TORONTO — It’s almost impossible to conduct an interview with writer-director Drew Goddard about his horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods without straying into territory he’d rather avoid.
“It’s just so much better the less you know,” Goddard said as he danced around the chiller’s twists and turns during a recent promotional stop in Toronto.
And there’s a lot Goddard doesn’t want you to know about this movie.
He’ll allow that The Cabin in the Woods boasts a deceptively simple premise and is not your typical slasher film. But too much more information would kill the experience, he says.
“We’re not trying to be cagey,” Goddard insists while nevertheless skirting talk that might hint at major spoilers.
“We’re just trying to protect the experience because so much of ’Cabin’ is about the experience that happens when you’re in the audience with all of these people feeling the screams and the cheers and the laughs and feeling the ride.”
The movie trailer reveals at least two big surprises, a necessary evil Goddard says was permitted to hint at larger bombshells that aren’t revealed.
However, the official tagline is simple: five college pals head to an isolated country cabin for a weekend of debauchery. Bloodshed ensues.
“We love that premise, it always works,” Goddard says of the well-worn trope.
“Whenever I see it happen in a movie I’m like ’Oh, good.’
“I’m excited because you know it’s going to go bad and you know it’s going to be fun to watch. But we wanted to put our spin on it, we wanted to do something a little different and change it up a little bit.”
Goddard, who co-wrote the script with Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer-creator Joss Whedon, says great lengths were taken to ensure that the really big shocks stayed under wraps.
The script was kept under tight control and filmmakers even wrote fake lines for the auditions, Whedon reveals in production notes for the film.
Each of the main characters were sent battling a different supernatural beast, just in case tidbits leaked online.
“In Curt’s case, it was a pterodactyl movie,” says Whedon, referring to a hunky jock character played by Chris Hemsworth.
“In Holden and Jules’ scene, (it was) about tentacles in a Jacuzzi; Marty had a monologue about something made entirely of claws. So basically, it was: take the exact character that you’re looking for and then put him or her in a different movie.”
In keeping with the film’s tongue-in-cheek nod to horror conventions, the young and attractive party animals appear to be stock movie-monster bait: in addition to Curt there’s the bookworm Holden, played by Jesse Williams; the sexy Jules, portrayed by Anna Hutchison; the comical stoner Marty, played by Fran Kranz; and the virginal heroine Dana, played by Kristen Connolly.
Tucked among the cast are familiar faces from past Whedon productions, including Franz from Dollhouse, Tom Lenk from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Amy Acker from Angel and Dollhouse.
Goddard’s longtime partnership with the prolific Whedon, who hits big screens next month with super-hero tentpole The Avengers, began when Goddard was hired as a writer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Goddard went on to write for Whedon’s Buffy spinoff Angel, as well as produce and write for Alias and Lost. He jumped to the big screen in 2008 with his script for the found-footage monster thriller Cloverfield, produced by Lost mastermind J.J. Abrams.
Goddard credits Whedon with inspiring a fierce loyalty among past cast and crew that keeps them coming back to each other, even when various careers diverge.
“We kept trying to find ways to work together and once we do that then we’d talk about the cast that we love and we try to keep them working as well. It’s a real family that he creates and we just want to keep that family going as long as possible.”
Their main goal with Cabin was to celebrate what they love about horror films, Goddard adds, nevertheless dismissing recent gorefests that seem intent on upping the shock factor.
“We just sort of set out to write the ultimate horror movie, that was our goal,” says Goddard.
“There is a movement in the last few years towards this sort of fetish-ization of the violence — you see a lot of beautifully lit sawing through flesh and things like that that sort of made our skin crawl.”
Still, gore does have its place, adds Goddard.
The blood flows freely in Cabin, which Goddard says he carefully plotted — right down to the spatter patterns.
“Scientists at MIT have not worked as hard as I worked on watching blood spatter patterns in this movie,” he jokes.
But sheer volume was the real goal, he adds.
“I wanted to beat (director Stanley) Kubrick’s record for The Shining because he had some ungodly amount of blood for his elevator sequence,” he says.
Even the film’s comical jabs at oft-seen horror gimmicks are rooted in a longtime love for what makes audiences jump in the dark, he says.
The Cabin in the Woods opens Friday.