Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever

****

Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

Cabin Fever creator Eli Roth must have a strong sense of humour. How else can one explain that he uses an incident from his own life, when an infected mosquito bite caused him to "literally shave half his face off", as the inspiration for a horror comedy about, er, necrotising fasciitis.

We kick off with the traditional group of young victims - Paul, Karen, Bert, Marcy and Jeff - going for some post-college R&R in an Evil Dead style cabin in the woods. After stopping off to get supplies - meeting bizarre Lynchian locals, like a kid who bites and a campy Santa Claus lookalike, in the process - the group reach their destination and indulge in the time-honoured routine of sex, drugs and stupid behaviour, such as shooting small furry animals, because "they're gay".

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In the middle of the night a horribly diseased man, whom Bert had accidentally shot with his BB gun earlier, only to ignore the man's pleas for help, comes to the cabin, then turns violent when the group prove reluctant to assist. After vomiting blood all over the off-roader, he gets set on fire and staggers screaming into the woods, The Burning style.

Panicked, the group try to decide on a plan of action. Bert and Jeff go to get help, only to discover the man is a local. Fortunately no-one seems aware of his disappearance - yet. Paul, meanwhile, encounters a local cop, who has come to investigate reports of noise at the cabin, but seems more interested in the opportunity of partying with the city slickers than conducting a thorough inquiry.

Somewhat reassured, the group try to settle down to enjoy the rest of their vacation, unaware that the diseased man's body is face down in the reservoir, infecting their water supply...

As The Texas Chainsaw Massacre put it, who will survive and what will be left of them?

Without the heavy dose of black comedy to lighten the tone and reassure us not to take the proceedings too seriously, Cabin Fever would probably be unbearable viewing. After all, unlike zombies and Candarian demons, the horrors of flesh-eating bacteria are all too real and the basic scenario all too plausible. As it is, one is still surprised that the film has been passed as a 15-certificate in the UK.

Though none of the young leads play a particularly personable character, it is a testament to the overall quality of the piece - writing, direction and performances alike - that one nevertheless feels for them. The way in which solidarity and friendships disintegrate, as individual self-preservation starts to take precedence, is convincing and invites the viewer to reflect on how he, or she, would react if placed in the same situation, while the physical attractiveness of the young performers makes the ravages of the disease - gaping sores weeping blood - all the more terrible to behold.

Roth proves himself a keen student of his genre, using not only obvious reference points, such as George A Romero's Dead trilogy, but also, perhaps, a genuine obscurity in the shape of Jean Rollin's The Grapes Of Death, where pesticide-infected wine causes those who drink it to break out in sores and act homicidally and it's up to a couple of beer-drinking labourers to save the day. The director even appropriates choice snippets from David Hess's theme for Wes Craven's The Last House On The Left for a true horror nerd in-joke.

Quite possibly the best horror comedy debut since Bad Taste.

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2003
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Deadly virus attacks teens in the woods.
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Read more Cabin Fever reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2
Gary Duncan ***

Director: Eli Roth

Writer: Eli Roth, Randy Pearlstein

Starring: Jordan Ladd, Rider Strong, James DeBello, Cerina Vincent, Joey Kern, Arie Verveen, Giuseppe Andrews

Year: 2002

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

EIFF 2003

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