This week's Cognitive Dissonance Double Feature begins with THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, a twisty and postmodern horror movie from writer/producer Joss Whedon and his posse. New this week to DVD and Blu-ray, the film has been available via select video-on-demand for a while following its theatrical run this summer.
Whedon co-wrote the script with director Drew Goddard, a collaborator from back in the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Cabin shares some tonal DNA with Buffy and its mix of horror, comedy and imaginative rethinking of geek culture tropes.
The film begins with a puzzling sequence of cross-cutting premises. Two mid-level government functionaries (the perfectly cast Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) appear to be planning some sort of covert operation from a high-tech underground bunker. With their lame office wear and bureaucratic banter, they look like the guys who get coffee for the real Men in Black.
Meanwhile, across town, a group of good-looking college kids load up the RV for a vacation to a remote, yes, cabin in the woods. The teens are straight out of slasher movie central casting: the blustery jock (Chris Hemsworth), the randy girlfriend (Anna Hutchison), the brainy guy (Jesse Williams), the wisecracking stoner (Fran Kranz) and the virginal good girl (Kristen Connolly).
What happens from here is hard to describe without giving too much away. But it's safe to say that Whedon and Goddard have cooked up a playfully bloody project that's both a satirical attack on lame torture porn movies and a notional reboot of the old-school slasher films that predated them.
The cabin in question turns out to be something more than a cabin, and the suits at HQ something more than bureaucrats. The filmmakers have a lot of fun playing with the horror genre's creepy Puritan subtexts — where slutty girls are punished, drugs are a gateway to head trauma, and sex equals death.
For scary movie fans, Cabin is a sophisticated thrill ride that indulges in the bloody delights of the genre, then gleefully inverts them. Whedon and Goddard are generous hosts, too. Why have just one instigating transgression when you can have five? Why settle for a single boogeyman when you can have a hundred?
Extras include the standard behind-the-scenes fare plus a giddy commentary track from the creators. Also watch for a cameo appearance that will be awfully familiar to fans of the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost comedy canon.
Speaking of comedy, the pop culture archivists at Shout! Factory have done another noble service to mankind by compiling the three-disc box set STEVE MARTIN: THE TELEVISION STUFF.
Martin's gradual transformation from wild-and-crazy standup comic to respected author and playwright is a great showbiz story. The box set is heavy on Martin's early years, and includes five classic TV specials that Martin did for NBC and HBO in the '70s and '80s.
For comedy scholars, this is rare and valuable source material. The TV specials include live standup segments along with assorted scripted bits and guest appearances from contemporaries like Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, David Letterman, Paul Simon, Alan King, Bill Murray, Paul Shaffer and even Henny Youngman.
Disc Three, “Bits and Pieces,” compiles TV spots from Letterman and Carson and a sampling of award show appearances. Most of this material has never seen the light of day on DVD, although quite a bit is up online in various places. Here's a nice sampler for you: Martin's genius Great Flydini bit from the The Tonight Show in 1992.
Also New This Week:
The 1945 French film Children of Paradise has been reissued to DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection, with a new restoration and the usual collection of film geek extras. Set among the theatrical demimonde of 1820s Paris, Children of Paradise is considered one of the greatest French films of all time. By the French, anyway.
The box set Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures collects three great movies, plus the other one, onto Blu-ray for the first time. Everything looks and sounds great, but aside from a two-part doc on Raiders of the Lost Ark, the extras are all recycled from previous DVD installments. No commentary tracks, either — apparently, Steven Spielberg doesn't like them.
The Spanish animated film Chico and Rita tells of a tragic love story in the 1950s Latin music scene, from Havana to New York to Paris. It was nominated for Best Animated Film at this year's Oscars.
Plus: Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson in the charming pensioner comedy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Maggie Gyllenhall in the stimulating historical rom-com Hysteria, Adrien Brody in director Tony Kaye's Detachment, and Kristin Scott Thomas in the psychological thriller The Woman in the Fifth.
TV-on-DVD: Season collections from Army Wives, Body of Proof, Hawaii 5-0, The Mentalist, Modern Family, Suburgatory, Supernatural and the 1990s Chris Elliot comedy cult series Get a Life.