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Cabin Fever (2002)

Director: Eli Roth
Starring: Jordan Ladd, Rider Strong, Cerina Vincent, James DeBello
Rated R,  93 minutes

Thanks to buzz generated on the festival circuit, along with glowing praise from Hollywood mega-director Peter Jackson, CABIN FEVER and its young director, Eli Roth, rode a wave of hype onto the horror scene. Praised as being a truly original and daring film that was unlike any of its contemporaries, it was touted as being one of the greatest horror films of the last decade, if not all time. I vividly recall being taken by the film's aggressive marketing, and bought my ticket as soon as it hit theaters. Could this really be the "modern classic" horror fans had been waiting for?

Not even close. To be fair to Roth, though, the hyperbolic blurbs and and inaccurate claims about the movie weren't his doing, but he didn't help matters by delivering a confused and disjointed flick that couldn't decide what kind of movie it wanted to be.

A group of twenty somethings head out to a remote cabin to blow off final exam steam with a weekend of booze and sex. Unfortunately for them, the fun and fornication comes to a grinding halt when they become exposed to a horrible flesh-eating bacteria polluting the area's water supply. Panic and paranoia takes hold as the infected members of the party begin to dissolve into goopy, bloody messes (some excellent make-up work by KNB), while the still healthy few try to find a way to escape.

When CABIN FEVER acts as a dark humored horror film, it does quite well. It's a gruesomely amusing comedy of errors as things go horribly awry, with plenty of nudity, gore, and a guest appearance from a very angry dog named Dr. Mambo. The problem comes in the form of several ill-advised gags that completely undermine the script's more serious aspect. Comedy and horror can reside very well together (see RE-ANIMATOR or RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD for instances where it's done right), but here oddball touches like Winston the Party Cop, and Dennis the mulleted kung-fu kid, come off as non-sequitirs that belong in an entirely different movie. Winston the cop who loves to party feels like it was some inside joke that the audience wasn't privy to, while Dennis is an obvious homage to the strange "karate man" scene from JP Simon's PIECES. Neither was necessary; the film was doing quite well without them.

Roth wears his influences on his sleeve, and horror fans will be able to pick out references to a slew of older horror flicks. To his credit, Roth does not stoop to Quentin Tarantino's near-plagiaristic lows, and indeed seems to be looking to them for inspiration. However, if his upcoming cannibal film THE GREEN INFERNO is any indication, he may be in danger of becoming a the cinematic equivalent of a cover band, one that hits all the right notes but doesn't put any effort into originality.

The movie is almost redeemed by terrific photography by cinematographer Scott Kevan. His work perfectly captures the golden foliage and rustic charm of the setting, using light to shade the story in an interesting way; the movie appears brighter and more vivid early, and becomes darker and more dreary as things head south. His photography is so good,it makes me sad to consider what this movie could have been.

CABIN FEVER has since spawned two sequels, and is currently being remade with Roth acting as executive producer. Hopefully, he'll be able to find a script that builds on the originals strengths instead of its weaknesses.

3 out of 5.

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