“A group of 5 college graduates rent a cabin in the woods and begin to fall victim to a horrifying flesh-eating virus, which attracts the unwanted attention of the homicidal locals.” — IMDb
Cabin Fever was Eli Roth’s directorial debut and, well, it makes a whole lot of sense considering he’d go on to make Hostel (which I have yet to see, but… its reputation precedes it). I was 15 when this movie came out and I am somehow still just as swoony over Rider Strong (but also pretty swoony over Jordan Ladd and her adorable pigtail buns).
Roth had written Cabin Fever back in 1995 with his former NYU roommate, Randy Pearlstein. No studio wanted it at the time because they felt the horror genre wasn’t profitable enough… and then Scream came out in 1996. But then, as much as horror was back in the spotlight, his script wasn’t similar enough to Scream for anyone to jump on it. It didn’t start filming until late 2001 and premiered at the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival in late 2002, after which the distribution rights were sold to Lionsgate and it managed to be the highest grossing film released by them in 2003 (over $30 million worldwide). I remember this movie being a BIG DEAL when it came out, and I saw it for the first time shortly after it was released — I was already a horror fan by that point, but a horror movie starring the cutie from Boy Meets World? Forget about it.
** SPOILERS! **
I am… honestly a bit on the fence about how I feel about this movie. I felt like it stood up to my memories of it at some points, but at other moments I was cringing. It’s particularly tough to hear the n-word mere minutes into the film (even though that turned out to not be what we thought initially), and they pretty liberally say things like “don’t be gay” or “that’s fucking retarded”. The swearing in general is pretty unnecessary — don’t get me wrong, I love swearing, but there’s a few scenes where it’s just variations of “fuck” being hurled by every single person multiple times and it’s a lot.
The movie IS pretty funny at times — it’s really more of a horror-comedy than anything else. It lacks any real suspense for me — not only do we basically know everyone’s going to die, but we know HOW they’re going to die. Though, I will admit, the idea of a flesh-eating bacteria being spread around is horrifying. I would say that movies that involve some kind of illness or contagion are among my most feared, so even with all of the comedic relief in this movie, that aspect still scares the shit out of me.
It feels like more of the focus is on gore rather than any actual scares… but, again, some of those scenes really do work. The scene where Marcy is shaving her legs has stuck with me since I was 15, and really any time someone is vomiting or coughing up blood is going to have me cringing… and that happens SO OFTEN. Honestly, Jeff’s character is totally me — when he grabs a couple of six-packs of beer and escapes into the woods, yelling “you can fuckin’ rot, but not me!”, I was like… yep. That would absolutely be me in a similar scenario. He gets his in the end, but… smart dude. Get the hell out of there.
Unlike Paul who decides to climb onto some rickety wooden ladder to poke the floating body in the water. Did you really need to flip it over to know it was the guy you caught on fire recently? My reaction to him thrashing in that horrifyingly infected water was similar to how I felt during the Flukeman episode of The X-Files when the city worker is pulled into the sewer water.
Ultimately, it’s a goofy, funny, gory good time… but it’s nothing earth-shattering. It’s hard to know what Eli Roth’s goal was with it, but it seems like a bit of a shame that he obviously wanted to pay homage to several classics — Night of the Living Dead (with the whole idea of crisis turning people on each other), The Blair Witch Project, The Evil Dead — but was content with just doing a watered down version that would make people quote “PANCAKES!!!” for years to come. Though it did get him a friendship with Quentin Tarantino (who called him “the future of horror”), so there’s that. I am all about a fun time in the horror genre, and this is definitely it… I just think Eli Roth has more in him, so maybe I’ll see it in one of his projects that came after this.
Rating: 5.5/10 | Director: Eli Roth | Writer: Eli Roth, Randy Pearlstein | Music: Angelo Badalamenti, Nathan Barr | Cinematography: Scott Kevan | Starring: Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, James DeBello, Cerina Vincent, Joey Kern