Bless you, Friday the 13th. Seriously, there's no better date to usher in the long-awaited theatrical release of The Cabin in the Woods, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's twisted, horror/comedy collaboration that's been three-years delayed. A victim of the MGM bankruptcy, Cabin whiled away on the proverbial shelf until Lionsgate finally saved it last year from a fate almost too tragic to ponder – never seeing the light of day.
No one was more grateful than co-star Fran Kranz who was starting to despair that Cabin would never come out. Luckily the crisis was averted and now the actor is reveling in the fact that audiences finally get to see the movie he and his fellow castmates have known is awesome for years. In Cabin, Kranz plays one of five college friends that pack up their booze and bikinis for a weekend together at a remote mountain cabin. As Marty, the resident stoner of the group, Kranz sets the tone for his character in the first few seconds by revealing one of the most original bongs in film history. It's all uphill from there as the plans for their weekend of youthful, wretched excess quickly turns into something completely unexpected.
To say too much more would ruin the fun, but I talked exclusively to self-described horror geek Kranz this week to get some background on how he got involved with The Cabin in the Woods, what it's like working repeatedly with genre king Joss Whedon and what horror films rocked his world.
Your first job working for Joss Whedon was for the TV series Dollhouse. What were your first impressions of him?
I was a fan even just reading the little bit I did for Dollhouse. It just seemed intelligent, original and different. I was intrigued by the guy. I knew he was successful and I knew all that he had done but I didn't have any personal experience with it. But I immediately got on the bandwagon and just thought he's got the Midas touch. Even shows of his that didn't last, like Firefly and Dollhouse, they still have so much wonderful stuff in them. Now I would do anything for the guy.
So you weren't prepared for what it really meant to be an actor working on a Whedon project; the intense fan passion that gathers around everything he does?
I had no idea how intense that world was. People did tell me to brace myself and I was told "Do you have any idea how intense the Whedon fans are going to be?" But I took it in stride and didn't take it as seriously as I should have. As soon as Dollhouse hit the air, the websites, the blogs and even IMDB with rating the cast members, there was one guy who said I was the most annoying actor in the universe. [Laughs] I was like, ‘My God, this is no joke!' They were critical and passionate. They demanded the best not just of Joss but the people who work for him.
When did you feel the fandom get behind your character, Topher Brinks?
I think I was very lucky on Dollhouse because my character really went to a place nobody expected; I certainly didn't. The writers took Topher on this really amazing, heart-breaking journey. It became a much more grounded, real, three-dimensional character that had a real arc that I was really lucky to go on. By the end, I'd meet fans who said they hated me at first but then I was their favorite character on the show by the end.
Were you always set to play Marty or did you read for any of the other characters?
Originally I was cast as Curt but then I realized that Chris Hemsworth was a lot better than me so we switched roles. No, I'm kidding. I was playing Dana (Kristen Connolly) and then Jules (Anna Hutchison)…ok. [Laughs] Actually, I just heard recently that Joss told Drew [at Dollhouse], "I think I'm working with Marty right now." That really warmed my heart and I almost cried when heard that; it was the sweetest thing anyone had ever said.
So that's how you got the role?
Yeah, I was filming Dollhouse one day and [director] Drew (Goddard) came to the set to show Joss possible locations for the cabin and one of them was the original Crystal Lake from Friday the 13th. I totally geeked out and I'm grateful I did so because I think Drew saw a kindred spirit in me, someone passionate about horror and who could get behind the role and the movie.
After watching Cabin, it really comes across as the smart man's horror movie. Do you think audiences looking for the next Saw are going to appreciate what the movie is doing?
I appreciate that. I consider myself a total nerd and geek so I don't mind saying this, but the genre is often made by geeks for geeks. I do think you're totally right…listen, I love the first Saw movie and I like Eli Roth's films like Hostel, but there is something mindless about a lot of horror films recently. There is violence for the sake of violence, gratuitous killing, torture porn, or whatever you want to call it. This movie is certainly not that and while I think it's extremely intelligent, I don't think it will go over people's heads. A "cult classic" sounds great but I just want it to be a classic. I do believe the movie is better than that and more appealing than that. But I do appreciate it when someone says it's the smart man's horror film, but I don't think that means it has to be esoteric or elusive. I think the movie has a wonderful way of making audiences feel smart. Not to be pandering or condescending, you are riding along with it simultaneously and it escalates in a wonderful way so you are catching on as the movie sort of unfurls itself.
As a horror aficionado, what are your favorites of the genre?
For some reason people don't consider it a horror film but Jaws really screwed me up. I can't be in a pool without thinking of sharks. I'm not afraid of water but when I'm in the water now, sharks are on my mind. I loved The Descent. I loved Event Horizon because I am a big sci-fi fan and I thought it was a nice blend of a haunted house story on a spaceship. I love the Evil Dead movies. I'm a big zombie fan and love the original Romero films like Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead. Drew actually gave us a lot of these movies when we first got up to the Vancouver set. He sort of gave us homework but it was inspiring because it made us feel like the goal was to be one of the great horror films.
Do you think you achieved that?
Yeah, in many ways The Cabin in the Woods obviously references a lot of these movies but we're trying to revitalize the genre and put ourselves in that upper echelon. We'll see how the movie does but I'm so proud of it. I think we did our jobs.
After watching the film, be sure to read the spoiler-filled second part of this Fran Kranz interview, in which Fran talks about some of Marty's big moments in The Cabin in the Woods.