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Imaginative 'Cabin' falls short in end

It's never wise to put too much faith in morons. You're just asking for trouble -- important people who can't pronounce the word "nuclear," that kind of thing (who knows where they'll wind up?).

"The Three Stooges" are all well and good, but thank heavens this week's fresh offerings in your friendly neighborhood megaplex include Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's ultra-smart and wildly inventive horror fantasy "The Cabin in the Woods" to offset it.

This is meta-horror -- horror about horror -- that, by large measure, compounds the complexity of Kevin Williamson's enormously influential script for the archetypal wised-up horror number "Scream." This woodsy cabin starts, as always, with invading garden-variety horny teens, all of whom are presumed -- by the laws of horror flick narrative -- to be likely victims of Lord-knows-what, simply because they're young, comely and more likely to get exhibitionistically frisky than, say, your average nursing home "Wheel of Fortune" watcher.

In fact, until Sigourney Weaver suddenly shows up at the end to do a Simon Oakland (see Hitchcock's "Psycho" from 1960) and explain it all for us, I thought the entirely unpredictable "Cabin" was on course to become a truly classic piece of horror filmmaking.

It doesn't get there, alas. It's derailed.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciated the final images of apocalypse to no end. I'm always up for a good apocalypse joke. And because the director and co-writer of this is Goddard -- who previously gave us the wildly underrated "Cloverfield" -- it's hard not to predict apocalyptic goings-on of one sort or another. Goddard is partial to such stuff -- not as much as Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day," "2012") but definitely willing to send everything to hell in a plastic bag at the drop of a lens cap.

His partner here is the beloved TV auteur Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Firefly"), another freelance smart aleck who can usually figure out how to make things many times smarter than the world's more important cloudland stooges might prefer them to be.

So, yes, the story they're telling starts with a gang of students on their way for a weekend alone at a very isolated cabin in the woods. One is a beauteous coed, free with her favors and comfortable in teensy-weensy denim shorts. Another is her gutsy, lunkhead jock boyfriend, who can usually be counted on to have one and a half things on his mind (one thing, really, but leaving room for other subjects to intrude, however briefly).

Along for the ride are more modest and prim types -- a beautiful girl now regretting the affair she had with a professor and a shy suitor whose abs are as well-developed as his sense of decorum. Comic relief is provided by a stoner whose giant bong can instantly be converted into a coffee cup, in case of cop scrutiny.

And now the kinky part -- watching all the bloody goings on from a fiendishly well-equipped laboratory and control room are some scientific types so cynical that they bet on the survivors and allude to watchers elsewhere who are in turn, watching them.

Those watchers elsewhere, you might well say, might be us. You've seen "Rear Window" after all, in which we're all voyeurs in a tale about voyeurism. But no, this movie has a whole other layer of scrutiny to make things really wild and woolly.

It's all quite nutty and extravagantly imaginative until the final few minutes bring us back down to earth with a thud.

It's no wonder this movie flirts with the idea that all of humanity deserves to die.

We don't, of course, but you know how crazy movie types can be with their little jokes. OK, so it didn't make it all the way to masterpiece, but it's a wild, woolly and wickedly watchable horror spectacle.



"The Cabin in the Woods"    

3 1/2 stars (out of 4)    

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. Directed by Drew Goddard.

95 minutes.

Rated R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity.