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The Way Through The Woods

It has long been observed that the phrase ‘cellar door’ is the most beautiful in the English language, perhaps because of its poetic sound and/or because of some romantic notion behind the meaning – the mystery of what lies beyond, the possibility of escape, of adventure, of release, of leaving the mundane world behind.

Literary admirers of cellar door include Dorothy Parker, JJR Tolkien and CS Lewis,the latter observing that writing the phrase as ‘Selladore’ you produce ‘an enchanting proper name’, one that would definitely be at home in Lewis’ Narnia universe! More recently the mysterious loveliness of cellar door was incorporated into the mind-mangling plot of Donnie Darko, a movie I caught three times on its release in 2001.

Now I want to suggest to you a contender for an ‘anti-cellar door’. A phrase that has its own mystery and poetry but which, to my mind, possesses a darker and more troubling aspect. The phrase: ‘cabin in the woods’.

It has a kind of staccato quality: cabin-in-the-woods, cabin-in-the-woods, cabin-in-the woods. Like a train clattering over rusted tracks, hurtling through a dark forest, the fingers of overgrown trees scraping against its carriage windows. I’m not sure why this image comes to mind, it just does. There is also that collision – cabin in  – an insistence that you are trapped inside the little wooden hut which, in turn, is isolated in the great expanse of the wood.

Like cellar door, semantically speaking it is a simple enough thing, its meaning straightforward, even dull. A cabin, probably wooden, located in the woods. Couldn’t be simpler. But the sound of those words coupled together strike me as rather lovely – and yet chilling at the same time. Whereas the cellar door holds out the promise of escape the cabin in the woods suggests captivity, loneliness, vulnerability – in the face of unloving Nature or any stranger who might happen upon you, holed up in your wooden hideaway.

Maybe I just can’t shake off the memory of all those backwoods horror movies I watched growing up, particularly such controversial (in their time, at least) classics like The Evil Dead… And now, to reawaken my morbid appreciation for the anti-cellar door comes a new movie by writer, director and all-round genre genius Joss Whedon. A movie called – you guessed it – ‘The Cabin in the Woods.’

The film was finished in May 2009 but due to the long-running bankruptcy problems that engulfed MGM (problems which also saw delays in production on the new James Bond movie) it has sat on the studio shelf ever since. Its release date was continually shifted around until yesterday when Lionsgate announced that they had acquired distribution rights and will be releasing the movie on April 13 2012. Finally we will get to see what promises to be a very special horror movie. Whedon and all the other creatives involved have been very tight-lipped about the plot – all we know is that it follows the classic set-up: a group of friends taking a holiday at the mysterious cabin in the woods…

But it seems that Joss Whedon’s ambitions for the movie are anything but conventional. He has described it as ‘the horror movie to end all horror movies’ and promises to play with the rules of the genre, doubtless taking the audience into unexpected new territories. I’ve been a huge fan of Whedon’s ever since his ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ days. The very least we can expect is the wittiest dialogue that has ever graced a horror flick. My only hope is that, now he has finished with cabin in the woods, he might turn his attention to that rather beautiful cellar door…

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