Horror comes in all shapes and sizes these days. These days at the movie theater it seems to be more about gore, torture, and blood splatter than any kind of psychological approach, but occasionally something unique comes along and gets my attention. I’m usually not much of a horror fan unless it’s more a monster feature or thriller-type of movie, so quite honestly I don’t go see horror often at the theater. But something about The Cabin in the Woods gnawed at me…
So when I was offered a chance to check out the film novelization of the script from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard by Tim Lebbon (Hellbound Hearts, 30 Days of Night (Movie Novelization), Dawn, The Wild – Secret Journeys of Jack London: Book One (with Christopher Golden), and others), I jumped at the chance. First, it’s been quite a while since I’ve read a movie novelization. And second, I’m a Joss Whedon fan and was curious to see what was hiding in this mysterious cabin in the woods.
Guess what? I was quite entertained and am now interested enough to see the actual movie when it is released on DVD/Blu-ray!
The summary at IMDB offers the most succinct description of the film (and book) plot I’ve seen: “Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods.” But though this film may start like so many of the slasher flicks of the ’80s with a group of horny, drunk, and drug-addled college students heading to a remote cabin that belongs to someone in the family, it quickly becomes much much more than that.
As you start to see flashes of what’s going on behind the scenes, there are two sets of characters you get to know. The kids – Dana (artist after a bad break-up), Curt (jock), Jules (jock’s girlfriend), Marty (pot smoker and deep thinker), and Holden (fellow jock and potential rebound relationship for Dana) – and then the others, who I don’t want to spoil for you if you haven’t seen the movie already. But the back-story explains all of those horrific events in other slasher, zombie, and horror movies over the years. It’s one big conspiracy! (Pardon me as these nice folks drag me off to a sanitarium for saying too much…)
Ultimately that’s the best part of this book. Once you get a peek behind the curtain, you see the story from both sides. There are the kids stuck in the horror film and the people behind it. No, I’m not talking about the scriptwriter, director, and production crew here – or am I? That’s the beauty of this story, which takes a typical horror film and pulls it inside out. Will you want the kids to survive? Or will you root for the monsters?
If you like horror, but want something a bit different I’d encourage you to check out The Cabin in the Woods – the movie or the novelization. It’s a twisted reinvention of the genre and I’ll never look at another horror movie the same way again.
When I was in junior high and high school in the mid-1980s, it seemed there were new horror movies hitting theaters every week. I didn’t get to see many until they started showing up on video in high school and college, but I did see a few. And most of them involved teenagers doing dumb things and getting slaughtered by the monster or serial killer of the week.
From Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street and the haunted car in Christine to The Lost Boys and Friday the 13th, they all start with a group of clueless, usually good-looking teenagers with hormones raging out of control and end up with blood and dead bodies everywhere. Like Jeff Goldblum‘s character in The Lost World: Jurassic Park says – “Oh yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.”
What if I told you there was a new movie that took that basic plot and turned it on its head? The Puppet Monster Massacre is definitely one of the strangest mash-ups I’ve ever seen. Teenagers? Check. Evil mad scientist? Check. Monster? Check. Creepy old house? Check. Puppets? What the…?
That’s right – The Puppet Monster Massacre from writer/director/actor Dustin Mills takes aim at the classic teenage horror movie pattern, but uses puppets in all the roles. Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty of blood, gore, running, screaming, and sex – yes, I said sex – in this movie so be VERY aware this puppet show is NOT FOR THE KIDDIES. That said, I was laughing my butt off in more than a few places as the film pokes fun at the horror movie genre.
The story takes place in 1985 and starts with a hunter in the woods. He encounters a penguin and proceeds to get his butt kicked by said flightless bird. The poor old hunter wakes up in a mad scientist’s lair and is used as the incubator for a strange little black monster. I knew from the first blood splatter that this wasn’t going to be an average puppet horror film, though I had no idea what the “average puppet horror film” might be when I started…
After that we’re introduced to the rest of the characters – Charlie (voiced by Ethan Holey) is the main character. He lives with his perverted, swearing, gassy grandfather (voiced by Bart Flynn) in a small town. Charlie is in love with Gwen (voiced by Jessica Daniels) who lives nearby but has been chicken to ask her out. One day Charlie gets an invitation in the mail to spend the night at an old house near town. If he survives, he gets $1,000,000. Though his Gramps suggests that something seems hinky, Charlie is determined to go anyway. And when he finds out that Gwen got an invitation, he knows he has to go to prove that he wasn’t the wimp everybody thought he was.
We discover quickly that Gwen and Charlie aren’t the only “contestants” in this potential night of horrors. Also invited are Mona (voiced by Erica Kissenberth) and Iggy (also voiced by Flynn) – a couple of hardcore rockers who like to party and have sex frequently; and Raimi Campbell (voiced by Mills) – a horror movie buff who seems to live in his mother’s basement whose name has to be a combination of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.
Once this gang of five puppets arrives at the front door to the big old spooky house, they meet the mysterious Dr. Wolfgang Wagner (voiced by Steve Rimpici) – the strange benefactor who invited them all to participate. What they don’t know is that surviving until morning really isn’t in the plan. Dr. Wolfgang, his assistant Squiggums (the penguin), and the Monster have something else in mind. Revenge!
The absolutely hilarious thing to me is that if you decided to cast this film with real actors – it would still work. It’s almost as though Mills decided to take a thought experiment of “what if we used puppets instead of people?” to it’s conclusion and this movie is the result. Though seeing puppet sex was slightly disturbing, I have to say I enjoyed how wacky and well-written the film actually was. Some of the visuals alone had me in stitches such as when the monster is coming out of a door with “CLEARANCE 3 FT.” stenciled above it – or when Charlie falls into a room full of fluffy bunnies with the words “FOOD STORAGE” stenciled on the walls.
Of all the characters, Raimi was my favorite. With his buck teeth and puppet acne, he manages to narrate his way on a trek through the forest that had me laughing early on and then laughing even harder as he explored the house later. I think he had all the best lines and definitely the best chase scene in the whole film that evoked a very Scooby-Doo kind of feel from the music to the cartoon-like path they took through the house.
Don’t worry that there’s not enough blood… There is definitely plenty of mayhem and gore in this movie in addition to the comedy. I can truthfully say I’ve never seen puppets die in as many gruesome ways as they did here. Deaths varied from monsters eating heads to soldiers shooting holes in other soldiers to claws slicing halfway through a puppet’s face (with the requisite brains/gore inside)… every time I thought I’d seen them all, the crew came up with another one.
In addition to the film (about 70 minutes long), there are a couple of commentary tracks as well as a couple of monster designs they decided not to go with.
All in all if you’re looking for a violent, bloody, puppet-based horror flick with crude humor and language, The Puppet Monster Massacre should be right up your alley. Even if you’re just looking for something different in the horror/comedy genre, it fits that bill too. But either way, this has to be one of the more original concepts for a horror film I’ve seen in years and I’d love to see more from Dustin Mills and his crew. Who knows? Maybe this will kick off a whole new genre of horror!