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Here's The Story Behind The Cabin In The Woods' Journey To The Big Screen

2012's "The Cabin in the Woods" is one of the most subversive, clever, and meta movies in recent memory. Directed by Drew Goddard (writer of "Cloverfield," "World War Z," and "The Martian") and co-written by Goddard and Joss Whedon ("The Avengers,' "Justice League"), the film intended on making a satirical horror movie to poke fun at tropes found in the horror genre.

After working together on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Goddard and Whedon wanted "The Cabin in the Woods" to revive the slasher genre like 1996's "Scream" had done. The result was a mind-bending self-aware movie that goes from a typical scary movie into something much more complex. By borrowing heavily from cult classic movies like "Evil Dead," "Friday the 13th," and "Hellraiser," the filmmakers constructed something entirely new within the familiar world of horror.

"The Cabin in the Woods" brought in notable performers such as Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, and Jesse Williams as the central teen cast doomed to become hunted by monsters they summon. But the story is also about the mysterious suit-and-tie-wearing employees of an underground facility (portrayed by stars like Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) watching the horrific events unfold. Thanks to the strong script and amazing performances, "The Cabin in the Woods" has a respectable 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. But there's more to uncover about how this movie got made, so read on to discover its unique journey.

The script came together in three days

If there's one thing you should know about the screenwriting process, it's that it isn't easy. Writing a movie is a time-consuming, stressful, and complex process that requires an in-depth knowledge of storytelling to do properly. According to TheScriptLab, there are lots of rules for how to craft the perfect screenplay that goes towards making a movie as engaging as possible. While some writers are good enough to subvert those rules, it takes a while to discern when and how. Surprisingly, the famously clever script for "The Cabin in the Woods" didn't take long to write.

Based on quotes from "The Cabin in the Woods: The Official Visual Companion," Goddard and Whedon wrote the screenplay for "The Cabin in the Woods" within three days. The pair booked themselves a hotel room and co-wrote the script within a weekend, which did the trick. "Based on the fact that we had 10 pages written, we knew we each had an obligation to turn out no less than 15 pages every day for three days in a row," Whedon said. While some seasoned writers may advise against this writing strategy, it worked out in this case since "The Cabin in the Woods" is consistently praised for its script.

The Evil Dead reference, explained

When people think about "The Cabin in the Woods," they likely remember all the terrifying horror movie-themed monsters that appear on-screen. Since the story focuses on a secret facility that unleashes otherworldly nightmares onto unsuspecting victims, it is intriguing to see how many creatures arrived. One particularly pause-worthy scene is when facility workers place bets on which monster the main characters will accidentally summon when they're in the basement. Afterward, they show a whiteboard with all the options and what each department picked as their bet.

The whiteboard features names of generic monsters like "werewolf" and "vampires." But it also directly references ones from other horror films. Notably, the film includes "deadites" as potential monsters to unleash. Within the Evil Dead franchise, deadites are parasitic demons who devour the souls of humans before possessing their bodies. They are exclusive to the "Evil Dead" movies (as well as the short-lived Starz series "Ash vs. Evil Dead"), so it's interesting to imagine what they would have looked like here. Sadly, we never see this film's take on the entities, so they remain solely to reference a franchise that also featured and began at a cabin in the woods. Unfortunately for the Story Department, Dana and her friends didn't pick the deadites. (Oh well, maybe next year! Oh, wait...)

Bruce Campbell was supposed to play The Director

Speaking of the "Evil Dead" franchise, there was another reference that was supposed to be in this movie: a Bruce Campbell cameo. Fans of horror are familiar with the strong-chinned leading man best known for playing Ash Williams in every "Evil Dead" movie. He is a beloved cult, B-movie actor who has made a solid career for himself beyond "Evil Dead" with roles in projects like "Bubba Hotep," "Burn Notice," and "A.P. Bio" — to name a few. However, it's Bruce's association with the chainsaw-wielding deadite-slayer that inspired the creators of "The Cabin in the Woods" to have him appear in their film.

In the story, a mysterious individual known as The Director runs the facility beneath the cabin. Throughout the film, technicians like Sitterson and Hadley bring up The Director and their plans — though we don't see her until the end of the film. According to TVtropes, the writers first considered Bruce Campbell for the role because of his connection to horror culture. However, he had too many scheduling conflicts, which led the legendary Sigourney Weaver ("Alien") to embody the role instead.

How Pinhead inspired the Hell Lord

While some horror movie references were limited to their appearance on the whiteboard, others had more prominent roles within "The Cabin in the Woods." One of the monsters to appear in a supporting role is Hell Lord (Greg Zach), a scarred humanoid with buzz saws sticking out of his head while holding a mysterious puzzle sphere. After seeing the Hell Lord in his isolation cube, Dana realizes the full extent of their situation. She remembers that his puzzle sphere was one of the objects they fiddled with in the basement.

Pinhead from Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" series directly inspired the Hell Lord's creation. He's a cenobite, a demon (or angel, to some) summoned by solving the Lament Configuration box. Once in our dimension, Pinhead (and other cenobites) torture those who puzzle-solvers with unfathomable pain (which they cannot distinguish from pleasure). Similarly, the Hell Lord in "Cabin in the Words" arrives with a puzzle sphere that causes him to torture whoever he comes across. During the purge sequence at the end of the film, we see Hell Lord on a security screen and about to mutilate captured facility workers. According to Dread Central, the Hell Lord's real name is actually "Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain" — deepening his connection to Pinhead, a BDSM-inspired creature.

Why is that film reel important?

Among all the trinkets scattered around the basement of "The Cabin in the Woods" is an out-of-place film reel. Marty gravitates towards it despite his reasonable apprehensions about the basement's purpose. Later in the story, it becomes clear that these items summon particular monsters connected to them — such as the zombie redneck torture family's resurrection, thanks to Dana reading from their daughter's journal. However, Marty's film reel discovery was more mysterious than the others.

The film strip beckons an entity known as "Kevin," which we see on the whiteboard scene. Fans have long speculated about who (or what) Kevin is and why a reel of dusty old film is what calls him to the cabin. In "The Cabin in the Woods: The Official Movie Novelization" book, we learn that Kevin is a seemingly normal-looking human male who will kill unsuspecting victims before they realize he is a monster. Marty nearly chose Kevin by inspecting (though not playing) the film reel.

Heather Langenkamp worked on the film's special effects

The plot of "The Cabin in the Woods" homages the horror genre. But that approach isn't just limited to its story. The production featured Heather Langenkamp – of "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise fame — as a special effects artist for the film. Langenkamp is most known for her iconic performance as Nancy Thompson, where she became hailed as one of the first "Scream Queens" in pop culture. She starred in the first "A Nightmare on Elm Street" as well as "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" and then again as herself in the meta-revival "Wes Craven's New Nightmare."

Langenkamp had shifted her career focus away from acting when she and her husband, David LeRoy Anderson, formed a special effects-focused production company called AFX Studio. For "The Cabin in the Woods," she's credited under the name Heather L. Anderson — instead of her more well-known stage name. In this behind-the-scenes featurette, Langenkamp discusses the experience of designing the film's wretched merman creature.

Kyoto Ritual Based On The Ring

Part of the lore introduced in "The Cabin in the Woods" is that the facility we see in the movie is not the only place taking part in these rituals. Sitterson and Hadley hear multiple times that facilities in other countries have "gone dark" because of failed attempts to please the elder gods — leaving them as the only surviving option. We briefly see screens of other failed operations in places like Stockholm, Buenos Aires, and Madrid, with various levels of disasters occurring (including a "King Kong"-inspired slain ape). Furthermore, the Japanese facility rivals the American operation until they fail.

In the film, the Japanese ritual involves the ghost of a little girl attempting to kill her classmates in a school. Later, it's shown that their plan ended once the schoolgirls saved the ghost's soul by trapping it within a friendly frog. While this is bad news for the characters in the American facility, the sequence provides a clear reference to a J-horror trope — specifically harkening "Ringu." In "Ringu," the demonic spirit of a girl comes to kill anyone who views a videotape within seven days of watching it. The design for the ghost in "The Cabin in the Woods" is similar to the look of Sadako Yamamura, the main villain of "Ringu," and both their behaviors match the traditional Japanese onryō spirits.

Buckner Family's design came from multiple films

The main inhuman antagonists of "The Cabin in the Woods" are the Buckners, a reanimated backwoods family who worship pain. As far as the main characters know, this family once lived in the cabin and has since been brought back by reading from the journal of the youngest girl, Patience (Jodelle Ferland). Each killer family member has a skill set and an assortment of horrifying improvised weapons. While not based on one specific horror franchise, this dysfunctional family's design and concept came from blending a handful of horror movies.

On the surface, the Buckners are reminiscent of the Hill People from "The Hills Have Eyes" series, which is about a family of cannibalistic weirdos who attack travelers in the Nevada desert. Yes, the Hill People and the Buckners have a dominating patriarch at the helm — instilling a sense of brutality within his spouse and children. Furthermore, the Buckners also took notes from the Sawyer family of "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" films: That seems to be where the redneck part of the "redneck zombie torture family" comes into play. One member of the Buckners, in particular, share mannerisms with a famous name in horror: Michael Myers. At one point in the film, Matthew Buckner curiously tilts his head before attacking, which is a trademark move of Myers throughout the "Halloween" franchise.

Goddard grew up near Los Alamos

"The Cabin in the Woods" is Goddard's love letter to the horror genre. However, the film also brought his personal experience into the story. The Organization's secret underground facility has a massive role in the movie, as its final act uses it as its setting. Goddard grew up near the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which served as inspiration for the film's subterranean setting.

During an interview with Filmmaking Magazine, Goddard talked about how his experience living near such a high-tech science institution stuck with him. "In terms of design, the downstairs –- the Lab –- is very much influenced by my hometown," Goddard shared. "I grew up in Los Alamos New Mexico, which is where they built the Atomic Bomb. The whole town is just this nuclear research lab, and that's all it is. That's pretty much the reason the town exists. So you have this suburban group of people, and all anyone does for a living is make weapons for the government. I wanted to capture that vibe. Those were my friends and my family growing up, who went go out and did that job that was very hard to do." 

By building a connection between the Los Alamos scientists working on the Manhattan Project with the facility housing countless monstrosities, Goddard added another fascinating layer to the film's meaning.

Fran Kranz

A standout performance in "The Cabin in the Woods" comes from the unassuming burnout Marty Mikalski, played by Fran Kranz ("Dollhouse," "Much Ado About Nothing"). Critics praised his performance as a seemingly goofy pothead who, as the film continues, is the most level-headed among the group of friends trapped in the cabin. Marty's predilection for smoking marijuana ends up being his saving grace, as the THC somehow interferes with the chemical pheromones the facility technicians used to influence the other survivors.

Funnily enough, Fran Kranz is drastically different from his character. Due to his lack of experience with smoking weed, he was put through a "stoner camp" (of sorts) to prepare for the role. During an interview with Pop Matters, Kranz was asked about his time learning the essentials of smoking weed. When probed about his time training to be the ultimate stoner character, he said, "Well, I'm terrible at rolling joints." His training clearly paid off — as he became extremely convincing at the weed-smoking, joint-rolling, and bong-ripping antics Marty displays on-screen.