While Cabin Fever is entertaining schlock in its own right, it’s certainly nothing new under the sun. Thus, it raises the question of what happens when horror films are viewed by people who don’t necessarily go in for the genre.
Watching Cabin Fever unspool, that question seemed to be answered in the generally positive festival buzz surrounding this film, which is just plain not good enough or different enough to justify the hubbub on any other level. Director Eli Roth’s film also raises the question of just where does homage end and rip-off begin.
While it’s reasonable to assume that Roth is an unalloyed fan of the kind of horror film that began with George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968 and then took us on the various paths of Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven and Sam Raimi, it’s also inescapable that Roth lacks the one thing that set those directors apart from the run-of-the-mill horror boys — he brings nothing really new to the table.
While Cabin Fever hangs together (all casual absurdities to one side) better than Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, it also lacks that misfire’s creatively explosive bad taste. Yeah, Zombie ripped off Tobe Hooper with a vengeance, but he put his own spin on the material in ways that leave Eli Roth standing at the mortuary. Roth merely recycles material and winks at us occasionally (in that snide, post-modern way) to show us he’s in on the joke. The closest Cabin Fever comes to offering us something new is in its depiction of its meat-on-the-hoof teens as the people you’d most enjoy seeing killed off (at least next to the cast of From Justin to Kelly) by a flesh-eating virus. Not one of the slated-for-slaughter campers is even remotely likable, which may be Roth’s attempt at realism (some critics are finding in it an essay in “moral ambiguity”); of course, it also undermines the film, since you don’t give a rip what happens to any of them.
The story — such as it is — works fairly well: A group of teens sets off on a wild weekend at a cabin in the woods, where they are infected by a nasty virus that makes them bleed from every pore of their skin (which is also in the process of sloughing off). It’s gross enough (even if the effect is more than a little like the “disease” in Dreamcatcher), but it’s the type of horror that constantly confuses the merely repellent with the scary. That’s about it — except for the usual crop of Deliverance-style hillbillies, who here seem more like harmless eccentrics until the film finds the need to turn them into the kind of gun-totin’ rednecks indigenous to a Romero zombie flick.
Even then, they don’t seem a whole lot worse than the kids, since one of their tribe is also a gun-totin’ redneck in city-boy clothing. Not that I’m looking for logic in a movie like this, but the entire premise of the disease spreading to our heroes is predicated on an infected corpse floating in a reservoir. That’s all well and good, except that the idea of this incredibly isolated cabin being hooked into a water system rather than a private well is pretty far-fetched.
There’s a certain local interest to the film in that it was largely shot in High Point and Mount Airy, while Asheville’s own Scrappy Hamilton provides one of the songs (“Wastin’ Time”) on the soundtrack (and Scrappy Hamilton’s Scott Kinnebrew is credited with providing the “FU” hat sported by one of the characters). Whether that’s enough to make you want to see the film is another matter.
Cabin Fever is an OK 94 minutes of the bathful-of-blood-and-a-bucket-of-giblets school of filmmaking; but if it’s any more than that, I’m just not seeing it.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke