Cabin Fever Review
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, because I had high hopes for this film, but...
It sounded good on paper - a timely horrific virus, an isolated cabin, college kids on Holiday, always-entertaining rednecks and the directorial talents of a David Lynch protége - I mean this is what horror Blockbusters are made of, but what sounds good on paper doesn't always translate well into film.
Cabin Fever is the story of five college graduates, Paul (Rider Strong), Karen (Jordan Ladd), Jeff (Joey Kern), Marcy (Cerina Vincent) and Bert (James DeBello), on Holiday at an isolated cabin celebrating the end of school and their last bit of freedom before becoming working members of society. The first night there, they encounter a bleeding virus-ravaged hermit (Arie Verveen) and after 'accidentally' setting him on fire, one of their group becomes infected with the same flesh-eating virus, leaving the rest of them to battle time and each other to survive.
Influenced by Peter Jackson films Dead Alive, Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles, David Lynch protége Eli Roth made his directorial debut with this homage to some of his favourite horror films. It is a disquieting mix of bizarre humour, gore and paranoia all centered around an unexplained flesh-eating virus with strong influences from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead and Evil Dead. Roth says "The film is about the destruction of friendships and the body is a metaphor for their deterioration." His use of humour in the film is intentional and designed as a safety valve for some of the more horrific scenes, and believe me there are many. Peter Jackson was so taken with the story, he shut down production on the third installment of the Lord of the Rings to allow his cast and crew to watch a screener of the film and he also provided glowing quotes for the film's TV spots (something he had never done before for any other film). But Roth's decision to inject his bizarre humour into an otherwise clever story was fatal - it's distracting, confusing and takes the viewer out of the film.
Cabin Fever was shot in North Carolina on a small budget giving some of the locals an opportunity for their fifteen minutes of fame. Composers Angelo Badalamenti and Nathan Barr were brought on board to score the film for Roth who was aiming for a 70's-like sound, but with appropriate scariness. Roth even approached the king of sleaze himself, David Hess (Last House on the Left), for permission to use several of his songs from that film in Cabin Fever. Shot in wide screen by Cinematographer Scott Kevan, the film manages to capture the 70's/80's look Roth wanted without the low-budget feel to it, but the true star of the film is the special effects and make-up. Garrett Immel, on loan from K.N.B. (the people responsible for the make-up and spfx for Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness) does a superb job transforming attractive young people into bleeding rotting towers of flesh. Those attractive young people give solid performances in spite of the uneven script, with the standouts for me being Rider Strong (Boy Meets World) and James DeBello (Scary Movie 2), but any number of attractive semi-known actors could have played their parts.
Despite praise from the likes of Peter Jackson and Stephen King, an enthusiastic reception at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival and a smattering of postive reviews, the film doesn't live up to its hype. It is genre-confusing for the average moviegoer who doesn't know the sick and twisted humour is intentional, it's disjointed, and the ending will almost certainly elicit a WTF? from every member of the audience. The gore factor is high, but unless that is all you require in a horror film, it isn't enough to insure a successful film. It's a fantastic story and if they had just played it straight, it could have been a fantastic film.