At first glance Cabin Fever may seem to be just another flick of teen slasher film type
but there are some interesting
variations on a theme in Cabin Fever
A well know ‘cash cow’ for the Hollywood studios has typically been the teen slasher flick. You know the genre, a group of teens or early twenty-somethings, decide to vacation in a remote cabin near a scenic lake. As the revelries progress the kids are brutally murdered, one by one, until only the pretty but virtuous girl remains. At first glance Cabin Fever may seem to be just another flick of this type but there are some interesting variations on a theme here. First and foremost, the monster is internalized, it is not some deformed brute with a large sharp object, it is a tiny bacteria. Yes, a flesh eating bacterium finally found a suitable agent and has become a movie star. This was with out a doubt upsetting news to the Hollywood stunt men but the special effects make-up people knew they would have a lot of work.
As Cabin Fever opens a man that obviously lives in the woods finds that his dog has been hollowed out, a foreboding glimpse of things to come. We switch to a scene of the kids in question at the end of finals, starting out for their vacation away from school. The group consists of the standard genre stereotypes; there is the oversexed couple Jeff (Joey Kern) and his girlfriend Marcy (Cerina Vincent). No sooner do they get to the beautiful location than hit the sheets. Next there is the nice guy, Paul (Rider Strong), hopelessly in love with Karen (Joran Ladd), a girl that flirts with every guy but him. Of course there has to be the requisite obnoxious friend, represented here by Bert (James DeBello), who’s idea of fun is drinking a lot of beer and killing squirrels. Since the source of the terror that ensues comes from within rather than being external, the fear that is invoked is a bit more realistic than the genre usually manages. After all, we hear of a lot more cases of horrible diseases now then news reports of a large man in a hockey mask wielding a machete. Think about that next time you are on the bus and the person next to you coughs. The natural allegory here is one to AIDS. The initial reaction of the group is to completely isolate infected their infected friends, taking this to the point of locking the victim away. While much of this theme was more relevant some twenty years ago there is still enough truth to it remaining today to support the premise. The behavior exhibited by this group is pure formula, almost completely predictable.
Jordan Ladd carries the role of Karen, the pretty blond of Cabin Fever. I have literally been a fan of her family for several decades now, first with her grandfather Alan, then her mother Cheryl (the object of crushes for many of my generation during their teen years). Ladd plays Karen a bit tougher than most that have had this type of role. Karen curses, smokes and teases the boy that is hopelessly in love with her. Usually this part is played as a contrast of virtue amidst the carnal oriented friends. This seems to be a side effect of the more rapid maturing teens today undergo. Strong is used to playing the best friend as he did for many years on the television show Boy Meets World. Here he gets a chance to take center stage and he does so successfully. He exhibits the right amount of angst tempered with unrequited love. Of course in any horror flick you have to break things up with a few comic scenes, handled here by the oafish character of Bert portrayed by DeBello. In many scenes he takes his character a bit too over the top, a bit too unlikable. The desire to kill small animals was a cheap shot; it distanced the character too much from the audience instead of providing someone we can identify with to some degree. The lustful parts presented by Vincent and Kern mostly appear to serve to ensure a strong ‘R’ rating, a sure way to get the teen audience.
Cabin Fever is the freshmen effort for writer/director Eli Roth. While not bad for a first outing in the boss’s chair there is some room for improvement. As mentioned above there is little in the way of characters the audience can identify with. The kids here are self-centered and border on obnoxious. Strong had the closest thing to a nice guy in the group. The all important pacing was well done. The pay off is alluded to but not to the point that you are so tired of it that the ending is a relief, finally it’s over. Considering Cabin Fever was produced on a very small budget it comes across well. It combines some aspects of the hit and run independent style with Hollywood studio production. The camera angles are somewhat mundane. Roth should research some of the greats to see how using unusual angles can heighten the audience reaction. Roth does make good use of the full frame. Cabin Fever will lose a lot when cropped to 4:3 for cable. He has an eye for composition that makes me anxious to see his next opus.
The disc shows that the cast and crew must have had fun making Cabin Fever. This is really shown in the choice of extras. There is a ‘family friendly’ version presented, with all the sex and violence cut up it is a little more than 30 seconds in length. Then there is the ‘chick version’ where grey hands cover the scene during the intense scenes, a strange but novel feature. There are four different commentary tracks provided. The first is a solo track by Roth while the others combine variations of cast and crew. The cast commentary was a bit on the silly side with such comments as the director’s ire when he found out that Ladd refused nudity for his film but appear sans clothing in her very next film. It added little to the understanding of Cabin Fever at hand. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video did exhibit some compression artifacts and edge problems, especially in scenes that contrasted light and dark. The Dolby 5.1 did not make the best use of the surround speakers. There where some jolts for effect but it could have been mastered better. While not a classic in any sense, Cabin Fever makes a better than average beer and pizza flick for a Saturday afternoon.Review by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com
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