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The standard deadline for our Horror Award is on Sunday! We’re celebrating the contest with articles about our favorite films and TV shows in the genre. Find out what scares us the most… and what we’re looking for from a horror script! Next up: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS…

This article contains spoilers.


“A group of attractive young people head out to a deserted cabin in the woods, where they’re attacked by supernatural forces and violently killed off one by one.” Sound familiar?

Dodging clichés can be tough for writers of any genre, but horror seems to be one of the most difficult challenges. For our Horror Award last year, we read a number of scripts that followed the above tropes so exactly that they all started to blur together. It’s hard to stand out when your script is just like the next one!

And that’s why we recommend ALL horror writers watch THE CABIN IN THE WOODS – because it uses every single one of the tropes listed above, but does so with a knowing wink that makes everything seem fresh.

Part horror, part comedy, part satire, and part homage, it’s about… well, we’ve already told you! Five college students, a cabin, and a “zombie redneck torture family”. It’s not hard to imagine we could be describing any number of other slasher films.

The difference is that in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, everything is being very carefully controlled by a group of technicians in an underground facility. From trapping their subjects in, manipulating them with drugs, and unleashing the zombies, they’re in full control of what’s going – all part of a ritual sacrifice to prevent the end of the world.

What’s brilliant about this idea is it explains all the tired old horror tropes that people have grown bored of. Why do we see the same situation repeating over and over again? Why do we see the same kind of characters dying in all the same ways? Why do we see the same monsters so often? In short, why is there no originality?

The answer: because it has to happen this way to fulfil the ritual!

Because THE CABIN IN THE WOODS acknowledges and explains horror tropes, its use of them becomes one of its strengths. You’re on the constant lookout for fun homages, figuring out which other films are being referenced.

It also pokes fun at those tropes, giving it a wicked sense of humor. The high point on this front are the two technicians in charge, played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, whose “seen it all before” attitude leads to plenty of dry jokes and goofy moments.

There are always going to be tropes that every genre relies on, but how you use them – and how you put a fresh spin on them – is what makes all the difference.

That’s why we recommend THE CABIN IN THE WOODS to horror writers. There’s no better film for understanding the tropes of the genre and what makes them work – and once you understand that, you’ll know how to use them effectively and avoid clichés.

Don’t forget to submit now to our Horror Award 2020 – the standard deadline is on Sunday! The winner receives script development and guaranteed pitching to industry, and all submissions receive FREE, automatic entry to our Fall 2020 Screenwriting Contest – and the chance to win the Grand Prize of $3500!

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