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I have talked about this before but one of the many, many reasons I enjoy Cabin in the Woods is that it serves as an ending to the horror genre. Which is not to say I dislike the genre (though there is a lot to dislike), but I like the finality of it all. If you get tired with horror, you can watch Cabin In the Woods and close the circle.
The genre-ender is not a popular movie, and I could only find three movies, (Cabin included) that fit the bill. A genre-ender is a movie that serves as a deconstruction of a genre’s tropes and weaknesses, while also serving as the curtain fall for a particular kind of movie. So how do you end a genre? The temptation is to think that only spoof movies can do it, but that’s not true. The reason Cabin works so well is that along with its dissection of horror tropes, it is still a great scary movie. Spoofs like Epic Movie, where referencing something constituents as a joke, are not even remotely in the same universe. To end a genre, you need a movie that can stand by itself and also one that shows a love for the genre its ending.
The three films I have chosen also represent three different types of genre-enders. There is the movie that deconstructs and lovingly pokes fun at the genre’s tropes but does not seem to affect overall the genre from that time forward (i.e. Cabin in the Woods). There is the genre-ender that maybe arrives too late, after the genre it is ending has long passed its expiration date. And there is the genre-ender that ends a genre. Other movies can be made in that genre, but when they are, their style and tone owe a great deal to the genre-ender before it. Almost as if the genre-ender has ended the genre and then given birth to a whole new genre. When I am finished writing this article, I will never use the word ‘genre’ again.
A movie that deserves more love is The Last Action Hero, which, incidentally, is also the final action movie. Actually, I should qualify that, Last Action Hero is less of the final action movie as it the final ’80s action movie (which is kind of its own genre within a genre). Released in 1993 to an audience that reacted by shrugging going to see Jurassic Park, Action Hero has since gained a cult following as a postmodern skewering of ’80s action tropes. And much like the others in this article, it is a fine example of the action movie genre that manages to illuminate and break down the genre’s clichés in an entertaining way. Action Hero is probably the closest of the three to a spoof, but I feel like it manages to rise above it by filling committing to the weirdness of the movie world and the crushing bleakness of the real one.
And finally, I’m just going to say it: Unforgiven is the final western. It takes everything that makes Westerns Westerns and subverts it. The characters and the settings from the old movies are all present and correct, but a lot of the sheen has been rubbed away. Clint Eastwood, a man who, outside of John Wayne, is the face of the Western genre, is light years away from the Man With No Name, a character who was happy to kill his way across the plains with impunity. Will Munny’s showdown speeches aren’t assured and intimidating. They’re nervous and clumsy. His aim might be more luck than lethal. In Unforgiven when a man is shot he doesn’t just clutch his chest and fall off screen. No, he dies screaming in the desert, begging for water, while his killer squirms with guilt. Unforgiven is a great Western movie and its impact can be seen now as any serious Westerns that are made are heavily influenced by its unflinching take on the wild west.
So should you find yourself wanting a complete movie experience sit down and watch as many horror/Western/’80s action movies as you can, knowing full well that when the time comes you can say, “Right, I’m done with this,” put on a genre-ender and have an ending to all of those stories.