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Cabin Fever
Directed by Eli Roth
Released by Lion's Gate Films
Review By: Matthew Dean Hill
Recommended DVD Source: Available Everywhere

With the veritable flood of PG-13 "horror" flicks that has struck over the last several years, it's refreshing to see a film that throws the rules of "studio-backed horror" out the fuckin' window. Enter Eli Roth, director...shameless self-promoter...rabid horror fan. Here's a guy who loves horror. Just loves it. Watching his big-screen directorial debut "Cabin Fever" is like a breath of fresh air, after spending so long in the rancid mid-to-late-nineties fog that was the American Horror Scene. Is it a perfect film? No. Far from it. But, it's a far cry from the watered-down crap that we've been fed for far too long. I'd go so far as to say that "Cabin Fever" joins a short list of films (a list that also includes, whether you like it or not, "House of 1000 Corpses" and "May") as one of the most potentially important and vital mainstream American genre films of the last, oh, 15 years or so. That's a bold statement, to be sure, but it's not a statement without rock-solid foundations.

The synopsis...
Five college kids named Paul (Rider Strong), Karen (Jordan Ladd), Bert (James DeBello), Marcy (Cerina Vincent) and Jeff (Joey Kern) take a much-deserved vacation (post-graduation, presumably) to a cabin deep in the woods of rural North Carolina. After some sex-and-drinking, the kids' revelry is disturbed by a local cretin who comes stumbling up to the titular cabin...a none-too-welcome intrusion, considering that the dude seems to be suffering from some sort of heinous skin disease. The kids manage to chase the guy away (by lighting him on fire!), but not before he tries to steal their truck, and pukes up apparently diseased blood all over the damned thing. The kids restlessly settle back into their carousing, but by the next morning, they are feeling the pangs of guilt...and something else...one or more of them is already infected with the mysterious virus. As the symptoms become more evident, and the accompanying fear of infection settles in, old friendships and loyalties begin to break down, and the kids start to turn on one another. A bumbling, party-loving sherrif's deputy (Giuseppe Andrews) questions the kids about the disappearance of the diseased fellow, and he begins to sense that something's not quite right out there at the cabin. As the disease makes its presence known in increasingly disgusting ways, the kids are taken by it...one by one. As their bodies begin to decay and break down, so too do their allegiances and friendships, until they no longer trust one another at all. Suffice it to say, this film can only end on a down-note, and it does (until a strangely out-of-place hoe-down at the local truck stop, that is...complete with little kids selling lemonade made with tainted water). The implications of the ending are clear: this virus takes no prisoners. It can't and won't be stopped.

The great thing about "Cabin Fever" is that it makes no apologies for what it is: a balls-out horror film that steals from some of the best, namely "Texas Chain Saw Massacre", "The Evil Dead", "Last House on the Left", and "The Thing". Eli Roth has created a cinematic hodge-podge of cliches, but the interesting thing is that the cliches are so treated that they seem completely fresh, and perhaps more importantly, they still work. Far from being just a typical "kids in the woods" movie, "Cabin Fever" is also set apart by having the audacity to have a completely downbeat ending...something that manages to make this film work on yet another level; as an existentialist/nihilistic world outlook. There is no escape from this particular monster. There are no semi-pleasant vaguaries regarding who might or might not be spared the fury of the virus. In "The Thing", John Carpenter cleverly left the ending sequence a bit mysterious, so as to (arguably) instill either a bit of misplaced hope into the otherwise depressing story. Roth doesn't even bother with such niceties, instead opting to kill of his attractive young cast in the nastiest possible ways. Even the hillbilly townspeople, it's implied, are doomed. Personally, I think it's great that Roth opted for such a downer of an approach. It only lends credibility to what is, in essence, a pretty silly story. If one or more of the teens had survived, you'd have to question the ferocity and efficiency of the virus, thus diminishing its value as a "monster". No weaknesses equals no respite, in this case, and I love it.

Another part of "Cabin Fever" that's pulled of perfectly are the makeup effects. Someone once said that monsters are the hardest special effect to do, and that might be an astute judgement. KNB EFX, Inc. supplied the "monster" to "Cabin Fever", and what a monster it is. Sure, sure...you're saying "but it's a disease...there's not one fuckin' monster to be seen!" Well, I have to disagree with you there, partner...this monster might not walk around stalking its prey, but it's a monster nonetheless, and a beastly one at that. KNB's work (along with Roth's initial conceptualization) make the physical manifestations of the unnamed virus vivid, gory, and suitably squirm-inducing. Once this creature has you in its proverbial maw, that's all she wrote...you're toast (or more specifically, you're extra thick strawberry jam on toast). From simple early-stage rash-like symptoms, to late-term, full-scale fleshrot, all the phases of this disease are covered. Guys, just try not to puke during the now-infamous "finger banging" sequence. The best part of the effects work is how cleanly it's incorporated, and how remarkably subtle it is at times. Sure, you've got your half-eaten faces and piles of blood 'n' guts, but you've also got welts, bumps, itchy patches, and slimy, running sores. All this adds up to shocking, nasty stuff, courtesy of KNB's exemplary work.

Again, Eli Roth doesn't make excuses for what he's done. He goes for the kitchen sink approach, and it pays off in spades. Granted, there are flaws to "Cabin Fever". The first one that leaps to mind is the baldly offensive and completely pointless running joke involving, shall we say, what appears to be a particularly bigoted redneck shopowner. The build up for the joke is out of place and stupid, and the punchline only works as a piece of completely unnecessary comic relief. Again, it's bound to offend. I'm no curmudgeon when it comes to these things, but this joke just misfires on all counts. Bad form, Mr. Roth...next time, try a nice, safe jab at yourself. Other than that, "Cabin Fever" pretty much delivers on all counts. It's simultaneously funny, shocking, creepy, atmospheric, and gory. Oh, and it's about fucking time we had a flick that isn't scared to show us some babes. I'm no misogynist, and I'm a happily married man, but I'm pleased beyond belief that someone actually made a horror film that harkens back to the late 1970's and early 1980's...when our blood was red, our guts were served up extra-chunky style, and our babes were nubile and nekkid. Kudos, Mr. Roth, on making a non-PC horror film. Yay, boobies! Don't get me wrong, though...it's just that the appearance of both fairly explicit gore and naked girls in a mainstream horror film is just so indicative of a better time for horror buffs. Makes ya' cry, it does...

This DVD from Lion's Gate is a true "special edition". It features a gorgeous widescreen transfer that really showcases the slick backwoods photograghy. Also, the multiple surround tracks give an audio option for damn near everyone on the home-audio spectrum. The special features are surprisingly plentiful. They include five full-length commentary tracks. One note on Roth's solo commentary: he leans toward being more than a little self-absorbed and congratualtory in this context. Still, it's a nice commentary. Of note also is the inclusion of a fairly decent (for a change) "making of" featurette. Then, there are the oddball supplements. There is a funny little "family friendly" version of Cabin Fever cloyingly introduced by Roth himself...the thing is set to schmaltzy music and lasts approximately 20 seconds...quite funny. Next on the "what the hell" list are a truly surreal karate demo called "pancakes", and several episodes of Roth's early stop motion mini-films called "The Rotten Fruit", which tell the tell of a Spinal Tap-like band made up of truly foul-mouthed and foul-tempered produce. All told, interesting features for an interesting movie.

"Cabin Fever" is so joyously nasty and grimly funny that it's an absolutely essential addition to the collection of discriminating gorehounds. Plus, it's a pretty damn-fine flick to boot. Therefore, this film and this edition get the Atrocities Cinema Essential award. Go see it again. It's calling...

The Atrocities Cinema Scoreboard

Movie:
Four Skulls


DVD:
Five Skulls


Overall:
Five Skulls


c o n t a c t / i n f o