Horror movies have always inhibited a strange place in our society. When you boil horror down into its simplest terms, its purpose is to fulfill our desires for death and blood without any actual risk for others or ourselves. At our very core, we are animals just like any other species on the planet, and therefore we have animalistic tendencies similar to other species; one such tendency is our natural bloodlust. While many may disagree and claim they have no desire to witness death, it is hard to argue that our society doesn’t have a certain morbid fascination with the entire idea of death and murder. If you look back in history there are countless examples of societies basing their entertainment entirely around death, such as the Gladiator games in Rome or the guillotine beheadings during the Dark Ages. However, by today’s standards that sort of entertainment is too barbaric; we like to perceive ourselves as more refined and intelligent than those of our past, we believe that we are above such savagery. However, there is still a part of us that harbors this bloodlust, that small part of us that finds death fascinating and captivating, but we have devised a way around the actual need for death to satisfy these urges. While videogames are one way to satisfy this macabre desire, horror movies are the more established and widespread means to this end.
This idea of humanity’s natural bloodlust is central to this year’s fantastic Cabin in the Woods. The film centers on five college students who take the weekend off to go party in one of their cousin’s cabin in the woods where, naturally, spooky stuff starts happening. Sounds like almost every horror movie, however this movie quickly establishes that this is a story like nothing you’ve ever seen before. These kids didn’t choose to go to this cabin, but were rather manipulated through the use of chemicals and movie-science to unknowingly participate in our country’s annual ritualistic sacrifice to the Gods of yesteryear. They believe they are acting according to their own free will, but in reality they are in a controlled environment where two mid-level managers are pulling all the strings. It’s an insane set up, but it works brilliantly. So brilliant in fact, that it is impossible to watch horror movies the same way. I am now too aware of their veiled purpose to ever get the same satisfaction from a horror movie, simply because I will always view them as cloaked fantasies of the audience members, as a way to control societies morbid urges, and this is all thanks to the analogy at the core of Cabin in the Woods.
It’s easy to view this movie as nothing more than a clever riff on the horror genre, but when examined closely, it is a bold statement on the nature of humanity and our demand for blood and death. The corporation running the sacrifice claims that they are doing what is necessary to save humanity, and they state that their ritualistic sacrifices are the only things containing these primordial forces, and if they are not satisfied they will reclaim our world and destroy all of civilization. While this can be taken at face value, when you think about it, this notion of prehistoric Gods is nothing more than one giant analogy for the horror audience, for those that spend their own money on horror movies.
Writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard are casually lampooning our society’s incessant bloodlust and the role that horror movies play in satisfying this dark urge. At one point in the movie, Richard Jenkin’s character, Sitterson, explains why all the theatrics are necessary for these Gods; he explains why a simple straight up sacrifice won’t suffice. He claims that the Gods grew bored over time with these simple deaths and demanded more intricate and elaborate deaths. They weren’t satisfied with a simple offering, but rather they needed drawn out scenarios. When once horror audiences were satisfied with simply the act of death, we have become desensitized and therefore our bloodlust demands more convoluted scenarios of death; we demand innovation and originality, just as the Gods in the film do.
Another interesting parallel is the idea that the virgin can live or die. In the ritual of horror movies, all of the other kids must die in a certain order, and then it is up to the will and determination of the virgin type to either escape or succumb to whatever horror they are facing. This idea also connects with the analogy in that we as the audience want to see the other kids punished for their sins, while the virgin can live due to her lack of said sin. Early horror movies are famous for the way in which they kill their characters; typically it’s the kids that are having sex or doing drugs that are killed first, and eventually the virgin is left on her own to survive. This again fits since we the audience feel it is alright for these kids to die horrific deaths since they have sinned and deserve the punishment coming to them.
The whole idea of the Gods returning and destroying the world works as one mass analogy for horror as an entire genre. If we are not satisfied with what Hollywood is putting out horror-wise, we will make our displeasure known (there’s a reason the torture porn genre boomed in the late 2000’s). While it may not have the stakes that the film does, the world that is “the horror genre” is more often at the brink of destruction than another other genre, simply because it has one simple goal: terror. So if we have been so desensitized to horror, then the genre has nowhere else to go other than a complete and total reconfiguration of its entire structure. It’s fitting then that the last line of the movie is, “Maybe its time to let someone else have a turn.”
Article by James Hausman