Cabin Fever was Eli Roth’s first film and it was released by Lion’s Gate in 1993 on a super low budget of $1.5 million. Initially the film was passed over repeatedly for several reasons, the chief one being that horror movies at the time were seen as sink holes for the studios. After the success of Scream horror was back in but Roth still had a hard time as his homage to 70’s horror was not enough like Scream to attract attention. Roth also insisted on not trimming back on his violence and sex scenes and there is a scene where the “N” word is used, though it winds up being a setup for a closing gag that I felt was pretty clever, mocking the uptight sensibilities of the most likely predominantly white audiences. Lion’s Gate took a chance and it wound up being their biggest money maker for 1993 making almost $34 million.
There is really a lot of hype, good and bad, about this film. It is highly praised by one of my favorite sites Bloody Disgusting (which is where I “borrowed” the skull image I use for my rating system) and I tend to trust them. It has been praised by Tarantino and Peter Jackson and to get to the point it is a fairly good horror film and a return to doing the old tried but true “teenagers on a camping trip dies off one by one” theme done up in a more serious fashion. It is old and tired formula and there is so much “teenager vs. slasher/monster” crap out there being done in hands of inept film makers and some of the worst movies ever have been created using this simple, but effective, theme. Wait until my review of the horrible Spiker appears shortly. After I am able to go back and finish it. However the teenager/slasher theme is malleable and functional and, in the right hands, it can be used effectively. Roth does just that in this well directed, scored, shot and acted horror-comedy film.
We have all the standard teenage characters here: the party hard frat boy, the too handsome lover boy, the nice guy who never gets laid, the good girl and the slut. They are celebrating the end of finals week and head off to an isolated cabin in the woods to drink beer and have sex. Early on we are introduced to some of the locals who all seem to be a cross between the hicks in Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance. Frat boy Bert (James DeBello) has no girlfriend so he opts to walk around with a rifle and shoot squirrels. While recklessly firing his rifle he slightly wounds a hermit who is sick and feverish. Bert freaks out and leaves him in the woods. Later the gang is drinking around the campfire and being told of the story of the bowling alley massacre by good guy Paul (Rider Strong). The group is startled by the appearance of stoner “Grim” (Eli Roth) and his angry dog Mambo. Later while in the cabin waiting for Grim to return with some weed the wounded hermit appears. He is obviously sick with something and when he recognizes Bert a conflict develops that eventually results in the hermit being accidentally set on fire. The group of college partiers is distraught now and has to decide what to do. They are concerned as well with catching the bloody contagion that the hermit spat up all over their truck.
It is revealed that the water supply is contaminated and the virus is spread by drinking the tap water from the reservoir. They are visited by a strange local Deputy Winston (Giuseppe Andrews) who is more concerned with partying than information on the dead hermit or the blood covered truck. Good girl (read sexy, hot tease) Karen (Jordon Ladd) is the first to show signs of infection after frustrated Paul gropes between her legs while she is passed out. He pulls his fingers out to find them covered with more than just love juice. Panic sets in and Karen is quarantined in a shed where she deteriorates rapidly. The gang becomes paranoid and later a panicky Bert returns to the grocery store to seek help from the hillbillies there. Instead he incites the wrath of the locals when the storekeeper’s autistic son with the weirdest hair in the world the screams “pancakes” and does some ninja flips then bites his hand. The locals seem aware of the virus and feel the outsiders have now infected one of their own and decide to go to the cabin to take care of the infected city kids.
During that time pretty boy Jeff (Joey Kern) has high tailed it off on his own, taking all the beer which is all he has been drinking ergo he is contagion free. In his absence the always horny Marcy (Cerina Vincent) has tension relieving sex with Paul, after which he washes off his seldom used manhood with Listerine. She is infected by now and for some reason logical only in horror flicks decides to keep shaving her leg long after gobs of flesh have begun to peel of. Flesh eating viruses and razors obviously make a bad combination. Paul discovers the source f the infection when he later finds the hermit in the reservoir in a state of rancid decomposition. His luck turns really bad when he falls into the slimy water and lands right on top of the rotted hermit. The pace picks up and Marcy is eaten by the savage Mambo (played by a police dog who was so hard to manage none of the actors would work next to it) who is killed by Paul using the rifle. But he earlier caught Mambo munching on Karen, who is now all rotted but still alive. Paul decides that’s what shovels are made for and beats her over her head about ten times. I counted.
The hillbillies return and kill off Bert but are killed off in turn by Paul who has gone completely over the edge by now. He later crashes a party with Deputy Winston and his friends and pisses off the deputy for ruining their good time. this deputy loves a good party I gather. After Paul winds up in the local hospital where the doctor on duty decides he is terminal and contagious Deputy Winston maybe shoots him first (I am not sure) then dumps his body into the local river, where happy looking kids are filling up their water cooler. Jeff returns to the cabin and is horrified by what he sees there, but shock turns to joy when he relieves he has made it. While shouting out in exuberance he is shot to pieces by the local fuzz and thrown on a heap of bodies and burned. The film ends with a truck driving away to deliver bottles of the local natural spring water to stores and markets and the resolution t the "N" word gag that I guarantee will make you laugh. And how often can guilt ridden white folk laugh at the word nigger anymore?
The violence and sex scenes in the film are not all they are hyped up to be. Certainly tamer than Roth’s Hostel films that were to follow. But the movie is still very watchable and is creepy and tense at times while adding some doses of comedy here and there as well. I would not have minded more extreme violence and more sex, but it is certainly a notch above the wave of PG-13 horror films that have swamped movie houses and direct to DVD releases since Scream. I can easily give it 3 1/2 skulls and had it been put together just a little better it would have gotten 4 skulls. But for a movie made on a mere $1.5 million it delivers the virus infected goods.