Cabin Fever is one weird little movie, but it's also one I've got a lot of nostalgia for, so it makes it onto this list. As a film it is wildly uneven, alternating between hopeless cynicism and cartoonish absurdity at the drop of a hat with some truly weird set pieces that seem thrown into the film because the director thought they looked cool. It's not a movie I'd say is for everyone, nor is it one I would recommend everyone has to see right away. On the other hand, it’s a fun, silly, gory little film that often achieves poignancy when it isn’t doing its best to make you throw up.
Cabin Fever starts out like a generic teen summer movie as five college kids rent an isolated cabin in the middle of the wilderness. In fact, it goes on for so long as a college-kid summer movie that after a while you almost forget that the film started out by watching a hobo catch the flesh-eating virus from his dog (well, half a dog). While many have criticized the slow-burn of a beginning, I have always appreciated the emotional punch it added as we are given more time to get to know these people. However, as this is still a horror film, eventually the disease-ridden hobo has to stumble back into the picture, and though the kids fight him off, they are soon stuck in the middle of nowhere watching as each of them is taken over by the virus one by one. When the locals get involved, things go from bad to worse, and the true colors of the surviving kids are shown as they are forced to fight for their life.
Cabin Fever is a patchwork quilt of a film, taking references and cues from horror classics ranging from The Evil Dead to The Thing to Dawn of the Dead and even The Shining. First-time director Eli Roth is a true genre fan, instilling the film with his love for horror and bodily fluids of every color. Although the plotting can be slow at points, this kind of pacing, combined with the ethereal soundtrack, creates a surreal film that builds dread as it disgusts. The makeup effects are suitably grotesque, especially given how much they are based in reality, and lead to some of the most distinct and notorious gross-out scenes in recent movie history (leg-shaving anyone?). The lead actors are alternately appealing and annoying, making them feel like pretty much everyone you knew back in college, and while you may cheer when some of them die, some of them feel truly tragic.
This movie’s got a weird little story of personal nostalgia for me. As I said earlier, I was kind of a sheltered kid, even going into my early college years. Well, during my first year of college my dad went on a vacation for two weeks leaving me home alone (gasp!). Well, during that time, the rebel without a clue that I was, I went out to see Cabin Fever when it was first out in theaters. I loved it, I had a great (albeit weird) time with it, and… I stopped drinking tap water for about 3 days because I had an overactive imagination and tainted tap water is a major plot point in the movie. The rational part of my brain knew that this was just a movie and I had nothing to fear, but being alone combined with this wildly graphic movie just gave me a real case of the heebie-jeebies for a few days.
So, yeah, fun movie.
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-- Matt Carter
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