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Cabin Fever

To many fans of the horror genre, Eli Roth arrived on the scene in 2003 a blood-splattered hero, wielding the "next great thing" in canisters of film stock. Cabin Fever was heralded as a return to the good old days, before the Wes Cravens of the world turned this beloved genre into something more for viewers of MTV than readers of Fangoria. And to a certain extent, the fanboy-who-made-it accomplished that, even if the over-reliance on influence betrays any real sense that a quality filmmaker has arrived to breathe new life into the world of horror. Cabin Fever was touted for its high level of gore, and it certainly delivers enough to make the sturdiest viewer squirm a little (it seems Roth would not be satisfied if at least some of the viewers didn't leave the auditorium in a rush to the restrooms). The film starts with an exploding dog, and from there we meet the cast — a typical collection of horny college friends going to the mountains for a week of debauchery. When a local hermit shows up at their cabin, his skin rotting and bloody from some awful disease, things go downhill fast. One by one the friends are infected, and their own fear becomes the enemy as they overreact in typical fashion, making things much worse than necessary. The cast is solid, if unspectacular. Rider Strong does just enough the carry the film, but when he's asked to become somewhat of a tough guy in the final act, things get a tad absurd. James DeBello and Joey Kern bring some comic relief, while Jordan Ladd and Cerina Vincent fill out the genre's gratuitous-sex requirement. In fact, if anything hearkens back to days of yore, it's the amount of skin shown, and in fact is used to provide one of the truly original scenes in the film, when Paul (Strong) thinks he's finally getting to third base with Karen (Ladd), only to be in for a nasty surprise. Deputy Winston is a great character, almost Lynch-ian in his own way — a modern Deputy Andy, it's not hard to imagine the jazzy "Twin Peaks" number playing when he first appears on the screen. And then, of course, there is Dennis, the seemingly autistic kung fu master who craves pancakes. In addition to the hypochondria-inducing main plot, Dennis and his family provide the other source of fear, playing the "creepy hillbilly" card. The effects, with the exception of an absurd accident involving a deer, are stellar — poor Ladd decays on screen, reducing the pretty girl to a bloody mess. The score, composed by Nathan Barr, is a real strong point. Beginning with several themes penned by Angelo Badalamenti, layered with eerie noise and creepy sound effects, the right amount of tension is present but never over bearing. Cabin Fever is a solid first entry, entertaining and disgusting (in that good way), and Eli Roth seems poised to become a force in genre filmmaking. It may simply be a matter of waiting to see if he can branch out past his influences and add something truly new to the horror canon. Lion's Gate presents Cabin Fever in a nice anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), although the grainy cinematography robs the film somewhat of the benefits. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio sounds great, with all the squishing and splattering of blood coming through clearly. There are a whopping five commentaries here — fans may be in for a treat, but there's only so many times one can hear "And here's the time when I had blood all over me!" Along with a "making-of" spot, the family-friendly version of the movie (a whopping two minutes long), and the "Chick-Vision" version (in which hands fill the screen during scary moments), there is also a set of short films made by Roth, "The Rotten Fruit." Somewhere between "Mad TV" and SNL's "TV Funhouse," they're good for a laugh. And, of course, the "Pancakes!" short gives us a display of Dennis' fierce kung-fu talent. Keep-case.
—Scott Anderson

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