Because he's a generous guy, Joss Whedon is giving us another movie besides "The Avengers" this year. This week we're getting "The Cabin in the Woods," Whedon's take, with cowriter-director Drew Goddard, on the title horror subgenre that subverts expectations ... and then some.
Before you take a trip down the rabbit hole of this terror/sci-fi hybrid, we suggest boning up on the essentials, where the standards were set. Seclusion + nature - good sense ÷ gore = all the protagonists of these films.
1. 'Evil Dead II' (1987)
The Sistine Chapel of cabin in the woods movies will swallow your soul with its cheeky blend of hyperkinetic gore effects and broad "splatstick" humor. The big-chinned one, Bruce Campbell, is back as Ash, but this time he's less soft and sensitive and more a macho mugging machine, complete with chainsaw appendage used to cut through the monsters unleashed during a romantic getaway. Future "Spider-Man" director Sam Raimi is to the camera what James Brown is to shoes, chunneling through the woods in POV-mode like some demonic bunny rabbit on crystal meth. The jump scares come as fast and furious as the laughs in one of the most deliriously enjoyable cult movies of all-time. Groovy.
2. 'Friday the 13th' (1980)
Before the hockey mask and endless sequels, there was this modest slasher flick that gave us just what we asked for when we came to the terror deli: several hundred pounds of chopped horny teenager. The story centers on a group of young and attractive counselors, refurbishing Camp Crystal Lake for summer fun, who get picked off one by one via an unseen assailant -- who may or may not be connected to the death of young camper Jason Voorhees in the '50s. Actually a loving tribute to (or ripoff of, depending on your mood) Italian horror maestro Mario Bava's 1971 "Bay of Blood," this first part in the saga kicked off the mythology of Jason, as well as America's love affair with Kevin Bacon.
3. 'Cabin Fever' (2002)
Eli Roth ("Hostel") announced himself as a splatter master to be reckoned with in his debut feature. A group of college buddies head to a secluded cabin for a wild weekend of sexy fun that goes insane when they're infected by a mysterious virus that causes their skin to rot. This is body horror at a fever pitch, with lots of subversive moments that both satirize and honor genre clichés. At the time, Roth was sick of sanitized PG-13 horror and wanted to return things to the sleazy '80s blood 'n' boobs status quo.
4. 'Fargo' (1996)
Okay, we admit it, some mistakes were made, a woodchipper was involved ... Let's just forget about it and go to Arby's. Carrying quite a load here. The Coen brothers' alternately hilarious and shocking excursion into "Minnesota Nice" chronicles a botched inside kidnapping job involving a car dealer (William H. Macy) and the two goons he hired (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to make his wife disappear. These two knuckleheads shed some innocent blood, complicating matters for both Macy and the pregnant police chief (Oscar winner Frances McDormand) on their trail. A lakeside cabin hideout where Buscemi and Stormare hang out is the scene of much grisliness, as well as some really riveting soap operas on TV featuring none other than Bruce Campbell, don't cha know?
5. 'The Descent' (2005)
Here's a scary movie with a cabin in the woods where the cabin scenes AREN'T the scary part. A year after her husband and daughter are killed in a car accident, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is still wracked with survivor's guilt but reluctantly agrees to go cavediving with friends in the Appalachian Mountains. They enter an uncharted cave with those famous last words, "You'll be fine." Right, except for the frickin' cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers (not to be confused with "C.H.U.D."). Actually, we lied -- there is a big shocking moment during the opening cabin scenes, but you'll have to see the movie to find out what.