Cabin Fever (2003)
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Review Date: August 23, 2003
Director: Eli Roth
Writer: Eli Roth, Randy Pearlstein
Producers: Evan Astrowsky, Sam Froelich
Rider Strong
Cerina Vincent
James DeBello
A group of five friends drive up to a remote cabin in the woods in order to drink, fuck and smoke weed (basically, enjoy life). While up there, a man with an apparent skin disease cuts into their time together and the next thing you know, everyone's looking out for number one as skin rashes, a bloody gash or a scratch of the neck suddenly seem to indicate your own infection. Bloody mutilations and quirky humor (??) ensues.
Despite starting off on the slow vibe and finishing off on a lame note, CABIN FEVER is a perfect, moody "old school" horror film with (believe it or not) a cast of somewhat developed lead characters, plenty of creepiness all around, some laughs, quirkiness and once things get going...a ton of blood. There's something really nefarious going on in this movie, something that eats away at you from the inside, something that leads to confrontations among friends and moral choices (oh yeah, and if you want to read the whole thing as an allegory to the early days of the AIDS epidemic, you can do that too!) In that way, this film reminded me a lot of 28 DAYS LATER, with that sense of "every man and woman for themselves" underlying the whole thing. Unlike that film though, this one actually kept me interested the whole way, offered appetizing visuals in the leaf-infested forest, an enveloping score by the master of moody scores, Angelo Badalamenti, as well as a handful of "boo" scares, moments of levity, blood, blood, blood and characters for whom you actually give a crap. That's not to say that this is an Oscar worthy script, because it certainly isn't, but if you want to compare this film to the more typical Hollywood "teen horrors" that have been spit out over the past few years, the characters in this one actually seem...well, real. The screenplay doesn't downplay to the audience and gives the characters believable things to say under the burgeoningly worsening circumstances.

I did have some issue with a couple of scenes in which characters would suddenly go against what they had said earlier though (I thought you said not to touch the infected?) or partake in the more "typical" horror character conventions (why are you going back into the cabin, dude...get the F out of dodge!), but overall, it was methodically built up early on (i.e. don't expect much "action" before the halfway point) and provided for more than enough blood and guts once the tit hit the fan. It also had some quirky ticks a la TWIN PEAKS, which is not an altogether big coincidence since director Eli Roth was, in fact, a protégé of famed director David Lynch. The film had other Lynchian touches as well, like the way certain scenes were cut together, some of the transitions, the play with sound and darkness, as well as the use of the color red. Very stylized and highly effective in terms of building up suspense and drama. The score was also a character of its own here, with every move, every turn from the group tag-teamed by a brooding undercurrent of darkness. The film also had a "lighter" side, specifically everything to do with a certain "party" police officer (hilarious dude) and the "weed" guy (a cameo by director Roth himself). But the film's greatest attribute was its ability to creep the shit out of you in a number of ways, one of which included a very fucked up campfire story (wow!), shots of bloody decompositions as well as one heck of a ketchupy shoot-out. All of the actors were also very good, specifically the porn-named Rider Strong as the lead (aka Ash Junior, as I like to call him) and James DeBello as the comical relief. Roth obviously loves his horror too (homages galore) and even tosses some T&A in there for the kids. Thanks, bro.

Having said all of that, and singing much of this film's praises, I am quite surprised by how underwhelming, incomplete and ultimately...lame, its final few minutes were. Everything was developed to that point, but at least one character had its arc left open, so while I waited for the film to take it to one more level, I was instead served with a "goofy" final shot and the end credits?? What happened? That certainly didn't ruin the entire experience for me, but it did leave me somewhat disappointed as I left the screening, somewhat unsatisfied. But, looking back, the film as a whole was fun enough to keep me entertained, bloody enough to quench my thirst for, well...blood, and moody enough to establish an ideal environment in which to set a film that asks the moral questions about what any of us would do under similarly extreme and infectious circumstances among friends. Would you be able to beat the life out of one of your buddies in order to save your own? The answer to that question might lie in...CABIN FEVER.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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