Directed by Eli Roth. USA.  2002.

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This throwback to the teen-orientated horror pics of the 70s and 80s - such as The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Friday the 13th (1980) - has been advertised (as many horror films have since the success of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project) as a return to horror’s roots, a really scary movie, a truly terrifying experience, etc.  Cabin Fever is only one of the many teen horror films that owe their debt to the 70s and 80s classics, with recent entries including Wrong Turn (2003), House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Although the eerie credit sequence establishes an unnerving atmosphere, Cabin Fever turns out to be a tongue in cheek horror film, almost a full-blown parody of horror movies from the last thirty years.  The set up is familiar enough, as five college kids travel to a cabin they’ve rented in some remote woods.  On their way to the cabin, they encounter a succession of bizarre characters, but nothing prepares them for what’s to come.  At the cabin, they encounter a man (Arie Verveen) who’s infected with a flesh-eating virus that makes him spew huge amounts of blood.  The kids try to defend themselves against the man, but one of them (Rider Strong) accidentally sets him on fire.  The man flees from the scene in flames and ends up dead, floating in a nearby reservoir…that just so happens to supply water to the cabin.  It’s not long before the kids start to succumb to the virus one by one, with predictably gruesome results. 

Roth frequently pokes fun of the stupidity that infects many of the teenage characters that populate these types of movies.  Instead of telling the cops the truth about the man and their part in his death, the kids decide to cover up their crime.  Instead of leaving the cabin as soon as the virus infects one of their group, they stay.  Like the teens in many horror flicks, the kids don’t do what they should do (leave the cabin immediately!), and ultimately pay the price for it.  It’s also interesting to see how the kids completely misread the townsfolk they meet at the beginning of the film.  They misunderstand the old man in the shop, who they assume to be a redneck bigot.  They treat the other locals with contempt and sarcasm, and they refuse to help the infected man, who may have been saved if they had simply taken him to a doctor.  Roth’s film often vacillates between moments of quietly effective gruesomeness (an infected girl - Cerina Vincent - senselessly shaving her rotting legs) to scenes of bizarre humour (a local boy - Matthew Helms - who bites strangers and, at one point, starts performing some inexplicable kung fu moves!).  However, Roth doesn’t just ape the horror movies he loves.  His characters, like their teen horror antecedents, may be two dimensional creations and caricatures, but we do at least empathise with them, even if some of the humour is at their expense.  Although funny, I would have liked to have seen the film aim for some more chilling, truly terrifying moments, which would have required a more serious tone.  That said, this is still an enjoyable debut horror flick and it’ll be interesting to see if Roth can come up with something that really is scary next time.

Martyn Bamber
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