Director: Eli Roth
If you don't know me all that well, I should say right now that I love horror movies. If you didn't realize it form all the horror reviews I've got up, you probably wouldn't know. As a lifelong fan of horror movies, I'm of the opinion that 2003 was a very good year when it came to the genre. Movies like Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, long-awaited slasher crossover Freddy vs. Jason, British import 28 Days Later, and Michael Bay's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were all released to much success, but perhaps the most surprising success story was first-time director Eli Roth's Cabin Fever. Roth's attempt at a throwback to 1970s horror, Cabin Fever was the talk of the 2002 Toronto Film Festival, where it was quickly picked up for distribution by Lions Gate Films. The movie's hype painted it as a film that rolled together everything I love about the genre, but how did it turn out?
As a last hurrah after college, five friends Paul (Rider Strong), Karen (Jordan Ladd), Jeff (Joey Kern), Marcy (Cerina Vincent) and Bert (James DeBello) head out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere to celebrate before heading out into the real world. After an encounter with a hermit (Arie Verveen), the group suddenly finds themselves dealing with a problem beyond their wildest nightmares. Karen discovers that the hermit has infected her with a nasty virus that slowly eats away at her flesh. Her friends become so repulsed by their friend's deterioration that they lock her in the shed to avoid infection.
As they struggle to find a way to save her, they look at each other and realize that any one of them could be infected as well. What began as a struggle against the disease turns into a battle between each other, as the fear of contagion makes them incredibly paranoid, fearful of one other. They have to find help before they're all killed by the virus, or by the local mob of rednecks out to dispose of anyone who may have come in contact with the virus.
I was so blown away the first time I saw Cabin Fever. Sure, it looks like (and actually is) a low-budget B-movie, but that's far from being a bad thing. Director Eli Roth definitely loves and respects the horror genre, and any hardcore horror buff will obviously pick up on the many subtle and not-so-subtle nods to horror flicks of the past. There's references to classics like The Evil Dead, Deliverance, Night of the Living Dead, John Carpenter's remake of The Thing, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Roth also takes the opportunity to use a song from The Last House on the Left ("Wait For The Rain" by David Hess) at one point in the movie.
However, there's more to Cabin Fever than the various shout-outs to the gold that came before it. It's got its own thing going on as well. The screenplay penned by Roth and Randy Pearlstein has its moments, and though the characters aren't very developed, they're certainly appealing in their own ways. The dialogue is very snappy, which was helped by having a strong cast that obviously loved doing the movie. It took a while for the movie to get into full-on horror mode, but in the meantime, Cabin Fever tries its best to be entertaining. With the fun character interaction and bizarre situations, it's not hard to get into Cabin Fever's groove if you allow yourself to. The movie also has a ballsy, in-your-face attitude that's much welcomed. With the threatening and psychotic events (including the gross "finger-bang misfire") going on, it's the movie's intent to either gross you out or mess with your head.
I should note, however, that the script is not without its flaws. The movie is about a flesh-eating virus, but why does it take forty-seven minutes right at halfway through the movie! for any of the main cast to start showing any signs of infection? If Roth really wanted to make the best homage to the horror of the past that he could, then the insanity would have started twenty minutes into the movie at the latest. And it really doesn't help that there's really not a lot happening. Sure, there's some stuff going on, but none of it really goes anywhere or leads to anything important. And that's not to mention the handful of scenes that contribute absolutely nothing whatsoever to the movie. I think if the infection also affected the brains of its victims and turned them into zombies or feral, blood-slobbering lunatics similar to 28 Days Later, then maybe there could have been a bit more drama or suspense. But the whole movie just rambles on and on, never reaching anything even remotely resembling a point.
I'll give Roth's direction great big props right now. He keeps us right with the action and captures many well-done shots, thanks in large part to cinematographer Scott Kevan. I also felt that the acting was also top-notch. Rider Strong moves above and beyond his role as Shaun Hunter on Boy Meets World, and delivers a command performance. If he keeps doing roles like this, I think he could become the Bruce Campbell for the 21st century. Jordan Ladd and Cerina Vincent handed in good performances as the "good girl with a wild side" and the "slut with a heart of gold" respectively, while Joey Kern and James DeBello steal so many scenes, you'd think the movie was all about them. I also really enjoyed the group of rednecks, as well as Matthew Helms as a mullet-headed, pancake-obsessed biting machine and Giuseppe Andrews as the worst police officer on the face of the planet. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the simultaneously haunting and beautiful score by Nathan Barr and Angelo Badalamenti. Many of the cues in the movie are just so gorgeous, that when something disgusting happens (like the aforementioned "finger-bang misfire"), the score makes things even creepier and more disturbing.
Unfortunately, the movie runs out of steam in the last few minutes. I'm not upset, but I was just expecting more out of it. The previously mentioned flaws are distracting, and it was just too lighthearted given the brutal pace that the movie had been building up. And that's really Cabin Fever's biggest problem. Roth has come up with a promising concept, but his final execution left some to be desired. It wasn't a bad movie, just a real letdown. But I have to admit, when all was said and done, I can't say that I hated Cabin Fever. It's not exactly the best movie ever made, maybe not even fifth best, but it's definitely worth a good late-night Halloween viewing. It's like a Troma movie with a bigger budget. There's plenty of outrageous moments, funny scenes, and vomit-inducing effects here, folks. Cabin Fever gets three stars from me, and I give it a recommendation if you're ever in the mood for an B-grade horror movie.
Final Rating: ***