For the moment, we're going to skip past the Ryan Reynolds film BURIED (which I'll review soon, promise. Don't remember it really well and haven't got a chance to re-watch it recently) and go right to some 'C' goodness. Here we go with CABIN FEVER.
So here’s the sales pitch. It’s your standard ‘kids go to a secluded cabin in the woods and killed off by a flesh eating virus’. Wait…flesh-eating virus? Surely you mean some masked, maniacal, killer in the woods. No? You meant flesh-eating virus? Well that’s a twist. With that, you get Eli Roth’s CABIN FEVER.
I’m a pretty hardened horror buff. It takes a lot to creep me out, even more to gross me out, and even more to scare me. This film makes me do all three.
It’s rather ingenious, actually. Take the normal formula for a slasher movie, but instead of the Freddy or Jason character, make it a flesh-eating virus. Turns the genre on its head in a very clever way. It still kills everything it touches without question or reason like a Jason character, but in this situation the teens can’t fight back against it like they’d fight a Michael Meyers.
I saw this film, its first showing, at the theater. There were a dozen or so other people there. Everyone reacted in unison. The other clever thing is that the audience knows that a flesh-eating virus is in the water, but the twentysomethings on the screen do not. So every time someone drinks water, or gets wet, the audience squirms because they know what is about to happen to that character, but the character does not know.
I remember two really great shared audience experiences, when one of the characters falls in the lake, there was a simultaneous gasp from everyone in the theater. The other moment, is possibly the smartest shock in the film. One of the characters at the beginning of the film vows to only drink beer all weekend, so you think he’ll be just fine. Then somewhere towards the middle of the film, the character rather unceremoniously drinks from a glass of water. Remember, the water-flesh-eating virus connection is only known to the audience at this point.
Right at that moment, another character busts him at about the same time the audience does. The audience is busting him because he now has the flesh-eating virus. The character, however, is busting him for breaking his beer-only pact. It’s the closest to a revelation we get, and for the scare to work on two levels like that is pretty damn clever.
There’s a really gross sequence when during a sex act, a character learns that their sexual partner has the flesh-eating virus. When I say ‘gross’ I mean ‘monumentally gross’, but a little funny at the same time. There’s something to this, actually. The film rides this fine line of being a horror film, but also a comedy. Some points are equally gross and humorous. This is thanks to Eli Roth, the writer/director of CABIN FEVER.
Eli Roth is now most famously known for HOSTEL and HOSTEL PART II, but he’s also known for this film, and he’s got a film right now, GREEN INFERNO (inspired by films like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, which we’ll be reviewing very shortly), that is currently sitting on a shelf somewhere without a release date. Roth pretty much exploded onto the horror scene when CABIN FEVER was released, even becoming a member of the ‘Splat Pack’ (along with SAW creators Leigh Wannell and James Wan, HIGH TENSION filmmaker Alexandre Aja, Rob Zombie, and several others). Roth also directed the INGLORIOUS BASTERDS film within a film, STOLZ DER NATION, he directed the fake trailer for THANKSGIVING that ran inbetween the two features in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s double bill, GRINDHOUSE. If you want to get into his mind and see what makes him tick, there is a great three part featurette on the HOSTEL DVD that goes pretty deep into the entire process of making HOSTEL.
Eli Roth is great, just fantastic. He has a vision and he knows pretty damn well how to achieve it. His films are horrific, true, but they are also really damn funny, too. He knows how to manipulate an audience and elicit the reactions he’s looking for from them. Most will say his best film is HOSTEL, but CABIN FEVER is by far my favorite because of how conventionally unconventional it is.
The one sequence that always gets me, the absolute worst to have to cringe through, is the bathtub sequence when one victim is shaving her legs. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT WHEN IT’S PEELING OFF SKIN, DAMNIT!!!! MOREOVER, WHY WOULD YOU CONTINUE TO DO IT WHEN IT’S PEELING OFF SKIN!!! I squirm and yell at the TV every damn time.
So there are several horrifically memorable moments in this film. Most of which I haven’t mentioned, just my favorite few (also, PANCAKES!!!). CABIN FEVER delivers with plenty of gross-out gore, some very suspenseful moments, and a lot of things you’ll be laughing at that you know you shouldn’t be.
Now, there is a sequel, CABIN FEVER 2: SPRING FEVER, which is about a high school prom where the kids start getting the flesh-eating virus. This sequel relies really heavily on the gore and some truly disgusting visuals, with a few laughs mixed in. However, it just doesn’t ride that thin line the way that Eli Roth’s original did. The worst part is its directed by Ti West, who has gone on to do some of my favorite horror films (THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE INNKEEPERS, THE SACRAMENT), but this outing for him is very unbalanced and not very well conceived. Then there’s also a prequel called CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO, about…patient zero of the flesh-eating virus. Patient zero is played by Sean Astin (who, interesting to note that both Sean Astin and Rider Strong appeared together in the horror film, BORDERLANDS. But separately in the CABIN FEVER series. Strong in the original, and Astin in the prequel) on a quarantined island. Astin is just a carrier, he has no symptoms of the virus. This prequel is less comedy, more horror, which works for it quite well actually. Not trying to copy the feels of the original like CABIN FEVER 2: SPRING FEVER did. I’ve also heard that there are a few other sequels in store for the CABIN FEVER franchise, but none of them will ever capture the same tone and success that the original did.
So should you see CABIN FEVER? I definitely recommend it. It’s a horror film that even has me looking away at times, which means it has to have done something right, right? But you’re probably best to stay away from the sequel, the prequel, and whatever else they add to the franchise. Just have a great, grade A, experience and just watch the original.