LOS ANGELES — "The Cabin in the Woods" pays homage to a very specific kind of horror movie — young people getting picked off one by one in the middle of nowhere — while simultaneously upending those films' conventions. Five friends go to a cabin in the woods. Bad things start happening. But there's way more going on than meets the eye.
Here are five other movies set in cabins that aren't nearly as cozy as their accommodations may seem. Try not to get too claustrophobic:
"Friday the 13th" (1980): No place is safe at Camp Crystal Lake, which reopens decades after the drowning death of a boy named Jason and a pair of murders — not the water, not the woods and definitely not the cabins. No matter where you go, there's the threat of an omnipresent, unstoppable killer. The title alone is synonymous with a specific, influential era in slasher franchises along with "Halloween," and Sean S. Cunningham's original film went on to inspire way too many sequels. This first one has some clever kills, though, as the nubile young camp counselors fall one at a time to this bloodthirsty machine. A young Kevin Bacon gets it in a particularly creative way.
"The Evil Dead" (1981): As in the film that inspired this list, five friends go to a cabin in the woods. Bad things start happening. Sam Raimi put himself on the map with his low-budget feature debut, a film that's as darkly funny as it is seriously gory. And when he returned to horror with the cheeky "Drag Me to Hell" after making the "Spider-Man" trilogy, it felt as if he was coming back to the genre he truly loved but with all the new high-tech tricks he'd picked up along the way. The victims here get theirs after playing a taped series of incantations that bring to life some long-dormant demons. It's hugely influential stylistically, spawned a couple of sequels and introduced the world to his old high school friend, the lovable goofball Bruce Campbell.
"Cabin Fever" (2002): Five more friends go to a cabin in the woods. More bad things start happening. But writer-director Eli Roth put his own spin on this familiar premise by having his victims get torn about in gnarly fashion by a flesh-eating virus, and with his feature debut he established himself as a filmmaker with both a deep love and knowledge of the past and a distinctive voice all his own. I will never forget seeing this at a midnight showing at the Alamo Drafthouse during the South by Southwest film festival in 2003. The place was packed and the audience went absolutely nuts, screaming and laughing in all the right places and afterward giving Roth a well-deserved and deafening ovation.
"Meatballs" (1979): We return to summer camp for one of the classics of the '80s raunchy sex comedy era and the first pairing of Bill Murray with director Ivan Reitman (they would reteam for "Stripes" and both "Ghostbusters" movies). Here, Murray began to forge his slyly subversive, slightly off-kilter screen persona as Tripper, the head counselor at the less-than-stellar Camp Northstar. Probably everything you need to know about this guy can be summed up in his mantra: "It just doesn't matter." There's plenty of slapstick and sultry teenage girls, but there's some sweetness amid the hijinks, too.
"Little Darlings" (1980): This movie seemed so racy to me when it came out. Tatum O'Neal vs. Kristy McNichol — and one of them may or may not have had sex with Armand Assante! It's too much to handle when you're 8, and it probably couldn't get made today. O'Neal and McNichol star as two 15-year-old girls, one rich and one poor, who compete to see who can lose her virginity first one summer at Camp Little Wolf. The film is also notable as an early role for a young, feathered-haired Matt Dillon, who plays McNichol's target. It's probably not very good in retrospect, but I do recall that it had an honesty about it that was provocative, especially in such a frivolous setting.