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Focus on the Frightful: Isolation and The Cabin in the Woods

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a group of teenagers go to a dwelling in the woods. One (or all) of them does something stupid. Usually reading an ancient demonic text that’s just lying around or screwing about with a Ouija Board. Bad things happen and most, if not all, end up possessed, dead or all of the above. You’ve arrived at the cabin in the woods.

Yes. I am talking about The Cabin in the Woods. A place that’s so ubiquitous in horror that most horror authors and directors have visited there at least once. A location born out of the need for another of horror’s key ingredients – isolation.

Isolation is so key to horror that it hardly needs to be talked about. But I’m going to anyways. Isolation is such a keyword in horror that it’s rarely even mentioned in the works themselves.

The cabin in the woods from Evil Dead
Cabin in the Woods
Evil Dead

In recent years isolation has become more rare. Communication has improved so much that it’s almost impossible to come across actual isolation without contrivance of some sort. Whether it’s supernaturally based (ghosts are well known for screwing with electronics), weather or some scientific gizmo that knocks out cell reception.

In Pulse (Kairo) the spirits use technology to try to break through the barrier into our world. There is a scene near the end of the movie where the two remaining protagonists are driving like mad to get away from the city and its hub of internet and cellphone networks. It’s a very tense scene, fighting off the wraiths while watching the cell phone bars drop slowly. Pulse came out in 2001 (and the American remake in 2004). If it were to be rebooted in 2020 I think you’d have to pull some major shenanigans to get around that and make it believable.

Pulse scene, driving

The Cabin in the Woods

Which brings us back to The Cabin in the Woods. It has become such a mainstay that a satirical, meta movie was made – The Cabin in the Woods (naturally). Tucker and Dale vs. Evil also plays with the stereotypical cabin, as well.

And the ‘cabin’ doesn’t even necessarily need to mean an actual ramshackle cabin in the middle of the woods. April Fool’s Day is a stately manor on its own island but for all that it might as well share the same property as the Evil Dead cabin. They both look ok, great even, but once you’re inside with no way to reach out for help…you might as well be on the moon.

Even with technology blooming at an ever increasing rate I don’t think the cabin will be going anywhere anytime soon. You just have to know where to look.

Published inFocus on the Frightful


  1. Olga Nunez Miret

    Great advice from Brian. And you have also old asylums and hospitals, which tend to combine isolation with a horrific past history. Or a whole town sometimes….

    • Oh, yes! Haunted asylums and hotels are one of my favorite sub-sub-genres (?) of the haunted house sub-genre

  2. “Ready Or Not?” was set in a mansion on grounds surrounded by gates. “The Hole of the Pit,” which I reviewed not too long ago on my blog, was set on an island castle amidst tidal flats. Every summer camp film in existence takes place at some camp which is the ONLY place on the water.

    The moral? Move to San Francisco. There are no cemeteries within the city limits, so you stand a fighting chance during the zombie apocalypse.

    • I always wondered about above-ground vaults. On the one hand that’s a lot of stone to get through but on the other it’s above ground. And they don’t seem like good places to be in Phantasm, lol

      • In my academic research days, I actually looked into the history of cemeteries. Above-ground vaults usually exist either because a) someone’s showing off their wealth, or b) the ground isn’t suitable for digging. Weird reason in Rotorua, New Zealand? It’s a thermally active area, and the ground is too hot; it would cook the bodies. Which at least would be great for cannibals.

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