No Sequel, No Problem: 5 Ways to Build Out From ‘The Cabin in the Woods’

Spooky Season is upon us and like everyone else, the Murphys celebrate appropriately by cramming as many horror films into the month of October as possible. While we’re always on the lookout for new ones, there are those that have stood the test of time and are rewatched annually. One such film is 2011’s The Cabin in the Woods. Written by superhero standbys Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon and directed by Goddard and starring Chris Hemsworth (if I recall correctly, it was Hemsworth’s work in this film that made Whedon give him a vote of confidence for the role of Thor), The Cabin in the Woods took what seemed like a derivative and trope-laden slasher film and turned it into something deconstructionist and spectacular. From the 9-to-5 humdrum attitudes of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford’s characters, Gary and Steve, as they supervise an ancient ritual to the shocking sub-basement of horrors, the film’s recipe of humor and horror make it a classic.

Whedon and Goddard have both gone on the record saying they were asked to do a sequel but neither of them felt that it was worth messing with what’s inarguably a perfect ending that sees the Ancient Ones rise and, presumably, destroy the world. I’m not here to convince those two to make that sequel because I agree that the ending is one that shouldn’t be messed with. However, my annual obsession with revisiting that film led me to believe that while a sequel isn’t in order, there might by some ways the mythology they created and the world they built are worth revisiting in other ways, especially in the age of the cinematic universe.

The Other Failed Rituals

As the film progresses, the audience comes to understand that the fate of the world hinges on the successful completion of the American ritual. The whore, the athlete, the scholar, the fool have to die to placate the Ancient Ones because the rituals in other countries have failed. Gary and Steve’s overconfidence in their abilities as the maestros of the ritual despite their monitors showing failed attempts in Sweden, Argentina and Spain and a desperate situation in Japan lead to some of the film’s funniest moments but also make it clear that there are other supervisors just like them in those countries. The film gives us very little information about the rituals in those areas, but we can glean enough to understand that each one probably has a very different and unique set of rules than the one in the U.S (for example, the Japanese ritual seems to depend on the death of children). If the U.S. ritual follows “cabin in the woods slasher-based” archetypes, the other rituals could follow other horror archetypes (a giant Kaiju-esque creature appears briefly in Argentina). Should Goddard and Whedon be so inspired, they could create films or an anthology in which they could satirize those genres to similar success. Rather than a sequel, it would simply be an exploration of events that took place either just prior to or simultaneously with the original.

The Buckners

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The creepy basement in The Cabin in the Woods was full of all sorts of terrifying shit and, as we find out with the characters (why won’t they listen to Marty?!) those tempting artifacts end up being how the characters chose their means of death. In this case, after Dana reads a diary and chants some Latin (does nobody watch Evil Dead?), she brings a family of murderous zombies, the Buckners, to the surface to kill her and her friends. The diary itself is a good start to a Buckners prequel film that could flesh out the backstory of the Zombie Redneck Torture Family that won Maintenance and Ronald the Intern some cash in the ritual betting pool. We know the Buckners have a 100% clearance rate as a zombie family in the yearly Ritual, but seeing the faith-based, sadistic settlers (who may be in part based on the real life psycho serial killing family known as the Bloody Benders who, it is believed, killed at least a dozen people in Kansas in the early 1870s) at play in their hay day has the makings of a terrifying The Hills Have Eyes/Texas Chainsaw Massacre type of film that could spawn its own frightening franchise.

The Ancient Ones

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The plot of The Cabin in the Woods revolves around the barely talked about and briefly seen Ancient Ones, a race of giant, god-like beings that once walked and pretty much owned the Earth. They live “below” and are kept satiated by the annual rituals which, as the film tells us, have existed since the beginning of time. Over time the rituals have grown more complex and seem to be more about keeping the Ancient Ones appropriately amused rather than full on the blood of the victims. This one might not make it at the box office, but a series developed around the Ancient Ones and how they acquired their violent appetites might be something people would want to see.

The Excellent Adventures of Gary and Steve

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The everyday nature of dynamic and dialogue shared by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford throughout the course of The Cabin in the Woods stands out in stark contrast to the wild events unfolding in the film. The Ritual, to these guys, is not only old hat but it’s how they pay the bills. As they prepare for the day, we see them go through the motions and hear Whitford’s Steve bemoan his wife’s baby-proofing strategy while being completely ignored by Jenkins’ Gary as he fixates on his coffee. A couple potential options present themselves here:

  1. A film revisiting a previous year’s ritual at the cabin. This would allow for us to not only get more of Gary and Steve, but also give another one of the horrors locked away in The Organization’s sub-basement its time to shine except, of course, for the Merman.
  2. A Gary and Steve commentary track that runs with the film but sees the two take tangent after tangent while the shocking events of the film take place.

The Merman

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There just aren’t enough Creature From the Black Lagoon-type films out there but it is time that the Merman got his due. As the film draws to an end, Whitford’s Steve learns why the saying “be careful what you wish for” exists as he finally gets to lay eyes on the Merman he’s been longing to have selected to complete the Ritual…right before it kills him and expels his blood through its blow hole. As mentioned above, a film about a prior year’s ritual would present one option to give us more of Merman (we can assume he’s been summoned at least once in the somewhat recent past because Gary seems to have some knowledge of how nightmarish the cleanup is when Merman is done) but Whedon and Goddard could go beyond that and give fans something spectacular at a time and in a place when the Merman would have ruled his domain. If we can have an Aquaman film, we can have a Merman film! Hell, team him up with the unicorn and let’s get nuts.

The Cabin in the Woods is one of modern horror’s most complete and perfect films, so it’s easy to see why the creators wouldn’t tempt fate and mess with that perfection. On the other hand, if it’s satirical exploration of the slasher genre could be applied a decade later to another genre with the same love for the material that was shown here, fans not only of this film, but of horror in general, would be in for a treat.

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