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MOVIE REVIEWS

Cabin Fever (2003)


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Cabin Fever on DVD
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No matter how much I try, Sometimes I still have a hard time withstanding hype. After months and months of rave reviews and film fest coverage, I wanted to see Cabin Fever...badly! All the hype and raving had my expectations sky high, and it was all I could do to get them down to an objective level. So I finally saw Cabin Fever. Let's just say it's not exactly what I expected.

In their last hurrah after college, friends Jeff, Karen, Paul, Marcy and Bert embark on a vacation to a remote cabin to enjoy their last days of carefree sex and boozing before entering the real world. Then somebody gets sick. And I'm not talking about a cold (cough, cough). It's a lovely little disease called Necrotising Fasciitis, the flesh eating strep. It's real, and it devours over 1500 victims annually in the United States alone, releasing toxins in the body that can eat through a human in less than a day. That's gotta suck! But what a cool premise for a movie!

The premise is indeed cool, and ripe for a horror movie. Cabin Fever takes an original, and frighteningly real, concept and runs with it. It runs fast...in a whole lot of directions! It goes in so many directions; by the end of the movie you'll be amused, confused, horrified, and maybe even a little sick to your stomach. It's disappointing though, that none of these reactions are really pounded home to the audience.

My main problem with the film is that it tries to be everything, but fails to really excel at much of it. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy horror films infused with a bit of comedy. Movies like Evil Dead 2 and more recently, Undead, pull it off perfectly. Directory Eli Roth said, "I set out to make a film that would be a throwback to the late 70's/early 80's heyday of horror. This would not be a comedy, but instead a scary movie, one that would use humor to both release tension and draw people into the film." A good idea, but too much of that comedy killed a great deal of the tension that the film was trying to mount. It's when laughing spills over to scenes that aren't supposed to be funny...that's where Cabin Fever gets lost in the woods. Perhaps sitting at home, it would not be as apparent, but it was clear to me viewing it with a full audience. The laughs were almost non-stop for the second half of the movie. The film has some genuinely frightening scenes, but they just don't seem scary, and it directly correlates to the high humor content. A prime example of this is when the redneck kid with a mullet goes kung-fu crazy. While it may have had a place earlier in the movie, it completely killed the mood and tension of the film at the point.

James Debello does a great job playing the stereotypical "jock", Bert. He's the outlet for much of the comedy, and therefore gets most of the funny lines. Interestingly enough, Bert is the member of the group that's perceived as the unintelligent, immature one. Though when things go bad, he's really the only one that reacts realistically and intelligently. For me, that made him one of the two characters in which I actually cared whether or not his skin got eaten off or not. The other of the two is Paul (Rider Strong). He's the likeable guy that's been friends with Karen (Jordan Ladd) ever since they were kids, and this getaway is when he plans to finally tell her how he really feels about her. The arrogant Jeff (Joey Kern) and the nympho Marcy (Cerina Vincent) are less-than-meaty characters that are not particularly noteworthy. While none of the characters are exceedingly deep or unique, I have no beef with the acting. Roth and Randy Pearlstein gave them a clever screenplay to work with and it's all done very well. James Debello really deserves credit for a superb job and for standing out from the rest. Giuseppe Andrews also puts in an amusing performance as Deputy Winston, the dorky town cop who's more interested in parties than doing his job.

Cabin Fever had promised us gore, but didn't bring the house like I thought it would. There's a healthy dose of rotting flesh and some vomiting blood, but that's about it. I will say that knowing that the disease is real and that it's portrayed completely accurately makes the scenes quite unnerving and eye cringing. People that have actually contracted the disease attest to the reality of the make-up effects. So it's not the hardcore display I had anticipated but it was effective and made for some seat-writhing moments.

Despite it not living up to its potential, Cabin Fever still has a lot going for it. It's obvious that Eli Roth made "his" movie, not kowtowing to studios and really making it the way he wanted to...as strange as that vision may have been. It's a worthy addition to the genre in terms of its originality, a nice screenplay, and Eli Roth's directorial passion. The subject matter of the flesh-eating disease was very cool horror concept, though its originality was lost a bit amid the cookie-cutter stereotypes and the homage’s to various films, like Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead. While the movie didn't quite live up to the hype, I think the skills of Eli Roth are evident, and I see a very bright future in store for him. I, for one, look forward to his next effort.

DVD FEATURES

Only released in a widescreen (2.35:1 anamorphic) edition (screw full screen!), Cabin Fever sports a hologram cover over top the case. How limited are these hologram versions? Who knows, probably not very.

Commentaries are the bulk of extras included in the DVD, as there are five of them. And yes, I did listen to them all. The first one is director Eli Roth only. It's quite different than your average DVD commentary. It's not a shot-for-shot running account of the scenes on the screen, it's more like a verbal documentary on Roth's background in film and the entire grueling process of getting the film made. Roth's love for horror almost oozes right out of the DVD. Cabin Fever may not have been quite what I had hoped, but Roth's talent and passion are off the charts, and I strongly believe that history will place him among the great horror directors when his career is over. The wealth of filmmaking advice and knowledge in this commentary make it essential listening for any aspiring directors, producers, or even actors.

The second commentary is with the guys on the film. Rider Strong is absent, but that's because he has his own to himself. Jimmy Debello makes this by far the funniest of the five. He's hilarious, and some of the stories had me laughing my ass off. Roth also talks with Joey Kern, Giuseppe Andrews, and some other minor characters.all male.

The third commentary is with the girls (mainly Jordan Ladd and Cerina Vincent), and it's merely okay. The stories aren't as funny as the guys, but can still hold your interest. The best part was when Roth calls up his parents at the end to get their take on the film. The fourth is my least favorite, as Roth chats with the producers & cinematographer, co-writer Randy Pearlstein, some guys at Lions Gate, and his old NYU film professor. By the last commentary with Rider Strong, I was a bit burnt out on the film, but was the interesting nonetheless. The behind-the-scenes stuff took the form of the documentary "Beneath the Skin". At about 29 minutes long, it was a thorough dissection of the entire film, encompassing the script, the actors, music, effects, the killer dog, and the "look" of the film. They hit it all with interviews from pretty much everybody involved. Great stuff, and my only wish is that they could have gotten some stuff out of Giuseppe Andrews for it. He stole every scene he was in.

Probably the best extras on the DVD are the "Rotten Fruit" claymation shorts by Eli Roth and Noah Belson. The Rotten Fruit can only be described as a band of rude, strung-out, foul-mouthed British fruit who trash hotel rooms, murder their competition, and take violent action against those who steal their songs off the internet. Three shorts that run about 3 minutes each are included.

Guys, you can now talk your girlfriends or dates to watch a gory horror film with you. With Chick-Vision™, every scary scene will place a silhouette of a pair of hands on the screen to simulate covering your face, essentially blocking out the offending scene. Interesting addition. There's also a family friendly version of the film included. So if you're a concerned parent, you'll have no problem letting your kids watch Cabin Fever. Get the family together and enjoy...all 1 minute of the new cut. Clever. Last, and certainly least, is the audition tape of Dennis, the mullet kid. It's a display of his karate moves set to the Electric Six song "Gay Bar". Fairly pointless.

I wish they could have added some outtakes, but all in all, a solid DVD with some of the best commentary I've listened to. Easter eggs: In each page of the "scene selections", wait through two cycles of the clips and you'll be treated to more Deputy Winston. Pay attention to 19-21 in particular. Click the Lions Gate logo on the main screen for the trailer. And while watching the film, clicking ENTER at the beginning of the hospital scene will give you a "doggie" treat.


MOVIE RATING

(Out of 5)
DVD RATING

(Out of 5)
RELEASE DATES
September 12 2003
October 10 2003 (UK)
DVD RELEASE DATE
January 20 2004
WEBSITES
www.cabinfevermovie.com
REVIEW POSTED
September 13 2003


DEAD KEV'S ADVICE
It's a fun & bizarre movie that's worth some laughs and it certainly has its moments of brilliance, but it could have been so much more. Go see it for the laughs and have some bloody fun.
LESSONS LEARNED
1. When a member of your group gets afflicted with a flesh-eating disease, don't waste time. Run, walk, or drive to a hospital...quick.
2. When you spot a body floating in a reservoir and you're pressed for time...don't poke at it with a stick.
FAVORITE QUOTES
-"Pancakes!"


DIRECTOR
Eli Roth
WRITERS
Randy Pearlstein
Eli Roth
PRODUCERS
Eli Roth
Lauren Moews
Sam Froelich
Evan Astrowsky
CAST CHARACTER
Rider Strong Paul
Jordan Ladd Karen
Joey Kern Jeff
Cerina Vincent Marcy
James DeBello Bert
Arie Verveen The Hermit
Joe Adams The Killer
Giuseppe Andrews Deputy Winston
PRODUCTION COMPANY
Deer Path Films, Black Sky Entertainment, Down Home Entertainment, Tonic Films
STUDIO
Lions Gate Films
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
United States
RUNNING TIME MPAA RATING
94 mins R


INTERESTING TIDBITS
Cabin Fever was filmed on location in North Carolina at Camp Raven Knob, a Boy Scout Camp. Shooting took place in the Fall of 2001 and while the camp was not open as a summer camp, many school groups would attend the camp on day trips. The camp director would bring groups of kids by the set several times a day, who invariably always showed up when one of the actors was covered head to toe in blood, dying a horrible, obscenity-laden death.
Actor Robert Harris, who plays Old Man Cadwell, makes his film debut in Cabin Fever at age 72, after many years in the theater. As a young child, Robert entertained confederate troops with his singing and dancing at a retirement home in Georgia. He claims this was the original U.S.O. tour.
Survivors of the flesh-eating virus have seen the special effects make-up in the film and maintain that it's 100% accurate.
In the hospital scene, producer Sam Froelich plays Doctor #2, whose coat reads "Dr. P. Frink" in homage to the character Professor Frink on The Simpsons. The Simpsons is a favorite show of Sam Froelich and Eli Roth.
Cabin Fever was filmed in 24 days, with the crew shooting anywhere from 25-40 setups a day. Most of these shots involved special effects, make-up and blood. Prior to Cabin Fever, the most setups cinematographer Scott Kevan had ever done was 14 in one day.
Over 1,500 people annually contract the flesh eating strep, narcotizing fasciitis in the United States alone. In August of 2002, there were three separate cases of fishermen in Massachusetts, who contracted fotobacterum damsela, a fast and more deadly form of the flesh-eating virus that lives in the water. No one knows how the viruses are contracted, nor how they can eat through your body in less than a day.
Cabin Fever is the directorial debut of Eli Roth, a protégé of filmmaker David Lynch.
MEDIA
Official Trailer
AROUND THE WEB
Interviews with Eli Roth -About.com & Creature Corner
Interviews with Rider Strong - IGN.com & Diabolical Dominion
Interview with Jordan Ladd - The Movie Insider
Interview with Joey Kerns - About.com
Interview with Cerina Vincent - About.com


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