ending, like much of the rest of the film, is solid and appetizing.

I couldn’t end this review without talking about the performances by the actors. Unlike most horror films utilizing the cabin in the woods motif, most of the cast exhibit a great amount of acting skill. Standout performances include Chris Hemsworth, who adds a bit of depth to the bawdy jock stereotype, and Kristen Connolly, who takes the virginal character that is always present in these types of films and turns it on its ear. Fran Kranz plays himself as the comedic stoner wisenheimer character he perfected in DOLLHOUSE, and his comedy works almost all of the time due to Goddard and Whedon’s clever scripting. For me, though, the highlight of this film was Richard Jenkins & Bradley Whitford, who alternate at being both jaw-droppingly awesome and pants-shittingly funny every second they are on the screen.

CABIN IN THE WOODS is the type of film that horror freaks like me fiend for, yet also makes them cringe a little as it alerts general filmgoers as to how cool the horror genre is, yet it does so on a blockbuster tapestry the horror genre is rarely cast upon. It’s gory but not grossout. It’s scary without being overly disturbing. It’s safe, yet the filmmakers are skilled enough to make the whole thing such an enjoyable loop-di-loop that you can’t help but leave the theater with a smile so big you can taste your ears. Though horror fans love to be off in the corner thinking dark thoughts and flicking off film snobs, it’s bound to give those same fans a warm feeling that CABIN IN THE WOODS was treated with such skill and respect for the genre. In many ways, CABIN IN THE WOODS is validation that all of those low budget horror films which set these conventions in the first place are as cool as we all knew they were and may serve as an awesome gateway drug for those who see horror in a down-snouted manner. It may even prompt those folks to view those amazing films that influenced CABIN IN THE WOODS in a new light.

I can’t help but recommend CABIN IN THE WOODS for horror fans and those beyond that specific predilection and hope that this treatment excites other creative minds to the genre. Yet at the same time, the cynic in me recognizes that CABIN IN THE WOODS could possibly be, like SCREAM before it, a milestone in the genre and fears what that means for what happens next in horror. I still attest that CABIN IN THE WOODS is utterly re-watchable and would be a thrill even for those who say they don’t;t like horror.

THE 2011-2012 COUNTDOWN!

#16 – THE PACT
#17 – V/H/S
#24 – [REC]3 GENESIS
#28 – INBRED

M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.

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