“Cabin” takes horror-comedy beyond the woods

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From the April 12, 2012 edition

If you think “The Cabin in the Woods” looks like just another teen slasher flick, look closer.

The genre-splitting horror-comedy has been wowing audiences — SXSW crowds went absolutely nuts for it — and for good reason. The people behind it know a thing or two about smart genre-based work.

Co-writer and producer Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) is the most recognized name, but spend a few minutes with his collaborator, co-writer and director Drew Goddard, and you’ll see why the two are friends.

“I started my career working for Joss on ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel,’ and a couple of years after that … we just missed each other,” Goddard said. “We just wanted to write something again together.”

That something was “Cabin” — a twisty meta take on the old teens-in-trouble set-up that lovingly throws the whole damn genre in a blender, the result of Goddard and Whedon seeing “how we would pack as much as we love about horror films into one movie.”

And horror fans will eat it up — it’s easily the best self-aware horror flick since “Scream,” if not longer. And even as your favorite cliches get sent up on screen, Goddard says, “It is definitely done with love.”

Goddard has served as writer and producer on shows including “Buffy” and “Lost,” but this was his first official foray as director. “Luckily I started in TV writing and producing for Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams (“Lost”), because they’re very empowering to writers,” Goddard said.

“That being said, there’s really nothing like the first day when you say, “Action!” and you realize … if something goes wrong, it’s my fault. You can’t blame it on the director anymore.”

Actress Kristen Connolly, who plays the film’s heroine Dana, expressed confidence in him. “I would never think, ‘Oh, this is a first-time director,” she said. “I always felt Drew knew exactly what he wanted, but would let us play within that.”

As “Cabin” builds layer upon layer, Goddard’s experience working with Whedon, Abrams and “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof really comes into glorious focus.

“(Those shows) were like, ‘Let’s take risk and be OK being different and trust that the audience will come with us,’” Goddard said. “And I feel like ‘Cabin’ is very much the culmination of those lessons.”

Horror fans with a sense of humor should line up now.