GeekOut

How spoiler culture (mostly) spared 'The Cabin in the Woods'

When "Firefly" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon introduced the film "The Cabin in the Woods" last month at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, he told the audience, "I hope you enjoy it, and then sorta keep it to yourself."

Whedon, the film's writer and producer, really meant it. He even recorded a video plea asking fans who saw the horror film not to give away any of the major plot points online.

It's no secret that the film, long awaited by Whedon fans, doesn't really take place in a cabin in the woods. The trailer points out that a group of college kids only think they're spending a weekend in what is actually a controlled environment. Beyond that, however, fans who have seen the movie already are expected to stay mum on what happens, to avoid ruining it for those who have yet to see the movie, which hits theaters Friday.

The spoiler culture, of course, has been around at least since the dawn of the Internet, and directors have long been asking audiences not to give away surprises, most famously since Alfred Hitchcock and "Psycho." But there now seems to be a renewed focus - especially with the advent of social media - on making sure that fans don't say too much.

"The Walking Dead" executive producer Glen Mazzara recently told reporters about a "security task force," led by producer Gale Ann Hurd, creator Robert Kirkman and "computer savvy" Scott Kimple. Their job is to make sure leaks about the show's many secrets don't appear online.

"AMC takes this stuff very seriously," Mazzara said. "And we try to see where leaks are coming from and if they're accurate or they're not and then trying to get stuff taken down and it's really like trying to sweep back the ocean."

Fran Kranz, who plays Marty in "The Cabin in the Woods," said he can understand some fans' desire to find out as much as they can about a film or TV series.

“I’m a big fan of horror films, and I want to know about all kinds of movies, and I totally get it," he told CNN. "I find when I meet a fan of Joss’, I’m just as excited about his work as they are. I’ll be first in line to see (Whedon's) ‘The Avengers.' "

Kranz said the secrecy around "Cabin" started from the beginning. His audition was a scene that wasn't even in the film, involving a fake character called the Clickety-Clack Man. He also said that his scripts were watermarked with his name to discourage leaks.

“I do wanna geek out with (fans)," he said. "It does get difficult (not to spill secrets), but I thought, this movie was so cool, I respected the secrecy."

Kranz's first exposure to the world of Whedon was on the short-lived Fox series "Dollhouse." Apparently, he was seen as saying too much about the series in interviews.

"I remember getting a call from Fox saying I was talking too much about ‘Dollhouse,' " he said.

"Cabin" star Kranz, who admits to being a big fan of horror films, is staying mum about the movie's plot.

This secretiveness is nothing new, though, for the "Whedonverse," as fans call it. From "Buffy" on, his shows and films have always been chock-full of surprises, so there's always some secrecy.

"That's always been there with Joss," Kranz said. "He’s got that mischievous glimmer in his eye (from holding on to secrets). He’s got that Mona Lisa smile."

And Whedon's upcoming "The Avengers" is one about which fans have been clamoring to learn more. In fact, there was so much speculation about Skrulls (aliens in the Marvel Comics universe) in the movie that the director had to knock down those rumors.

There's also a lot of secrecy around other big summer blockbusters, such as Ridley Scott's "Prometheus," the plot of which is still largely unknown, and Christopher Nolan's final Batman film, "The Dark Knight Rises."

That hasn't stopped some fans from seeking out answers to their burning questions. But what drives this thirst for spoilers?

"Some people just want to know everything as soon as they can find it out," said Steven Weintraub of the entertainment site Collider.com. "And some of them will say it doesn’t damage the movie experience. They just have to know right now. However, I’d like to think more people are like me and want to stay spoiler-free until they see the movie."

Weintraub has even gone as far as to avoid seeing trailers as much as possible.

Eric "Quint" Vespe writes for Ain't It Cool News, which made a name for itself in the early days of the Internet by posting spoilers and other movie news.

"I think from a fan's perspective the right amount of spoilers can raise the excitement level, but I'm sure from a filmmaker's point of view they want the eyeballs taking in their film to be as fresh as possible," he said. "I personally try to avoid spoilers, but that's a pretty tall order when it comes to my line of work."

With "The Cabin in the Woods," Weintraub said he thinks the fan community has generally respected Whedon's wishes.

"Most online reviewers have done a tremendous job keeping the twists and turns under wraps," he said. "I even hosted a screening of the film in Boston and most went to Twitter and Facebook and did what I asked: They raved about the movie without spoiling it. However, some of the big Hollywood trades that ran early reviews spoiled the entire film. Which makes literally no sense."

There's something else happening, too, Vespe said: "I'm seeing a disturbing trend of critics using their reviews to spoil movies they don't like as a way of trying to ruin the experience for someone who may like the movie."

However, Vespe said he thinks that most of the top entertainment bloggers have moved away from posting spoilers in recent years: "Some of it comes from not wanting to ruin the experience for their readers (typically the cooler blogs and movie sites come at it this way) and some of it comes from not wanting to burn bridges with studios."

Ben Kendrick, an editor at Screenrant.com, however, said he still sees spoilers as prevalent, thanks to social networks.

"It's becoming far more prevalent to inadvertently run into spoilers," he said. "While some people are definitely sensitive about how they discuss spoiler info, censoring themselves on Twitter or putting spoiler warnings in online news and editorial posts, there are still plenty of people who do not censor themselves. Just look at all the tweets that are posted after an episode of 'The Walking Dead' or 'Dexter,' and you'll see message after message that outright spoil the more shocking moments and twists in an episode."

So, despite efforts by Whedon, Mazzara and others, the death of the spoiler is unlikely.

"Listen, it comes down to a personality developed in early childhood," Vespe said. "Do you see a present under the Christmas tree and want to figure it out weeks before opening it, or do you like to let the mystery build up? I wasn't a present-shaker. I liked to imagine that anything could be behind the wrapping paper. I absolutely understand wanting to solve the mystery, and I see a value in the hunt for that information building up the anticipation of actually getting to open the box.

"I just lean more on the side of letting the mystery grow in my mind."