Here’s a fun scene to picture: A beautiful young woman shaves her legs in the bathtub of a remote cabin. Oh yeah, and her skin is peeling off like a rotten apple as she does it. Not to mention the raw skin and hideous boils on her back, almost exposing a bloody red spinal cord.
Cabin Fever is a disgusting, immoral, unrealistic, trashy horror flick (use of the term “flick” has never been more justified), and that’s exactly why it’s so good. First time writer/director Eli Roth is obviously well versed in the nostalgic horror classics of the 1970s and ’80s, and he throws in tons of references to movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Evil Dead. Fortunately, he ditches the mallrat irony of Scream for the genre’s seemingly forgotten textbook frills.
The story is a familiar one: five college students venture into the woods for a vacation in a remote cabin. There’s the hot couple – Jeff and Marcy – practically tripping into the cabin with horny anticipation. There are the more conservative longtime friends – Paul and Karen – who’ve never hooked up, much to the disappointment of Paul. Then of course, there’s the comic relief, Bert, an obnoxious party animal whose blantant fifth wheel status spells doom from the start.
Soon enough, a relaxing night spent smoking weed and roasting marshmellows is tainted when a diseased hunter shows up at their door drenched in gooey flesh and oozing blood. Karen and Paul are the only moral ones of the group and want to help, but when the stranger tries to steal their truck, they’re forced to fend him off. Maybe they overreact though, because after beating this ill John Doe with baseball bats, they light him on fire to destroy the evidence.
Freaked out beyond belief, their car covered in blood, the only option they have is to split up in the woods and seek help. And yes, splitting up is always a bad idea in horror films, as is staying in a remote cabin, and setting bodies on fire, and smoking pot, and pretty much any activity besides shooting zombies. But there are no traditional zombies in Cabin Fever to shoot. Roth prefers to throw on a blanket of reality, to which he giddily shreds to pieces with insane situations and whacked-out characters. Lacking the innovation and believeability of 28 Days Later, this year’s other virus horror film, Cabin Fever is still more entertaining to watch.
Roth seems to structure each scene with a big smile on his face. He loves to cart out maniacal characters and divvy up wildly essential side plots for them, making the film much funnier than it is scary, an attribute clearly desired by the rookie filmmaker.
Given such a loose plot and no real investment in common sense, Roth is able to take a few scenes zestfully overboard. For instance, Paul later drives the sputtering truck into the pitchblack night, blinded by his own blood, before slamming into a deer. Somehow the animal lands with all four feet inside the windshield, kicking wildly, inches from Paul’s face.
Lunging for a shotgun laying conviently in shotgun, he blows the deer out onto the pavement. As he goes to move the carcass from the road – and who knows why – the truck’s headlights shut off. Left in the brooding darkness, covered in meaty deer fragments as his skin flakes, such intensity is worth the price of admission.
Cabin Fever ranks high as a pleasurable B-movie experience. Roth, who’s now working on a number of back-to-basics, scary-as-hell projects, doesn’t bother teaching mumbo jumbo about some fictional virus, rarely slows down for cheap emotion and never holds back on the blood and guts. After a hard week of classes, it never fails to surprise how much enjoyment a well-filmed mound of dead teenagers can deliver.
Shawn Wines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.