***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+
starring Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, James DeBello, Cerina Vincent
screenplay by Eli Roth and Randy Pearlstein
directed by Eli Roth
by Walter Chaw Agreeably jejune in a way just north of ADHD obnoxious, Eli Roth's shoestring splatter flick Cabin Fever is joyously prurient and disgusting in a way that recalls the early days of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. While not as witty as you might expect from the comparison (its humour born of the school of "trying too hard," particularly an awkward bit at the end of the picture about the uses of a hillbilly shopkeeper's rifle), Cabin Fever appears to be some sort of jambalaya about menstrual fear--dashes of Clive Barker's "How Spoilers Bleed" and Stephen King's "The Raft" mixed in with more direct references to classic splatter flicks (Night of the Living Dead, John Carpenter's The Thing, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and so on--complete with David Hess's deeply disturbing banjo score from Last House on the Left)--all wrapped up in what Joe Bob Briggs would dub the very model of the "Spam-in-a-cabin" diversion. It's not all that scary, in other words, its outcome too inevitable to provide much in the way of tension with its built-in tension relievers--a slapstick stoner cop and a feral kid--the worst miscalculations in pacing and structure. When it works, though, it works with an invigorating ardour and intelligence that does justice to the idea that the horror genre, as an indicator species in cinema's ecosystem, provides the keenest insight into our collective contemporary paranoia.
Five friends head up to the mountains for a weekend of boozing and premarital nookie, their dedication to drinking beer actually forestalling the doom that awaits them in the form of a hermit infected by his exploding dog with some kind of flesh-eating virus. (Their dedication to nookie, it's worth noting, is not nearly so helpful.) Dogs will have their revenge in one of the funniest moments in Cabin Fever (involving a literal rending, limb from limb), and one of the most disquieting, marking the picture as refreshingly unsympathetic to the traditional filmic value system that locates the lives and loyalties of our canine pals as sacrosanct. As films of transgression go, Cabin Fever ranks fairly high, having its milquetoast protagonist Paul (Rider Strong) engage in a subtle sort of date rape as the means by which he discovers the infection of would-be girlfriend Karen (the unreasonably beautiful Jordan Ladd)--all of their problems stemming from their misanthropic treatment of the disadvantaged not-pretty people.
An early confrontation with a few Appalachian gas station attendants leads to the first of Cabin Fever's social subversions as one of our heroes is caught nicking a candy bar. The idea that our quintet of horny college kids, laden as they are with class prejudice and the lethal fraud of political correctness, carry within them the upper-middle-class seeds of society's destruction, is as seditious as they come: a bully comeuppance fable with the difference being that the wronged party is not so much the freaks and geeks, but the poor, the homeless, the disturbed and disenfranchised. As each of these traditional heroes and heroines succumbs to this venereal contagion--one revealed through the abovementioned rape, another through that puberty-instigated ritual of shaving--they find themselves, one-by-one, demoted to the very class of untouchable that they disdain. Cabin Fever isn't about punishing its meat puppets for hedonism; it's about punishing them for being elitist shits and, probably, Republicans. In this way, the quarantining of Karen (shades, unmistakable, of Wilford Brimley's oubliette in The Thing) takes on the heft of the worst instincts of humanity to displace, abandon, and forget.
A mistake to dwell too much on the film's subtext to the exclusion of its text, Cabin Fever boasts of a couple of gross-out sequences that should place high as the most uncomfortable semi-mainstream genre scenes in recent memory. Squirm-inducing, each serves a higher purpose in the film, lending the piece a sort of internal cohesion that disquiets as the piece steadily decomposes--its sense of creeping entropy culminating in a hallucinogenic sequence in a hospital with a glimpse of someone in a rabbit suit presiding over an operating theatre (the only hint that Roth is a friend and protégé of David Lynch). Not perfect by any stretch, Cabin Fever coasts on the kind of moxie that hazards a reference to Dragonslayer in the middle of its Guignal horrorshow--a picture, like Joe Dante's early pictures, that is in love with its heritage and with the invigorating surprise of getting away with it. Originally published: September 12, 2003.
by Bill Chambers Lions Gate presents Cabin Fever in a stuffed-to-the-gills single-disc SE. The content is fine, but I have a big beef with the packaging: the keepcase is sheathed in a slipcase with a lenticular rendering of the film's familiar poster, but it's next to impossible to pry the goods loose from this outer sleeve, which looked none-too-attractive by the time I was done massaging it. (While this may seem a trivial ordeal, consider that it put me in a bad mood for which the Cabin Fever DVD proper was now expected to compensate.) Cabin Fever itself quickly subverts expectations for something grainy and incompetent--the film so belies its low-budget origins (and influences) that it may have distorted my perception of the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image, but I believe it to be above reproach, with striking contrast, hairline detail, and well-modulated saturation. Wonderful as well is the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix--all that over-the-shoulder barking is disorienting in the best way, and the subwoofer is far more exhausted by the end of the show than one expects, not because of the picture's miniscule cost (everybody has ProTools nowadays), but because of its old-school vibe.
Five yak-tracks featuring chatterbox director Eli Roth adorn the DVD. Despite having the first one to himself, Roth, unlike leading man and fifth commentator Rider Strong, is not accused of talking "so damn much that" they "had to give him his own" channel; Roth additionally joins actors Joey Kern and (eventually) James DeBello for "The Guys"' yakker, Jordan Ladd for "The Girls"', and producers Lauren Moews and (sooner or later) Evan Astrowsky and DP Scott Kevan for "The Filmmakers"'. Self-indulgent, to say the least, it's also sort of miraculous that, after approximately 450 minutes, Roth has barely explored the movie itself, opting instead to intensively document its making as though pre-empting any ambiguity surrounding the model for the new "Mona Lisa". There are highlights, to be sure, such as Roth and Kevan calling one of their professors from NYU they'd just been mocking, or Strong's self-conscious defense of closet-skeletons like My Giant, but too many anecdotes--the "Cinderella story" TIFF premiere, Kern's eye injury--are rendered ineffectual by the retelling, the varying perspectives negated by the control factor of Roth.
Gabriel A. Roth's "Beneath the Skin" (29 mins.) is an actively spoilerish behind-the-scenes documentary with a handful of memorable moments, at least two of which involve Ladd or her co-star Cerina Vincent and the luckiest make-up man in the world. Angelo Badalamenti plays the undeservedly lush love theme from Cabin Fever for us in a truly spellbinding passage, while Vincent engages in a head-scratching exchange with Eli Roth that could've come straight from the pen of Roth's mentor David Lynch. (Vincent: "You'd actually be a good coach." Roth: "Like a little league coach?" Vincent: "That, too.") Three combination CGI/claymation cartoons ("Battle of the Bands," "Snackster," and "Room Service") overseen by Eli Roth about an all-food rock band named "The Rotten Fruit" (Ian Apple, Shaggy Coconut, Banandar, Lerryn Lemon, Linus, Guy Shapiro (a buttertart), and Claude Carrot) are sort of damning in their lack of novelty--symbols of children's entertainment puking, swearing, and killing was done better in Peter Jackson's* Meet the Feebles, and given the amount of genre purloining that goes on in Cabin Fever, it makes you realize that Roth hasn't really proved anything as an artist except that he's an exquisite parrot. A 1-minute "Family Version" of Cabin Fever (funnier on the Freddy Got Fingered DVD), a 2-minute video of the "Pancakes" girl doing Tai Chi, a "Chick Vision" viewer that obscures the screen with silhouetted hands to indicate the scary parts of Cabin Fever (good thinking--I couldn't find them without it), and trailers for Cabin Fever, The Job, and Serial Killing 101 (starring...Lisa Loeb?) round out the set. All of the extras are optionally subtitled. Originally published: January 16, 2004.