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Film / Cabin by the Lake

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Cabin by the Lake is a 2000 made-for-TV horror film directed by Po-Chih Leong.

Stanley Caldwell (Judd Nelson) is suffering from writer's block while writing the script for a by-the-numbers Slasher Movie. As his agent pesters him to get on with his work, he decides to put some of his favorite hobby into the story: serial murder. Stanley is actually an emotionless psychopath who kidnaps young women, keeps them captive inside his waterside cabin in the woods, then drowns them in the nearby lake. He keeps the corpses in an underwater cemetery he frequents.

His latest victim Mallory is miraculously saved by a local diving crew just after he dropped her off and left her for dead. The cops discover Stanley's crimes, but given the size of the lake and the number of boat owners can't narrow down the suspect. With this turn of events, Stanley tries to write a different ending to his story...

The film was followed by a 2001 sequel, Return to Cabin by the Lake.

These films provide examples of:

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    Cabin by the Lake 

  • Ax-Crazy: Stanley may not show it much, but the signs that he does express indicate that he thoroughly enjoys brutalising and killing people For the Evulz.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: In-story, Stanley's script initially ends with the killer murdering the final girl and getting away with it. When his own victim escapes the death he initially planned for her, he tries to invoke it himself.
    Stanley: Third act. This boy drowns girl... again. Can you say it hadn't?
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Stanley makes sure all his victims see a message seconds after they are kidnapped that makes it absolutely clear that he knows he's a monster: "I'M THE GUY YOUR MOTHER WARNED YOU ABOUT"
  • Creepy Stalker Van: The serial killer Stanley drives around in a large van to kidnap female victims, using an looping audio tape to pretend he's transporting dogs. On the inside of the van, there's a taunting message plastered on the walls:
  • Defiant Strip: Mallory is chained in a basement by a serial killer, who at one point takes her dirty clothes and gives her a robe so she can bathe. Mallory defiantly throws the robe off and stands naked, as if daring him to make a move. He slinks off.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Stanley's collective serenity doesn't change even when he drowns people.
  • False Reassurance: Stanley likes to lie to his victims that he's going to take them to the hospital if they cooperate with him just one more time when he's actually driving them out to the lake to drown them.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Stanley is a reclusive but popular member of the community and acts like a jolly horror fan at the movie screenings. It's a mask, as he's actually an emotionless psychopath who murders women for his own amusement.
  • Final Girl: Mallory was the last girl that Stanley planned to kill before finishing his script, and the only one to escape. She's tougher than the previous ones and makes a point of standing up to him. He becomes enamored with her for her defiance and is determined to drown her successfully the next time.
  • Here We Go Again!: The movie ends with the reveal that Stanley has survived. Disguised, he presents his idea for another script to a new agent about a killer who buries people alive.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Stanley murdered his victims by tying their feet to a concrete block and drowning them in a lake. As he tries to kill his two latest victims an underwater fight ensues with the police and they kill him in the same way. Subverted when they throw in a "the killer has survived" ending even though there's no way he could have survived.
  • I Know You're Watching Me: Mallory watches herself in the two-way mirror that Stanley installed to observe his victims. Then she punches and nearly breaks the mirror while Stanley looks a bit nonplussed.
  • Insult Backfire: Stanley seems to take being called an insane lunatic near the end with pride.
  • Karma Houdini: The killer stages his own death and escapes justice to start his plans to murder women anew.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: The film centers around a scriptwriter's problems to write a satisfying conclusion to his story... and is also a serial killer.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: A perfect example of this trope. Stanley kidnaps teenage girls, puts them in a soundproof room, puts them in an elegant gown or dress, then duct tapes their feet to a concrete block. Afterwards he proceeds to take them out into the middle of the lake, and then drop them to the bottom to sink. He also likes to scuba dive out to his "garden" and clean away any detritus accumulating around them, and makes sure to straighten up their clothes. The conditions of the bodies range from skeletal, to decomposed, to recently dead.
  • Muse Abuse: Taken to extremes with Stanley. He kidnaps young women to keep them captive in a featureless room he built into his house, then drowns them in the nearby lake and props them up in an underground graveyard. All throughout he's asking them questions how they feel about their predicament to get more inspiration for the Slasher Movie he's writing.
  • Never Found the Body: After Stanley apparently drowns in his own underwater graveyard, the cops never find his corpse but believe him to have died. He later shows up again incognito to announce his plans to write a script for another movie in which a writer murders women.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Stanley plainly tells his agent over the phone that he's kidnapped a girl and is keeping her hostage to do some research for his script. She ignorantly tells him to drown the girl.
  • Slasher Movie: There's a small club of horror movie buffs at the lake that Stanley frequents who seem to be into this sort of film. Stanley himself is writing one.
  • Serial Killer: Stanley murders women by kidnapping and drowning them, then writes his activities into his work.
  • The Sociopath: Stanley. Not only is he a serial killer and a sadist, but he also has a very calm demeanor during his murders, one of the hallmarks of psychopathy.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Stanley is always serenely calm, speaking to his victims with a soft, compassionate voice. He carries out his murders just as calmly.
  • The Stoic: Stanley is disturbingly emotionless throughout the film even as he kills people.
  • Title Drop: The film's name is the same as the script Stanley is writing, but isn't name dropped until the end by a group of body cast models.
  • Villainous Crush: Stanley seems to develop some sort of odd fixation on his victim Mallory for standing up to him and escaping him once before. There's a Window Love scene with a two-way mirror which she puches when she realizes what he's doing, and when he tries to drown her once again near the end he also starts to lean in for a kiss as she's terrified out of her mind.
  • Villain Protagonist: The movie centers around horror movie writer Stanley Cauldwell, who's knowingly and obviously evil as a depraved serial killer of women. Mallory, Stanley's only victim to escape him, serves as the Deuteragonist.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: Parodied. Stanley joins the local cinema club's latest showing and knocks on the slasher movie they're watching and questions who the hell wrote it. As they quickly remind him, he did.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Stanley specifically picks Mallory as his supposedly last victim because of her fear of lakes.
  • Window Love: This creepily happens between Stanley and his victim Mallory with a two-way mirror. Anticipating this, she swiftly punches the mirror to let him know exactly what she thinks of him.
  • Writer's Block: Stanley can't finish his script... so he kills some people for 'research'.
  • Write What You Know: invoked Stanley writes a horror movie script by covertly putting his own murderous depravities in the story. The murders he carries out are all 'research' for his story. Not a terribly smart move if he wanted to keep the fact that he's actually a serial killer a secret.
  • Writing About Your Crime: A reclusive writer named Stanley Caldwell writes a script for a Serial Killer movie after he's started kidnapping and murdering women himself by drowning them in a lake.
  • You're Insane!: When Stanley prepares to drown his two last victims, one of them calls him out as an insane maniac. He calmly responds that she's finally got it.

    Return to Cabin by the Lake 

  • All Part of the Show: Stanley is able to get away with his crimes more easily because he commits during the shoot of a horror movie. When he tries to carry a corpse to his car one of the assistants stops to help him and notes that he's carrying a fake prop body himself. The same assistant later thinks that a live electrocution that Stanley films was an intended part of the shoot. Allison later can't convince two oblivious actors that the "Assistant Director" is actually a murderous psychopath when he stages another on-set death.
  • Asshole Victim: Stanley kills at least two people involved with the production of the movie who are also complete assholes (an obnoxious film director and a rude AD). It's partially karmic, but the sheer brutality of the kills (one is decapitated with a boat engine and another buried alive) is so disproportionate that it still emphasizes Stanley's murderousness.
  • Berserk Button: Insulting Stanley's writing abilities will prompt him to fly into a murderous rage.
  • Buried Alive: Stanley buries the director Mike Helton in a coffin six feet under while he relaxes in a chair seated on the ground on top of his victim while lighting some fireworks.
  • Call-Back: The first film concludes with Stanley pitching a new screenplay about a killer who buries his victims alive. He does exactly that to Mike Helton in the sequel.
  • Casting Couch: Cabin by the Lake's director Mike Helton sleeps with both of the female leads while promising them a future career in his movies.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Stanley infiltrates the film set by murdering the Assistant Director JC Reddick (a nephew of one of the Executive Producers) and impersonating him for the remainder of the shoot.
  • Electrified Bathtub: In the climax, Allison tries to kill Stanley by knocking him into a bathtub and then throwing in a blowdryer. She ultimately relents because she doesn't want to become a killer like him and alerts the police who just arrived on the scene, but this just gives Stanley a chance to escape and disappear forever.
  • Evil Laugh: Invoked. One of Stanley's early victims doesn't take his repeated attempts to murder him seriously and laughs at him like an idiot. After Stanley finally kills him with a boat engine, he lets out a genuinely villainous laugh.
  • Executive Meddling: In-universe. The director constantly demands rewrites to include an out-of-place sex scene in the horror movie he's shooting.
  • Final Girl: Allison
  • For the Evulz: The movie's script writer Allison, as part of her attempt to get inside the killer's mind, theorizes that there must have been something that drove Stanley to start murdering teenage girls, such as a bad childhood or his previous writing work never having been recognized. Stanley has to explain that there's no reason that he's as evil as he is; he just enjoys killing people.
  • Freudian Excuse Denial: Alison wonders if there was some reason that drove Stanley Caldwell to become a serial killer, such as a bad childhood or his writing talent never having been recognized. He rejects the idea, admitting that he's just a sick asshole.
    There's a little Stanley in all of us.
  • Fatal Method Acting: Subverted in-universe. Stanley stages at least two attempted murders on his film set. The first time he makes it look like an accident when one of the lead actresses is electrocuted by a defective light falling into a water tank, but she barely survives. The second time he doesn't even pretend it to be an accident and tries to have another actress drowned by weighing her down to the bottom, but Allison saves her by shooting through the tank.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Allison tries to get inside Stanley's mind, theorizing he must have some kind of Freudian Excuse like a bad childhood or his works never being recognized to have driven him to become a Serial Killer. Stanley tells her point blank that he has no such excuse; he kills people because he likes killing people.
  • The Hyena: Assistant Director JC Reddick laughs like a maniacal idiot even when someone is trying to murder him. He stop just before Stanley cuts off his head with his boat engine.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Allison tries to electrocute Stanley in his own bathtub in the climax, but she stops because she doesn't want to become a killer like him. She alerts the incoming authorities, but Stanley uses the opportunity to escape and disappear forever.
  • Karma Houdini: Stanley evades capture again and is living incognito in Los Angeles. The movie based on his crimes has been a major success with a sequel on the way, and even though he hasn't profited from it financially his crimes have become renowned the world over. He ends the movie noting that he might start another murder spree.
  • A Match Made in Stockholm: Invoked. After Stanley takes over the production on Cabin by the Lake under his JC Reddick identity, he rewrites his interactions with Mallory in the previous film as if she starts desiring the serial killer who repeatedly abducted and tried to drown her. Allison later pretends that she's fallen for Stanley, but it's just an act to play to his ego and try to escape.
  • Never Found the Body: Stanley is believed to have died by the public and the authorities even though his corpse was never found. He repeats it all over when he escapes getting caught again in the climax.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Stanley impersonates a Jerkass Assistant Director's driver who's constantly rude to him and threatens to have him fired several times.
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: invoked The jerkass director who is making a profit of the memories of Stanley's dead victims notes that the campaigns to have his movie's production stopped has generated more publicity than his professional publicist ever could have.
  • Prima Donna Director: The movie-within-a-movie Cabin by the Lake's director Mike Helton is a complete tool and sleaze who sleeps with his female leads in exchange for future job offers, constantly hurls abuse at his co-workers, demands to micromanage every aspect of the production, and falsely claims to be an expert on the (not actually) deceased serial killer the film is about. After Stanley gets rid off him, no one except the two female starts really question his disappearance.
  • Reminiscing About Your Victims: Stanley recalls Kimberly, his last successful victim before his crimes were found out, quite well. He relays to Allison, a curious script writer, that she gave him "a good fight" and clawed at his arm as he daydreams about Kimberly.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Stanley is quite happy that he's believed to have drowned in his own watery grave as it allows him to continue his killing spree undisturbed. After he reveals his true identity to Allison she can't believe it and notes his reported demise. He sarcastically responds with an amused "Really?"
  • Revealing Injury: Stanley eventually kidnaps the screenwriter who was doing research into his life, but she initially thinks he's just overdoing a invokedMethod Acting approach. He leans over to show her a scar on his arm from a late female victim, leading to the dawning realization that he's the monster she's been looking for.
  • Revenge of the Sequel: The movie is called "Return" to Cabin by the Lake.
  • Show Within a Show: It features the fictional shooting of a Cabin by the Lake movie based on Stanley's exploits.
  • Sinister Scythe: Stanley kidnaps a guy from the set who annoyed him to torture him to death. He grabs a set of increasingly scarier weapons from a shelf to scare the victim, ending with a scythe. When the victim claims that it's just a prop, Stanley pokes him with the blade to dissuade him from that notion.
  • Villain Protagonist: Even more so than in the first one, the story largely focuses around the murderous Stanley.
  • You Monster!: A mob of protestors call the (presumed dead) serial killer Stanley a twisted monster. Near the end the heroine, after earlier attempts to understand the mind of the killer, notes that he's simply an evil bastard who doesn't deserve to live.
  • Your Head A-Splode: Subverted. Stanley sticks a firecracker into someone's ear as an Ironic Echo to a comment the guy made earlier about "lighting a firecracker under your ass". He puts it out just before it goes off, but he buries the man alive instead while lighting fireworks on top of his casket.