Cabin Fever (2003)
A well-known ‘cash cow’ for the Hollywood studios has typically been the teen slasher flick. You know the genre, a group of teens or early twenty-somethings, decide to vacation in a remote cabin near a scenic lake. As the revelries progress the kids are brutally murdered, one by one, usually until only the pretty but virtuous girl remains. This scenario has been repeated so many times that writing the script for such a film sort of like that party game story is completed by giving various nouns, adverbs, adjectives and verbs complete a story. You wind up with something like college kids on spring break deep in the woods or perhaps high school students looking for a place to get stoned and have sex selecting an old rickety deserted mansion. Whatever the variations may be the core of the story remains the same; this small group of amazingly attractive young people are about to have a very lonely and painful time. Fans of this category are movie by necessity have given up any hope true originality a long time ago. All that can be hoped for is that the selection is used to fill in the blanks in the boilerplate script are interesting and somewhat different from the combinations they’ve seen before. At first glance ‘Cabin Fever’ may seem to be just another flick of this type but there are some interesting variations on a theme here.
First and foremost, the monster is internalized, it is not some preternaturally unstoppable deformed brute wielding a large sharp object, it is a tiny bacteria. After being in the news for years as one of the worst-case scenarios for a medical emergency is the flesh eating bacteria. It starts out as a wound that will not heal and progresses until the patient’s skin begins sloughing leaving nothing but bone and muscle behind. These bacteria must have gotten an aggressive agent in Hollywood since it showing up in a lot of television shows and as a side plot and a few movies but now with ‘Cabin Fever’, it becomes the main antagonists in its own film. This was without a doubt upsetting news for the Hollywood stunt men that specialize in portraying the various murderous bogeymen that slice and dice the rate the story. However the special effects make-up people knew that with this kind of a hollow film they would have a lot of work applying gruesome makeup significant body of a from the inside.
As the film opens a man that obviously lives in the woods finds that his dog has been hollowed out, a foreboding glimpse of things to come. We switch to a scene of the kids in question at the end of finals, starting out for their vacation away from school. The group consists of the standard genre stereotypes; there is the oversexed couple Jeff (Joey Kern) and his girlfriend Marcy (Cerina Vincent). No sooner do they get to the beautiful location than hit the sheets. Next there is the nice guy, Paul (Rider Strong), hopelessly in love with Karen (Joran Ladd), a girl that flirts with every guy but him. Of course there has to be the requisite obnoxious friend, represented here by Bert (James DeBello), who’s idea of fun is drinking a lot of beer and killing squirrels. Since the source of the terror that ensues comes from within rather than being external, the fear that is invoked is a bit more realistic than the genre usually manages. After all, we hear of a lot more cases of horrible diseases now then news reports of a large man in a hockey mask wielding a machete. Think about that next time you are on the bus and the person next to you coughs. The natural allegory here is one to AIDS. The initial reaction of the group is to completely isolate infected their infected friends, taking this to the point of locking the victim away. While much of this theme was more relevant some twenty years ago there is still enough truth to it remaining today to support the premise. The behavior exhibited by this group is pure formula, almost completely predictable.
Jordan Ladd carries the role of Karen, the pretty blond of the film. I have literally been a fan of her family for several decades now, first with her grandfather Alan, then her mother Cheryl (the object of crushes for many of my generation during their teen years). Ladd plays Karen a bit tougher than most that have had this type of role. Karen curses, smokes and teases the boy that is hopelessly in love with her. Usually this part is played as a contrast of virtue amidst the carnal oriented friends. This seems to be a side effect of the more rapid maturing teens today undergo. Strong is used to playing the best friend as he did for many years on the television show Boy Meets World. Here he gets a chance to take center stage and he does so successfully. He exhibits the right amount of angst tempered with unrequited love. Of course in any horror flick you have to break things up with a few comic scenes, handled here by the oafish character of Bert portrayed by DeBello. In many scenes he takes his character a bit too over the top, a bit too unlikable. The desire to kill small animals was a cheap shot; it distanced the character too much from the audience instead of providing someone we can identify with to some degree. The lustful parts presented by Vincent and Kern mostly appear to serve to ensure a strong ‘R’ rating, a sure way to get the teen audience.
This is the freshmen effort for writer/director Eli Roth. While not bad for a first outing in the boss’s chair there is some room for improvement. As mentioned above there is little in the way of characters the audience can identify with. The kids here are self-centered and border on obnoxious. Strong had the closest thing to a nice guy in the group. The all-important pacing was well done. The payoff is alluded to but not to the point that you are so tired of it that the ending is a relief, finally it’s over. Considering the film was produced on a very small budget it comes across well. It combines some aspects of the hit and run independent style with Hollywood studio production. The camera angles are somewhat mundane. Roth should research some of the greats to see how using unusual angles can heighten the audience reaction. Roth does make good use of the full frame. This film will lose a lot when cropped to 4:3 for cable. He has an eye for composition that makes me anxious to see his next opus.
This unrated high definition edition does provide a significant degree of resolution with the video. Considering the imagery contained here that just might not be a positive thing. Then again, if you are willing to repurchase this flick in Blu-ray this is sure to be something you will find interesting. You will also be able to hear the screams of agony as a result of the upgraded English DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio track. There is a selection of additional content that will keep you revolted for long after the movie ends.
Posted 1/22/04 06/27/2016