Switching the flip on a horror movie cliche

In the last few months, I’ve now seen two movies that turn an old horror movie cliche upside-down — or more accurately, inside-out, sideways and pretty much every way a cliche can be turned.

Both movies start with one of the hammiest horror movie premises: A group of teens travel to a remote cabin for the weekend. They stop at a gas station along the way and insult the locals — which, as Deliverance taught us long ago, is a bad idea. As the sun goes down on their remote wooded retreat, the slaughter of the teens begins. But the slaughter, in the case of these two movies, is not at all what it seems.

First and superior among these two films is A Cabin In The Woods. The name alone is enough to turn off someone looking for a different sort of horror-ish film, and that is a shame. Mention the film’s producer and lead writer — Joss Whedon, of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly” fame — and that will probably bring some viewers back. And that’s a good thing.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I don’t want to give up much of the plot because it will hurt your enjoyment of the film. But it is clever and well-executed (so to speak), as it creates the premise that this horror movie cliche exists for a reason — a very sinister, yet very humanity-protecting reason. You will laugh at some terribly inappropriate moments, including scenes in which gallons of blood and buckets of guts spew in every direction as dozens of people are wiped out. And this film could give you a terrible fear of waiting in an elevator lobby — trust me.

There are several brilliant turnabouts in the movie, as the larger plot is revealed and we find out that the kids don’t quite fit the cliches to which they’ve been assigned. This turns out to be a real problem, as the unintended consequences pile up and the coming menace proves unstoppable. Bonus: There’s a Merman.

Funnier, clever in its own way but definitely more B-movie-ish is Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. It’s a tale of two perfectly decent, perfectly innocent good ol’ boys just trying to get by. They’re the ones who live in the woods, and when the usual pack of teen victims-to-be show up on their turf, these two poor guys find themselves in the middle of everything as the slaughter begins. They have nothing — well, nothing intentional anyway — to do with the actual slaughter, and neither do any of the other locals, but the teens don’t buy that.

The body count keeps rising as you quickly change your mind about who is innocent and who is the bumpkin in this movie. Again, you will laugh at the worst possible times — but this movie is a comedy with a bit of horror in it, while A Cabin In The Woods is definitely a horror film with comedic moments.

Neither of these films puts on cinematic-masterpiece airs, although A Cabin In The Woods aims much higher, while Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is midnight-movie stuff. But it’s good midnight-movie stuff, well worth renting or Netflix-ing on a dark night. And A Cabin In The Woods is worth owning.

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