II. Oh, the Horror!: Sexualization and the Male Gaze
The Cabin in the Woods concerns itself in multiple instances with the concept of voyeurism: gazing on the other without their knowledge, generally for the sake of sexual gratification. The cabin our merry band of travelers travel to provides one room with a two-way mirror that allows for spying into an adjoining room. Our young protagonists are being constantly monitored by some secret government organization who is controlling their fates. All the while, we as an audience watch on with similar enthusiasm about what will become of our merry band.
The use of voyeurism in horror is nothing new (1960’s Peeping Tom is exclusively about such a topic), but The Cabin in the Woods uses it to a humorous end. We are meant to understand that these instances of gazing are self-aware, commenting on the very nature of the horror movie viewership. The male workers in the government lab look on with anticipation as two of the young characters dance around the idea of having sex in the woods, just as teen boys in the audience are likely waiting with the same bated breath. It is a tongue-in-cheek invitation for the audience who is in the know to laugh with the film’s creators about how the horror genre will use sex for audience exploitation.
However, these scenes also gravitate toward the same conventions of horror movie gazing, which is to say, the “male gaze.” The male gaze, in which women are depicted as things to be looked at, usually toward a sexual end, is pervasive in many forms of media, of course, but in horror it has become a staple. Gazing at the female is part and parcel to how the genre operates. Horror sexualizes the female frequently, and then allows the pure and virginal female to survive as a consolation. It is a known cliche.
Here, we have similar male gazing toward a sexual end. Holden discovers the two-way mirror as Dana, “The Virgin,” undresses unaware on the other side. Sure, he is depicted with the positive morals to call out and stop her, but he grapples with the decision. Regardless of his depiction, the act itself is symbolic of this male gaze. The audience gazes similarly to Holden, voyeuristic.
The humor is in the parody, where the moment is a self-aware nod to the “sexualization of the female” cliche in horror. But the film still engages with male gazing either way, and it continues to do so throughout the film. Manipulated hair dye injects within Jules pheromones that make her more sexually active. More pheromones later on cause her to undress. This enforces male gazing by exploiting and manipulating genre cliches, where female nudity is favored and rendered obligatory. Again, it’s all for laughs. “The Whore” is a known character archetype.
The male gaze in The Cabin in the Woods still exists, whether it is a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek existence or not. Even parody adheres to the conventions that make male gazing a normative behavior. You can argue its one-step removed approach makes it more acceptable, but it nevertheless perpetuates hegemonic representations of women in media.
Who is to blame for this perpetuation, exactly? The answer, in Part Three.