Worth A Look: 10.44%
Just Average: 10.99%
Pretty Crappy: 6.32%
10 reviews, 304 user ratings
by Erik Childress
There has been a renaissance of horror projects of late. No less than a dozen scary movies have been released in 2003 and that doesnít include suspensers like Identity, psychological terrors such as Irreversible and horrific crimes against humanity like Bad Boys II. Some, like May and 28 Days Later have aroused the fancies of even the most thumbnosed critics of the genre, which Iíve never considered myself a member of. I love a good horror film and quality kill as much as the next guy. When I saw Eli Rothís Cabin Fever in a room full of horror freaks at the South by Southwest Film Festival this past March, my colleagues could have sworn that I liked the film. But they must have only paid attention to my laughter during the first half and not my straight face during its second.Vomiting blood has also been an unsettling sub-trend of the horror flicks this year. 28 Days Later was full of it and a poisonous reaction led to it in Basic (again, another kind of horror.) It becomes the catalyst in Cabin Fever after a hermit chances upon a dead dog and gets squirted with the red stuff. Whatever that blood was carrying doesnít sit well and soon heís an infected hermit that no beauty products could possibly help.
"Gore Galore And Not Much Else"
In their own date with drippy destiny, five college students do what everyone does to celebrate their graduation Ė head to the woods and spend time in an isolated cabin. Immediately you have to wonder how these five even got together. Thereís the attractive, oversexed couple, Jeff & Marcy (Joey Kern & Cerina Vincent), the virginal ďfriendsĒ, Paul & Karen (Rider Strong & Jordan Ladd) and then Bert (James DeBello), the obnoxious neíer-do-well whom nobody seems to like. How often do couples make plans with a fifth wheeler that everybody hates?
With its tongue planted somewhere around the cheek early on, these are the questions which are inconsequential to your enjoyment. Or so they say. Soon enough the wheezing hermit shows up, scaring the group even before spewing a gallon of crimson all over their car and smashes the hell out of it when they wonít help him. Fear sets in when one of them starts developing symptoms of the disease which works its repulsiveness on the flesh. Unaware of how the contagion develops, although fairly clear to the audience, quarantines and blame-calling turns friends into enemies. Certainly sounds like a press release doesnít it, but thatís exactly about as much as there is to it.
If watching five people disintegrate over the course of 90 minutes is your idea of effective horror, then Cabin Fever is the movie youíve been waiting for since the episode of Tales of the Crypt with Roger Daltrey and Steve Buscemi. That was only a half-hour though and the idea behind Cabin Fever may have made a more effective entry into an anthology film then to tack another hour onto it.
I was questioned after Cabin Fever how I could not enjoy it and that I was somehow being hypocritical in my overall response to it. There is quirkiness to it (at times, a bit much) and the gross-out stuff is effectively gross, but thereís a difference between delivering the goods and making me respond to it. And I say me, because the audience in Texas ate it up.
Just because it happens doesnít make it creepy and thereís a distinct lack of energy or fun when the virus starts taking its toll. We didnít laugh when everyone got sick in Outbreak or react vocally as radiation got a hold of the cast of The Day After. Itís all in context. So why should we do it here? The screenplay by Roth & Randy Pearlstein isnít used as a commentary on invisible terrors and is about 20 years too late to make any symbolic statement on AIDS, but with all the fear about chemical weapons or a new West Nile SARS flesh-eater in the news every couple of months, surely a better perspective could have been attached.
Caring about the characters is thrown out the window the minute you use the argument of ďitís not that kind of movieĒ, but we donít even hate all of them enough to root in their disintegration. Thereís neither a race around the clock to prevent the virus from getting into the town nor any time constraint to keep us on edge past the gooey slime effects. Itís just hiding, waiting, final sexual romps and never knowing when to quit when a razor is going beyond the call of duty to remove hair. Itís wince-inducing for sure, but then again so is a paper cut.
If Cabin Fever had just run with its premise and never looked back, then possibly we wouldnít either until it was all over. But Roth keeps interrupting the flow with a bizarre deputy (Giuseppe Andrews), an even more bizarre child who likes to bite and go karate-crazy on a momentís notice and even a cameo by Roth himself who shows up to offer everyone pot and never returns (at least not alive.) A genuine sense of paranoia could have been developed by keeping the mystery of how to contract the flesh-eater. By tipping his hat too soon, weíre left to just wait until one of the on-screen folk catches up to us before a violent dog appears out of nowhere to speed up the process of grisly death.Eli Roth is a guy who knows his audience and knows what it takes to please them. Unfortunately, itís a very limited audience that cherishes gore above all else. Thatís a bit disingenuous on my part as Roth clearly does have a love for the genre and provides a couple knowing winks to those paying attention. Itís easy to dismiss Cabin Fever as the work of another poser who got lucky enough to bypass the direct-to-video world, but Roth isnít like that. I genuinely believe that this is just the rough patches of a beginner who was so in love with actually making a movie that his giddiness didnít look close enough at what could have made this great. Audience participation goes a long way in the horror world and Cabin Fever can certainly provide some thrills in a packed house the first time around. But when youíre all alone, watching the film late at night, will you really be scared, delighting in the peeling of five flesh casings? Or will you be sitting there straight-faced when its all over?
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originally posted: 09/12/03 01:25:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.