Cabin Fever doesn't just look like -- or mock -- those late '70s/early '80s horror thrillers; it actually is one. Roth takes his source material and deftly adds layers, with the result being something eerily familiar and yet altogether original.
Five young people are super stoked for some booze 'n' snooze in a kickin' cabin in the middle of nowhere. Each of the five plays out the standard role you've seen in every horror movie of this type: the horny couple (Cerina Vincent and Joey Kern); the sweet guy with a crush on the sweet girl (Rider Strong and Jordan Ladd); and the goofy, lunkheaded, heavy drinker (James DeBello). But Roth doesn't just toss them into a shower stall and wait for them to get bludgeoned -- he delivers a dying man with a ferocious, flesh-eating disease.
Before you know it, the icky, scabby, bloody malady has invaded the gang, turning friends into enemies and sending nearly everyone into survival mode. Although the group is stranded (I'm not giving away how that happens...), Roth is smart enough to devise viable reasons to have them split up, venture out beyond the campsite, and find even more trouble.
That skillful move broadens the film, making the terror more than just some e. coli gone nuts. Let's throw in some angry rednecks! How about a rabid dog?! As the hurdles build - oh, don't forget the decaying friend in the shed - the film reaches greater heights of fun and suspense.
The biggest screams in Cabin Fever come not from the chills, though, but from the laughs that much of Roth's offbeat script earns. When asked why he wants to shoot squirrels, DeBello's Bert replies easily, "Because they're gay!" When the standard "sex talk" scene comes around, out pops a seriously depraved masturbation story. And the deputy on the scene is a lazy stoner who insists on calling Strong's character "Party Man."
The absurdity is a riot and keeps the whole movie on a razor's edge - if the dialogue is this freaky, how absurd will the blood and violence get? When a young boy with mullet-like hair shrieks "Pancakes! Pancakes!" for no apparent reason, you know you're watching something different.
Genre fans will recognize design touches that pay homage to the past and prove that Roth and production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone know their stuff. A girl in a canoe. Freakish backwoods locals. A survivor reveling in his/her success. Even the film stock has a dull, cheap, woodsy look that we've seen before.
There's a better, higher-impact ending around that doesn't show up, but no matter; Cabin Fever still delights in making us groan and laugh in its final few minutes. Perhaps a future outing by Roth will keep fans howling to the final frame, but for now, especially for people who love and miss this era of the horror genre, Cabin Fever is almost a relief.
Reviewed at the 2003 Boston Film Festival.
OK, we take it back!
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th September 2003
Box Office USA: $21.1M
Distributed by: Lion's Gate Films
Production compaines: Tonic Films, Down Home Entertainment, Cabin Pictures, Black Sky Entertainment, Deer Path Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Fresh: 86 Rotten: 51
IMDB: 5.6 / 10
Director: Eli Roth
Starring: Rider Strong as Paul, Jordan Ladd as Karen, James DeBello as Bert, Cerina Vincent as Marcy, Joey Kern as Jeff, Arie Verveen as Henry, Giuseppe Andrews as Deputy Winston, Richard Fullerton as The Sheriff, Hal Courtney as Tommy, Eli Roth as Justin / Grim, Robert Harris as Old Man Cadwell, Tim Parati as Andy, Matthew Helms as Dennis
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