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Cabin Fever

  Cabin Fever
Holy Jesus! A rabbit serving pancakes in bed ... in BLACK AND WHITE! Now that's scary.

© 2002, Lions Gate
All Rights Reserved

Five friends who have just graduated from college (Rider Strong, James DeBello, Jordan Ladd, Cerina Vincent, and Joey Kern) decide to celebrate by spending a week in the woods holed up in a secluded cabin. Forced to entertain each other with beer, drugs, professions of love, and sex, the party is halted with the arrival of a hermit suffering from a bloody, flesh-eating disease. Concerned with removing the man from their campsite, one of the gang becomes infected with the horrible virus, which leads to a domino effect as each camper has to deal with this threat to their lives.

"Cabin Fever" (IMDb listing) is the latest horror film to come out under the guise of homage to the splatter movement of the late 1970s. Tributes also came this year in the form of "Wrong Turn" and "Jeepers Creepers 2," so forgive me if I'm hesitant to believe the hype. Oddly enough, "Fever" actually manages to find the right tone to match the macabre classics of the long gone era, if only in spurts. Co-written and directed by unknown Eli Roth, "Fever" is very respectful to Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, and such genre classics as "Evil Dead," without ever succumbing to self-referential humor, nor a complete neutering of its violence. Roth often goes right for the audiences' throat: staging a wild ride of decomposing flesh that includes hick townsfolk and pesky kids who just don't know any better. For about a 40 minute stretch in the middle, "Cabin Fever" is as good as a horror films get in this age of cynicism.

Roth skillfully manages the film without delving too far from the masterworks that inspired it; we have the lone cabin in the woods, the virus that cannot be stopped, and the drinking youth who seem to more interested in sex than in trying to figure out how to help each other. There isn't too much winking at the audience, but one can imagine Roth smiling behind the camera as he pays his tributes. Wisely hiring the KNB effects team (and miraculously staying away from CG images), there is some great makeup work in "Fever," especially when the virus manifests itself, taking firm flesh and rendering it a bloody pulp.

What isn't welcome are the attempts at humor. It's rumored that David Lynch had a hand in the production of this film, and certain elements have a Lynch feel. Weird asides featuring a goofball local cop who just "wants to party, man," or a hillbilly child who screams out "Pancakes!" before showing off some slo-mo karate skills, don't fit into the scheme of the film as easily as Roth seems to believe. In fact, all of the comedy detracts from the tension of the story, which is a common mistake with modern horror. Roth and his contemporaries believe that a good laugh is just as powerful as a good scream, but the two cannot mutually co-exist. Today's audiences do not deserve such levity. "Cabin Fever" would have reached horror nirvana had it played itself straight and tried to create nightmares instead of diffusing itself with attempts at humor.

Like James Mangold's recent "Identity," "Cabin Fever" is a film that has no idea how to conclude. The last ten minutes of the picture are a waste of good film stock. Roth hasn't a clue how to wrap the story up, so he lets the action play out until the end credits start. By this time, the film has veered into the silly "Hee-Haw" antics of "Last House On The Left," and there's no getting the train back on its tracks. Every self-respecting horror film should have an ending, whether it be a setup for a sequel or a twist to leave the crowds with a jolt. But Roth exits "Fever" with an old man using the "N" word for comedic effect. That kind of amateurish filmmaking is the scariest part of "Cabin Fever."

Filmfodder Grade: B-

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