THE CABIN IN THE WOODS “I told you exploring Neverland Ranch was a bad idea.”

AS A DEVOUT Joss Whedon fan, my editor made me promise to be objective about The Cabin in the Woods. So, that said:

It's awesome, guys!

No, really!

Taking the overripe "college kids headed into the woods" horror genre and layering it with smart twists, Cabin is a delightful Frankenstein's monster of borrowed bits and electrified fun. Even though the Whedon-penned Cabin languished on the studio shelf for two years (it was originally slated to hit theaters in 2010) it's shiny rather than musty, and crammed full of cleverness, humor, and gory surprises.

The plot starts off predictably enough: Five college kids head into the woods for a weekend off the grid in a rambling motor home. Naturally, some crusty dude creeps them out at the backwoods gas station, but they're not going to let a little harbinger poop on their parade. As their RV pulls up to an Evil Dead-ish cabin—with its hinge-bursting cellar door, mounted animal heads, and a spooky book filled with dubious Latin—it becomes apparent we're going on a ride through American horror tropes. But what lurks beneath these winking homages is Big Brother—a huge lab of technicians, electricians, and chemists who are orchestrating the kids' every move. The cabin is bugged. Libido-inducing gas is being pumped into the bedrooms. And something awful is waiting for them in the dark cellar.

I don't want to give too much away other than that—you can pick up everything I just mentioned from the trailer—because what co-writer Whedon and director/co-writer Drew Goddard (who wrote Cloverfield and countless Buffy episodes) do with Cabin is Rubik's Cube up horror archetypes and scenarios with smart jokes and bloody violence, fully succeeding in pushing you into unexpected nooks in well-established territory. In many ways, Cabin is exactly the kind of horror film it's poking at—with its slew of killings and the standard-issue slasher fodder of jock, bimbo, nerd, joker, and virgin—but Goddard and Whedon know how to slide your expectations this way and that way. And it's so funny. Did I mention how funny? So you're basically getting a lot of familiar bang—with nods to Evil Dead, Scream, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and, naturally, Buffy and Angel—along with something wholly original. Trust me, totally objectively: The Cabin in the Woods is a defibrillator for the stone-cold heart of modern-day horror, zapping life into that hacky morass of jump scares and overwrought torture chambers.