"The Cabin in the Woods."
"The Cabin in the Woods."

Lionsgate acquisitions chief Jason Constantine rescued horror comedy "The Cabin in the Woods," co-written by producer Joss Whedon ("The Avengers") and rookie director Drew Goddard, from post-MGM limbo. (Lionsgate paid considerably less for worldwide rights than the $41 million MGM shelled out to make it.) I liked this clever flick well enough to see it twice, when it opened SXSW and at Tuesday's LA Live premiere. "This is a very dense movie," Goddard told me at the premiere after party. "It's designed to reward multiple viewings. I want people to have fun the first time."

The trick for the Lionsgate marketing team has been how to sell "The Cabin in the Woods" (April 13), as a fun horror romp without alienating moviegoers or giving too much away. (Since SXSW the directors have begged the media to keep a lid on spoilers.) The good news for Lionsgate is that Chris Hemsworth is a bigger name than when the film was shot in 2008. While the "Thor" star did show up at the premiere, Lionsgate opted not to run a red carpet--they would have spent $100,000 to promote "The Avengers."

"The Cabin in the Woods" is defying the conventional wisdom--gross horror sells, smart horror comedies are risky. As one recent example, Sam Raimi's well-reviewed --and expensively promoted--"Drag Me to Hell" topped out domestically at $42 million (and $48 million overseas). Ominously thus far, "The Cabin in the Woods" has equivalent reviews.

Unlike most horror offerings, this movie is hilarious, outrageous and genre-deconstructing--with plenty of VFX. It allows the audience to enjoy its sexy, exploitative, subversive E-ride through horror monsters past (and some demented new creations as well) as it sends up all the cliches of the genre.

The archetypes are all there: the athletic hunk, the blonde slut, the brainy academic, the pot-head joker and the intelligent brunette virgin. Who gets killed off first? Who survives? Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins are part of a mad-scientist plot orchestrating the situation from afar. Much of the entertainment value comes from not knowing the mechanics of what's happening, of being caught by surprise.

Writers Whedon and Goddard literally holed up in a cabin in the woods to concoct this fantasy horror send-up, 15 pages each a day, in three days of fevered creation that was joyous and fun.  They weren't sure it would get made. The movie "comes from a place of love," says Goddard, "and 'fuck it.' If we could do what we wanted to do, we prayed somebody would let us make it. We just enjoyed doing it. It seems to have worked out."

"It was not easy except that it was the easiest thing I've ever done," adds Whedon. "Clearly on one level it's about being a writer. We picked these two guys to be us, manipulating people. Write what you know." The movie itself "was hard to make, actually."