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Cabin Fever

The ads for Cabin Fever quote Peter Jackson as saying, "Horror fans have been waiting for years for a movie like Cabin Fever." One can't argue with that statement; one can also say "Identity has lots of plot twists," but that doesn't really say much.

One might recall that the last time this kind of celebrity review strategy was used was with Cameron and Raimi's quotes on the awful Frailty. This isn't to say Cabin Fever is bad, and indeed horror fans have been clamoring for a film like it for years, but it isn't the second coming it's billed to be.

The story puts five recent college graduates in the woods where strange things are afoot. Karen (Jordan Ladd) is the good girl whom Paul (Rider Strong) has a pant load of rigid for. Marcy (Cerina Vincent) and Jeff (Joey Kern) are a couple of superficial fuckbunnies, and Bert (James DeBello) is a borderline psychopath with an IQ slightly below his BAC. Some of the assorted threats include an X-Games reject with a vicious dog, rednecks with a vicious idiot child, and a hobo with a viscous secret.

To explain much more plotwise for a picture like this is just beefing one in the elevator. It'll make me smirk a little, but no one's gonna enjoy even the simplest ride. Director Eli Roth caused quite a stir at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival with this flick and a bidding war ensued. Lion's Gate may have been caught up in the hype when they dropped a whole lotta krill on it and they are looking to buy it back with a bigger ad budget than the first Bud Bowl. Again, not to say the picture is bad, it's just not worth all the hoopla that it's stirred up.

Roth starts with a creepy title sequence with the screen slowly scabbing over, hopefully signaling the return of gore to American genre filmmaking. Some of the photography is incredible, and more than a few shots echo Jarmusch's visionary Dead Man with one truly great moment when a spear actually becomes part of the forest of odd looking trees. Roth also does Hitchcock proud with a sequence featuring a glass of water in the role of the proverbial bomb under the seat.

The gore comes as some of the grisliest stomach-churning effects we've seen on the big screen in a long time. The two stand-out gore pieces are some vile handprints and a shaving sequence that could inadvertently usher in a lack of grooming trend that would be felt everywhere in the country except Berkeley.

If you're stoked for everything I've mentioned so far, close your browser now, and head for the theater, because this is something that must either be seen with a riled up opening weekend crowd or at home during inclement weather. The rest of you won't go even if I promised free hot dogs and balloons, so I don't feel bad telling you that you aren't missing much.

The stand-out performer is Joey Kern, who pounds out his second pearls before swine turn after this year's Grind. Like they say, "This kid is going places."

The rest of the cast ranges from weak to bad. Rider Strong never gets out of sitcom gear and although the others in the core gang throw themselves into it, they just don't have the chops to pull it off.

At least the leading cast tries to ground their roles in a slightly heightened reality. The supporting cast couldn't be more over the top without armwrestling Sly. The two lowlights are the local oddity (Robert Harris) who is a lock for the lead in the upcoming Off-Off Broadway hit "Denver Pyle: Fat, Aging Theater Queen" and Roth himself as a Ben Stiller character that was thankfully left out of the 1998 VMAs.

While there are a few strong sequences, the script as a whole is an unfocused mess because it lacks any real antagonist. From Romero's zombie pictures, we know that the true threat is ourselves, not what is outside, and Roth certainly plays that tune well.

When everything is self-contained, our quintet stranded and strained, it overcomes and even enhances the cast, but then a whole lot of outside threads get mixed in. Most of these plots wander into our camp and some even wander back to try to patch up the plot problems. With such interesting material, one shouldn't have to resort to pissed off tertiary characters chasing our leads through the brush. The tension is lost as the focus gets scattered.

Roth has proclaimed that Cabin Fever is an attempt to return to the salad days of horror exploitation pictures. For this he is to be commended; hell, for this he should be knighted, the intention alone is better than anything Sir Elton has inflicted on us.

The problem comes with the execution. While neither Night of the Living Dead nor Last House on the Left is a polished gem, they both have the good sense to keep a small picture small. They are compact, sleek little scripts working with an economy of characters to match their budgets. Had the cast of characters been pared down to seven, with two of those kept to the fringes of the story, this material had the potential to do more damage to the rural vacation industry than Deliverance -and to cause a nationwide spike in antibacterial soap sales.

There's a good time to be had by genre fans, and even the potential to convert and culture a few who think that The Sixth Sense is the scariest movie ever made. The concern is that the newcomers to the genre won't realize it can be so much more. For those of you who see this, and it tickles your gristle bone in a way you didn't know necrotizing flesh could, run out and get to know George Romero, Tobe Hooper, and Dario Argento.

In the end, Cabin Fever does more right than wrong and it might even resuscitate the small horror flick and start to spell the end of the super-horror films of the mainstream.


Jordan Rosa

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