Back in 2012, when I first saw The Cabin in the Woods in theaters, I could focus on nothing but the action in front of me. I was mesmerized by the film: its comedy, its violence, and Anna Hutchison’s tight butt dancing in front of my eyes stopped me from thinking critically about what Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon were offering me. Something about the way all of the genre cliches played out just had me sitting back in my seat, nodding my head as though I were some bobblehead in a Jeep along for a bouncy, dirty ride.
I managed to write up a review about how much fun I had with the movie, but it wasn’t until I went back a week ago and rewatched the film that I could actually think about something other than mermen and how awesome that would be if we actually got to see one. Sometimes movies take time to digest, and in my case, it took a whole year for me to finally get over geeking out about it.
So when I was experiencing for the second time the trek to the cabin, the unearthing of the ancient book that calls forth the redneck incest zombies meant to mutilate a bunch of nubile young men and women, I got to thinking about something I haven’t thought of in probably five years or more – Mighty Max.
The first time around, The Cabin in the Woods evokes common images of the horror films it parodies; obviously, The Evil Dead is going to be most recognized, along with Hellraiser, Japanese ghost films, and any number of other tropes that pop up along the way. Probably less obvious is Mighty Max, although, for a number of horror fans growing up (or maybe finding their inner child) at the same time as me in the ’90s, that toy and television series is more similar to The Cabin in the Woods than one might imagine.
I don’t remember specifically which Mighty Max Doom Zone I got first, or when, but I do know it was on one of my younger birthdays. One of them was the Doom Dragon zone, I know that; I also had Arachnoid, Zomboid, and a few others, along with the huge Skull Mountain playzone. These were toys that practically ruled my life, the little pieces and environments giving shape to all sorts of weird and creepy ideas in my brain.
Mighty Max toys were awesome because they weren’t just action figures – like Polly Pockets, they immersed the child in an entire world and forced the user to figure out what to do in it. If Mighty Max was trapped in the Temple of Venom, it was up to the child to figure out why, and what was going to happen to him.
These playsets had a number of different environments and secrets. If you were lucky enough to get the larger Doom Zones, there were traps and other areas that Mighty Max could activate. If you only had a couple of the smaller Doom Zones, you could combine them to make a larger playset from which Mighty Max had to free himself. The boundaries were nearly limitless, but the horror was there. It was up to the child to create the scary story, and it was also the user who decided Mighty Max’s fate. If you were like me – sick of the good-guy endings of cartoons and stories – Mighty Max often found himself in the jaws of some torturous creature.
The Mighty Max sets were so varied, though, that there were all kinds of areas and creatures that seemed to be mismatched. At one moment, Mighty Max might find himself in a cave, and the next, he might be in an ice dungeon. Some of the monsters were based upon animals, while others were aliens or monsters meant to devour the hero. The creations varied and never copied each other.
The same is true of The Cabin in the Woods. The premise of that film is to give the victims a choice of which type of monster, whether human- or creature-based, will be their destroyer. The film makes great use of pre-established monsters from lore, and its obvious choices are the ones viewers are familiar with from other horror movies. But during the chaotic finale, when all Hell breaks loose and two of our main characters escape from their tormentors into the secret base holding the workers who are tasked with elaborately killing them, it’s revealed that The Cabin in the Woods could have been tremendously different if only the victims had chosen a different fate.
How momentous this experience! First, it creates the notion that there could be so many more fucking sequels, and how pumped would you be if, instead of redneck zombies, the kids had been subjected to the advances of the Pinhead-like killer quickly shown in one of the elevator shafts? With so many monsters at the filmmakers disposal – with all of the creativity that apparently went into making sure these last scenes really shook the viewer to the core with horror joy – anything is possible!
But, secondary to a sequel but forefront in my mind, look at how many worlds could be created out of these creatures. If each cubicle in the elevator shaft holds a different monster, and each monster has its own “room” of sorts, there are so many areas for expansion that it nearly feels like a neverending video game, unlimited in scope as long as the developers continue to build upon it.
What if The Cabin in the Woods rethought its monsters’ rooms? Instead of a small square inside an elevator, what if every monster had an area as a natural habitat? And instead of releasing one creature to a cabin and forcing the victims into choosing what creature would maul them, what if the victims were released into a cavernous housing facility where they stumble upon world after world of monsters?
Ergo, we’re led to a Mighty Max-style toy line, and perhaps even a television series. Obviously, these toys would be marketed for adults, and could be larger and bloodier than any of the Mighty Max Doom Zones were. They could also be more expensive, too, and that would make up for some of the revenue lost for making the worlds so expansive.
A sequel could appear, released at the same time as the toy line. A video game might surface, a veritable deluge of monsters and worlds at the player’s disposal. An adult cartoon might pop up on Netflix Instant or FXX – graphic in gore and nudity, but deeply rooted in the lore of the original Cabin in the Woods plot.
Because as adults, we still love toys related to the movies we enjoy. We still want to be immersed in something, just like we were when we were kids clinging to our Mighty Max Doom Zones. We still want worlds to explore that are similar to our own, but with secrets only we can uncover. And, if you’re like me, we still want to see what kinds of terrible creatures the Ancient Ones have created, because The Cabin in the Woods makes hints about unspeakable monsters we get glimpses of but never actually see.