Halloween Retro-SPOOK-tive: Drew Goddard – The Genre Slayer
“Trick or Treat? Smell my feet. Give me something good to eat!” MovieMaker is preparing for Halloween by digging into our goodie bag of articles with this exclusive interview with Drew Goddard, director of Cabin in the Woods. This article originally appeared in MovieMaker‘s Spring 2012 issue.
After languishing in limbo for more than two years due to financial problems at MGM, The Cabin in the Woods is finally being released this April – via Lionsgate – to mass audiences.
The directorial debut of Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard, who co-wrote the script with producer Joss Whedon, this twisted tale sends five college co-eds into a rural retreat to be hunted down in scenarios controlled by a group of mysterious men operating out of a high-tech bunker…That’s about all that can be said without spoiling this fear flick, which balances visceral violence with a grim sense of humor.
Goddard, whose writing credits also include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias and Lost, spoke with MM about this clever mash-up of the genre films on which he and Whedon were raised.
Bryan Reesman (MM): What was the impetus for you and Joss to write the screenplay?
Drew Goddard (DG): It’s not like we ever set out to deconstruct anything. We just love horror movies and wanted to make one, so we started talking about: If we were going to make a horror movie, how would we do it? The Cabin in the Woods sprang from that.
MM: I look back at classic slasher films and see them as Christian propaganda films, because the only character who usually survives is the virgin, the one who wasn’t smoking dope, getting drunk or having premarital sex. Did you ever think of horror films as twisted morality tales when you were growing up?
DG: Absolutely. It’s not just horror movies or slasher movies. Since the beginning of time, in terms of humanity, there has been this need to marginalize and compartmentalize the youth of any generation and make them feel bad for rebelling against the norms and punish them for it.
Joss and I talked about how a lot of our myths in general – depending upon who’s in charge at the time – end up being end up being these morality tales to make youth feel bad about themselves. Certainly horror movies became an extension of that, at least in my view. Thinking about those issues definitely inspired The Cabin in the Woods.
MM: The film has a very tight narrative. Were there any moments where you second-guessed yourselves and thought that things might not work out the way you originally planned?
DG: The thing I learned from TV is that you know when you’ve got a good structure. I’ve now been around for over 100 story breaks on episodes, and you know when the fundamentals of a story are strong…That’s always the hardest part, getting the story.
When Joss first pitched me the basics of Cabin and the three-act structure, I knew it was solid and that we wouldn’t have to change it. The structure totally worked. When you have that security in something, it definitely alleviates all of that stress. The stress becomes much more about logistics, in terms of ‘How do we pull this off?’ But in the course of making Cabin, I never once questioned the story itself.
MM: You and Joss previously worked together on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. What is it about your chemistry that keeps bringing you back together?
DG: I think we have similar worldviews and similar aesthetics in terms of what we like. Buffy came on air when I was in college, and when I first saw it, it was like a bomb went off. It was like someone was finally making this television show that I’ve always dreamed about. So I came to our relationship as a person who revered Joss Whedon, so much so that I managed to weasel my way into getting a job working for him. He’s my favorite writer of all time. There’s no one I like more than him. He shaped so much of my aesthetic that it’s been fun for us to work together.
MM: Buffy and Angel balanced horror and camp elements well. The comedy in this film has a much more viscous sense of humor. Did you relish the chance to go beyond what you’ve done on TV?
DG: Definitely…The DNA of this movie needed to be adult and rated R. I just didn’t know how to make a middle-of-the-road version of The Cabin in the Woods. It felt like in order to tell the story we were trying to tell, it just needed to be adult. It was exciting to play in that arena, because you don’t get a lot of opportunity to [do so]. But the truth is we got away with some pretty graphic things on Buffy and Angel. I’m still pretty shocked at some of the things we got on the air, so it’s not like we were ever tame on Buffy. We put some pretty dirty things on the air.
MM: What do you see coming up in the future for the horror genre?
DG: I think it’s always going to come down to good storytelling. People worry a little too much about [who the fan base will be], and they forget: If you tell an interesting story, people will come. There will be a horror movie in the next two years that will just be a straightforward kind of story that fits the template you’ve seen 100 times, but it will be made so well that it will be great and we’ll be talking about it.
Sometimes the best innovation in a genre is just telling a good story; I don’t worry about what’s going to become fashionable. I’m trying to think of movies I’ve loved in the last 10 years, and it’s stuff like The Strangers and The Descent. I love those movies. They’re not particularly game-changing, they’re just good.
The Descent is great. but it’s a pretty straightforward story – kids go into a cave and run into trouble. But I’ve watched it hundred of times, and I love it. If I knew the future, I would be able to capitalize on it, but I have no idea.
MM: You have a decent amount of CGI in Cabin, but you don’t overdo it. I imagine that you had a larger effects budget on this than some of the other productions you’ve worked on?
DG: Not by much. We did not have a lot of money, which is fine. I can’t think of a successful big-budget horror film, because you need that sort of handmade quality. I really wanted everything in Cabin to be prosthetic and handmade, if we could. I tried to use CG for stuff we just didn’t have the ability to do. Our small budget definitely helped us, because we couldn’t afford effects, so I didn’t really want them. I wanted to figure out as many practical, real-world ways to do this stuff as I possibly could. MM
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