Cabin Fever

November 4th, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

You probably think Cabin Fever is another movie rushed into production at a big Hollywood studio to cash in on the resurgence in popularity (and bankability) of horror films right now.

The lowbrow teen slasher like Freddy vs Jason, House of the Dead and the Jeepers Creepers franchise are standing shoulder to shoulder at the box office with thought-provoking horror/mysteries like Identity, The Others and Cold Creek Manor. Indie projects like Undead and 28 Days Later pique interest along with those raised from the dead, like the re-release of Alien.

So you might be tempted to brush Cabin Fever off as another lame Saturday night multiplex horror movie, offering the same thrills and chills to be found at any number of more influential horror films.

But it’s something else entirely. A splatter film in the classic sense, it’s at the opposite end of the scale from the ‘intellectual horror with minimal bloodshed’ school of moviemaking that’s still big.

Blood, guts, brains, organs and limbs shower the dark and forested Blair Witch-inspired location with glorious, delirious abandon, and it’s clear that writer/director Eli Roth is genuflecting at the altar of genre Gods like Sam Raimi, George Romero and horror makeup wunderkind Tom Savini.

He’s obviously influenced by the guys who spent the 70s and 80s shooting gore-soaked stories of death and dismemberment on shoestring budgets and who were more interested in making cool, subversive horror films instead of big studio efforts sanitised in pursuit of the lucrative M-rating dollar.

After all, when the notes about the movie that are sent to critics convey his joy at being called ‘sophomoric, overtly offensive, and gratuitously violent’ by New York City University after the screening of his short film Chowdaheads, you get an inkling of what sort of film fan (and film maker) he is.

To many, Cabin Fever will be dismissed as trash. But if you spent the 1980s enjoying masterpieces like Maniac, Toxic Avenger and Romero’s Dead series, it’ll be mastery of the craft and a great trip back in time to a less cynical age of genre moviemaking.

More seriously, it represents the chance to open the field to a whole new generation. In an interview with Ain’t It Cool News webmaster Harry Knowles, Roth said the industry is watching Cabin Fever’s opening very carefully, and that if it has good opening figures, it’ll ‘open the floodgates’ for other directors to make R rated horror movies instead of ‘a lifetime of sequels and remakes’.

The time-honoured group of college students arrive at a secluded forest cabin for the time-honoured holiday of beer and sex, among them the stereotypes you’ll know and love from a million horror movies.

But this time it’s not a monster or serial killer stalking them, it’s a mysterious and grotesque flesh-eating disease that comes up in a horrible rash and ends with you coughing bucketloads of blood before dying in agony.

In fact, the one mistake you might make if you casually look at the poster in the cinema lobby is in thinking it’s another Blair Witch, and it’s actually quite clever how so much tension and violence can be spawned from a simple disease instead of an chainsaw-wielding madman or otherworldly beast.

When the virus finds its way into their ranks, the group turns on each other and desperation, terror and revulsion drives them apart and makes them commit increasingly unspeakable acts.

After the first hour or so is spent slowly cranking up the tension, Cabin Fever almost does an abrupt about face from slow, dramatic thriller to over the top splatter, and when the bloodletting arrives it gives you all it’s got, gleefully depicting vomited blood and strewn guts.

Some touches — like the police deputy and a joke that’s referenced at the beginning and resolved in the last frames — also make it delightfully funny, like the best of the genre.

So if you love the horror sub genre made famous by the fanboy directors who read Fangoria Magazine as teenagers, go straight to see Cabin Fever, and expect a very different trip from the vanilla-flavoured studio efforts around now.

And remember; don’t sit next to Dennis.

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