Cabin Fever (2003)

Cabin Fever (2003)
(d: Eli Roth; s: Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, Joey Kern, Cerina Vincent, James DeBello)

The anticipation level for this movie has been raised incredibly high by all the true-blue horror fans out there hoping for something new, different, and perhaps even as good as some of the late-70s/early-80s horror movies that we all love. Unfortunately, if you're looking for the 21st Century equivalent of Last House on the Left or The Hills Have Eyes, you're not going to find it here. In fact, if you're looking for anything more than a passing homage to these classic "slasher" films, Cabin Fever isn't your best choice.

Not that it's a bad movie -- at least once you drop the hype and appreciate it for what it is. The best movie to compare it to, actually, is Robert Rodriguez' From Dusk 'Til Dawn, and I've probably just lost half my audience by even mentioning that movie. Much like FDTD, Cabin Fever starts out as an almost distinctly non-horror movie. The characters are not really your stereotypical bland teen fodder for the maniacal killer(s). Which is good, because the killer here has no personality - in fact, it's not even human.

We're introduced to them all in turn - Paul (the "nice guy" who wants to score with his life-long hottie friend), Karen (the aforementioned hottie friend), Jeff (the intellectual snob who likes nothing more than to drink beer and screw his girlfriend), Marcy (the aforementioned girlfriend), and Bert (who is the dumb buddy - drinking beer and shooting squirrels "because they're gay"). The movie takes some time to let us at least grow attached to them, and to set up the fact that they're really the last people you would expect to see in a horror movie -- they're all smart, funny, and pretty "together" people (not to mention "pretty" people). Bad stuff doesn't happen to people like this.

But it does here. And this is where the movie suddenly switches genres from the "End of School Celebration" movie into the "Horrifying Death And Dismemberment" movie. The fun begins when Bert accidentally shoots a guy in the woods (who we actually meet before the kids), and kicks into full gear when that very same guy shows up at the door to the kids' cabin, flesh dripping off of his face, begging for help. Needless to say, the kids aren't feeling helpful, and wind up driving him back into the woods (on fire, no less).

Slowly but surely each of the kids falls prey to their own psychological issues, as they attempt to deal with the fact that people around them are dying -- people that they care about. It's this aspect of the movie that's most interesting -- watching the friendships and relationships between the characters degrade as they do the one thing that they must to survive - save themselves. Screw everyone else -- in this movie it's every man (or woman) for themselves. On this point, the movie is dead-on.

In addition, there are definitely some excellent scenes in the movie - the makeup effects and score really make the pay-offs worth it. And the interactions between the kids (torn between looking for help and trying to save their own asses) and townsfolk are pretty priceless. Unfortunately, there are too many "WTF!?" moments in the movie for my taste. With most horror movies, you can accept these by writing it off as the stupidity of the characters, but here we're supposed to have five relatively intelligent people, and that makes the plot more complex than Roth wants it to be.

Ultimately, fans of the horror genre (particularly the "survival" horror genre) will be satisfied with the movie. It's nothing particularly revolutionary or "new", but it definitely fills in a gap that's long since been left empty. Predictable at times, outrageously funny at others, the movie is well-rounded, but really doesn't live ultimately live up to the hype that's been building over the past year.