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CABIN FEVER (director/writer: Eli Roth; screenwriter: Ron Pearlstein; cinematographer: Scott Kevan; editor: Ryan Folsey; music: Angelo Badalamenti/Nathan Barr; cast: Rider Strong (Paul), Jordan Ladd (Karen), Joey Kern (Jeff), Cerina Vincent (Marcy), James DeBello (Bert), Arie Verveen (The Hermit), Giuseppe Andrews (Deputy Winston), Richard Boone (Fenster), Robert Harris (Old Man Cadwell), Matthew Helms (Dennis), Joe Adams (The Killer), David Kaufbird (Justin), Richard Fullerton (Sheriff); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Evan Astrowsky/Lauren Moews/Sam Froelich; Lions Gate Films; 2002)
Eli Roth’s initial directing effort is smashing.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Eli Roth’s initial directing effort is smashing. Roth is also the co-writer with Ron Pearlstein, basing the film on the short story written by Mr. Roth. It’s a creepy exploitation horror B film that delivers giggly sick humor and disgusting gore without pretension and satisfactorily delivers the horror thrills expected by conforming to the filmmaking rules of its genre. It is similar to Blair Witch Project, but much more polished and invigorating. There have been a string of virus contamination flicks of late including the much ballyhooed but disappointing, at least to me, 28 Days Later, and of all of them Cabin Fever along with David Cronenberg’s Rabid stand out. Cabin Fever mixes in the adventures of recent selfish “me only generation” college grads from the city going back to nature for a holiday and meeting in the woods white trash backwoodsmen ala Deliverance, and of course the deadly virus. In an interview Roth has mentioned how much he has admired Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, which this film is a homage to though with many differences in technique and storyline.

The five young vacationers who have rented a cabin for a week in the woods to frolic before going out to the real world are: the nice nerdy guy with the hidden dark side Paul (Rider Strong), the sweet but superficial cock tease Karen (Jordan Ladd), the sexy self-absorbed Marcy (Cerina Vincent), the wormy Aryan looking law school bound Jeff (Joey Kern), and the boorish asshole Bert (James DeBello). The film focuses on Paul and his attempt to get closer to cute blonde Karen, close friends since the 8th grade but have never even kissed. Jeff and Marcy are a sexually active couple. While odd man out Bert has a BB gun to take out his frustrations on the squirrels he plans to shoot (jokingly because they are gay).

The vacationers first stop is at the country general store for supplies, where the store owner’s mentally disturbed son (Helms) without provocation bites Paul’s hand as he tries to talk nice to the youngster sitting on a swing in front. Besides the usual junk food the store sells bottled fox urine, and the old hillbilly man (Harris) behind the counter has a gift for gab that is enticing as well as alarming.

In the woods, Bert accidentally shoots at a weird looking guy (Verveen)), who looks as if he’s been skinned alive. Instead of helping the blood-covered stranger, Bert flees back to the cabin and tells no one else. The group sits around a campfire at night roasting marshmallows, drinking beer, and telling scary stories, and they are approached by hippie Berkeley refugee Justin and his strange dog Dr. Mambo. The group allow Justin to stay only because he has weed to smoke.

The real scares soon follow, as the blood-covered stranger returns to the cabin seeking medical help but the group refuses to help because they are scared to catch his disease (mindful of how in the ’80s and early ’90s AIDS was viewed). They determine the stranger has a virus, and when he spews all over their Blazer they attack him with bats and set him on fire. It now becomes a matter of which one of the five will first be infected with the virus and how will the group react, as the film turns into an eerie bloodbath of mass hysteria leading to a situation of every man and woman fending for themselves. The first one who gets the rash spreading virus, is barricaded in a shed. Roth’s success is in keeping everything realistic without special effects, while using the decaying autumn season and the corpses found in the woods and the attacking rabid dog and the contaminated reservoir water as sources to spring all his well-executed shock scenes. The film also has political aims by showing both the country bumpkins and the five as antagonistic reactionaries (a reflection that education alone will not cure the ills of society or, at least, a bad education won’t). There’s additional comedy in a deputy sheriff (Andrews) who comes out to the cabin to investigate complaints of noise heard the night before, and is more interested in the party going on then in the Blazer all smeared with blood parked by the cabin.

The”flesh eating virus” depicted in the film actually exists. Its medical name is Necrotising Fasciitis, and it takes the lives of about 1500 annually.

Aficionados of the cheesy horror/slasher film will love the care that Roth takes in preserving the integrity of the genre. It looks like this genre has found a new friend, that is perhaps until the big studios gobble Roth up to make so-called serious flicks like they did with many of the successful horror directors of the ’70s and ’80s.

REVIEWED ON 9/18/2003 GRADE: B +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”