As was the case with Rob Schmidt’s “Wrong Turn”, you must have an easy familiarity with Teen Slasher movies in order to fully appreciate what Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever” does right, because the movie does a lot of things right. Even those things it does wrong, it seems to be “wrong” on purpose. Part Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” saga and part “28 Days Later”, “Cabin Fever” concerns 5 college students on a school break traveling into one of those Generic Movie Boondocks where they encounter Generic Movie Hillbillies who are, of course, racist, inbred, and all those other Generic Movie Characteristics associated with, well, Generic Movie Hillbillies.
At the cabin, the five friends encounter a man infected with a flesh-eating virus. The man himself stumbled onto it when the virus infected his dog. After approaching the kids for help at their cabin, the man is turned away. One thing leads to another, and the man is suddenly on fire and racing away from the scene. The kids think the man is gone for good, especially since they had wailed on him mercilessly with baseball bats and one of the kids even shot the poor guy at least once. As it turns out, the man had died, and in doing so fell right into the local area’s reservoir — the same reservoir where the kids’ cabin gets its drinking water!
Before you can say, “Don’t tell me, the Fair Hair Lead is going to survive, right?”, the Fair Hair Lead (Jordan Ladd) is the first one to get infected. This results in her buddies locking her up in the shed in a completely selfish attempt to save their own skins (literally). But this doesn’t help, of course, and soon the virus is devouring the abandoned friend from head to toe. Unbeknownst to all of them, they have continued to drink the infected water, and have become infected themselves. It’s just a matter of time before they start to see the signs…
Funny, insane, and completely unpredictable pretty much describes “Cabin Fever”. The movie is most unpredictable to genre lovers such as myself. Color me surprised when Jordan Ladd’s Fair Hair Lead is the first one to bite it; also, the Stoner/Extraneous Jock (James DeBello) ends up having the strongest survival instinct of the group! (In the new millennium, the Stoner archetype has replaced the Extraneous Jock, an archetype of the ’80s, who is mostly a pointless character used to inflate a Teen Slasher movie’s bodycount. Post-millennium, the Stoner is a mostly pointless character used to inflate a Teen Slasher movie’s bodycount.)
Like a lot of Teen Slashers, Cerina Vincent’s Slutty Bestfriend has the most personality. Vincent also provides the movie’s gratuitous nudity not once, but twice — first with her Untrustworthy Boyfriend (Joey Kern) and then with the Fair Hair Lead’s supposedly Trustworthy Boyfriend (Rider Strong). It’s obvious director Eli Roth, in his feature film debut, and co-writer Randy Pearlstein are very familiar with the conventions of the genre. “Cabin Fever” plays out straight, but takes detours as soon as the first rotting flesh appears onscreen. I’ve been waiting for someone to buck the conventions, and Roth has done it here. The lack of loyalty from the supposedly Trustworthy Boyfriend, the untimely ending of the Fair Hair Lead, the extraneous Stoner turning out to be vital to the continued survival of the kids…
If “Cabin Fever” bucks the system, it also provides plenty of expected fodder for genre lovers. The movie is covered in gore, from severed limbs to thick bloody patches of infected skin. A dog goes to town on two of the friends, and a hillbilly kid mistakes one of the main characters for pancakes. The movie is drowning in blood, and there’s an insane giddiness with which Roth stages the infection scenes. You wouldn’t think watching people cough up buckets of blood would be so much fun and at the same time give you the giggles. Toward the end of the film Roth even tips his hat to Sam Raimi by introducing a major female character to the wrong end of a shovel in a shack.
To be sure, those who never had much of a taste for the genre will not only not “get” the movie, but “Cabin Fever” might come across as short on material. The truth is, it’s anything but — it just is what it is, and nothing more. The film is ripe with nutty moments and even nuttier characters. In particular the deputy played by Giuseppe Andrews (“American History X”), who steals the show with his stoner mentality.
The only other memorable cast member is, without a doubt, Cerina Vincent. Which further proves my theory that the best actress always goes for the Slutty Bestfriend role instead of the Bland Fair Hair Lead. After seeing Vincent here, it’s a bit disconcerting to learn that she was a regular cast member of something called “Power Rangers Lost Galaxy”, which I assume is yet another reincarnation of the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”.
It’s hard to believe “Cabin Fever” is Roth’s first movie. It’s even harder to believe that some studio was brave enough to give Roth the budget to make the movie. There’s absolutely no compromise to “Cabin Fever” that I could detect. The movie seems to have done everything it wanted, including dishing out a healthy helping of gore, sex, and unexpected comedy. Genre lovers can’t ask for anything more.
Eli Roth (director) / Eli Roth, Randy Pearlstein (screenplay)
CAST: Rider Strong …. Paul
Jordan Ladd …. Karen
Joey Kern …. Jeff
Cerina Vincent …. Marcy
James DeBello …. Bert
Arie Verveen …. Henry