Horror and Humour in The Cabin in The Woods (2012)


Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsIilFNNmkY

Noel Caroll’s article Horror and Humor, explores the importance of a distinctive, recognisable, genre-specific character which allows the film to be categorised as a specific genre. In Westerns we expect to see a Cowboy character, and in a horror film we expect to see a monster.[1] In The Cabin In The Woods (dir. Drew Goddard), the expected conventions of a horror film are turned on their head, and cynically exposed. The film is presented as the deserted cabin in the middle-of-nowhere, teen horror flick which has been done a thousand times, but really the mysterious, supernatural happenings are controlled by a hilariously mundane group of office workers who have an administrative role in the horror. In the film there are two types of monsters: the ‘traditional’ horror monsters that are used as tools to torture the group, and the human “psycho-killer” monsters.[2]



Carroll recognises that monsters can be human too, and human monsters come from the “science fiction of the mind, not the body.”[3] You wouldn’t initially know that the human group are monsters, as the office workers go about their seemingly normal workday, making workplace bets and so on. The film taps into Carroll’s point about how incongruity theory creates comedy: “the juxtaposition of incongruous or contrasting objects, events, categories, propositions, maxims, properties, and so on.”[4] The comedy thus stems from the incongruity between the mundane, tedious, and very ‘normal’ office characters, and the job that they do in the office: regularly orchestrate elaborate rituals to torture and sacrifice an unsuspecting group of young people to save the planet from the evil powers of the underworld.


Merman clip (please note, first half of the video is from earlier in the film, for reference): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8aRoLQpBjo&t=14s

One of the most rewarding, and in my opinion, funniest scenes is when Bradley Whitford’s character finally gets to see the mermen in action, but he is the victim. The graphic death scene sees blood spurting out of gills and although blood, like “feces, mucus, or spittle” are fluids that we are normally horrified by, but in this situation (knowing how often the character has bet on the mermen) we can’t help but laugh when we see him viciously killed.[5]




[1] Noël Carroll, “Horror and Humor,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 57, No. 2, Aesthetics and Popular Culture (Spring, 1999), p.147

[2] Carroll, “Horror and Humor,” p.148

[3] Ibid., p.148

[4] Ibid., p. 153

[5] Ibid., pp. 156-157


  1. That is hilarious making average office workers the masterminds, driving the entire plot because it is a complete diversion of what we are used to. Also using their mundane operational style as to do so makes it that much funnier, as they are so ‘incongruent’ from the powerful, terrifying, torturous characters we are used to.

  2. I think this film is definitely effective in highlighting Carroll’s theory on incongruity. The office workers contrasting with the monsters created, demonstrates Carroll’s point about the mental state of fear being directed at a particular object subsumable of perceived harmfulness and amusement requiring a subsumable of incongruity. It also makes me think of theories of the uncanny associated with humour, whereby things that are out of place create comic reaction.

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