ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 18, 2002
The promoters of Cabin Fever are using a quote from director Peter Jackson in print ads for their new horror flick. BRILLIANT! and FANTASTIC! are some of the adjectives attributed to the visionary filmmaker behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now, this blurb from a supposedly worthy source could lead some moviegoers to believe that Cabin Fever is actually a great movie, but you have to look at Jackson’s rave in context.
Way before the acclaimed adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkein’s masterwork was a glimmer in young Pete’s eye, he cut his teeth making the no- and low-budget gore flicks Bad Taste and Dead Alive. And there’s little doubt that the gruesome violence and over-the-top gore of Cabin Fever were what got him in such an exclamatory mood. Believe me, there’s nothing brilliant or fantastic about this film, and if you take away the shocking makeup-effects work of KNB EFX Inc., there’s not much there at all.
The movie begins with the timeworn horror premise of a group of college kids on their way to a weekend of partying in the woods. There’s Paul and Karen (Rider Strong and Jordan Ladd), the sensitive pair of long-time friends who yearn to be more than that; Jeff and Marcy (Joey Kern and Cerina Vincent), the hot-to-trot couple; and Bert (James DeBello), the ignorant outsider asshole who somehow manages to tag along on these types of ill-fated outings.
As soon as they get to their secluded cabin, Paul and Karen take a romantic dip in the lake, Jeff and Marcy head straight for the bedroom, and Bert wanders off with his rifle to kill squirrels “because they’re gay”. Instead, the Todd Bertuzzi look-alike winds up shooting a rabbit-hunting hermit who’s already deathly ill after being infected with a particularly potent flesh-eating virus. The paranoid Bert promises to get the poor sap a doctor but instead leaves him to die gasping in a gully.
That night the sore-covered hick comes knocking on the quintet’s cabin door, and when they refuse to help he desperately tries to steal their pickup. While the panicked campers frantically endeavour to dislodge him from the driver’s seat, he hemorrhages all over the interior, which not only ruins the upholstery but, for some unspecified reason, puts the vehicle out of commission. The half-dead hermit ends up getting set on fire and running through the forest, dying in a reservoir and setting in motion an increasingly grisly chain of events.
There are a few comical scenes in Cabin Fever, most of them featuring a mellow deputy (Detroit Rock City’s Giuseppe Andrews) on the hunt for partying chicks, but the strange behaviour of the David Lynch–meets–Deliverance locals—like the finger-biting kung-fu kid at the general store—grows tedious quite fast. And as for the terror quotient, I only counted one jolt-you-in-your-seat scare the entire time.
It’s obvious from the rustic setting, the black-humoured violence, and the dog’s-eye–view camerawork that director-cowriter Eli Roth is a fan of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, but the frenzied delirium of that groundbreaking fright flick doesn’t resonate here. Still, I suppose first-timer Roth deserves some credit for tapping into people’s fear of the sick and for conjuring up a relentless backwoods killer who’s neither man nor monster.