Peter Jackson has hailed “Cabin Fever” as “brilliant.” And those of us with an unquestioned love of gore will likely embrace Eli North’s movie with the same giddy enthusiasm. In essence, his movie isn’t a far cry from Jackson’s own “Dead Alive” (1992)—his whacked-out horror spoof about humans who become ravenous zombies after being bitten by a satanic monkey. A deliriously unhinged nuthouse of a movie, “Dead Alive” makes a terrific double bill with Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead 2” (1987), with everybody’s cult hero, Bruce Campbell, trapped inside a cabin, gamely mowing down zombies of his own. North retains the cabin setting of Raimi’s movie but replaces Jackson’s monkey with a just-as-fearsome flesh-eating virus, unleashing it among a bunch of bungling teenagers trapped in the deep woods. In that sense, “Fever” also harkens back to “Friday the 13th” and the whole spate of “teensploitation” horror flicks that followed in the wake of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” on through the mid-80s to mid-90s heyday of Wes Craven, by way of the biological gross-out of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982).
“Cabin Fever” is a rollicking nostalgia ride through that hallowed tradition of gore flicks that holds our childhood memories in such thrall. North and co-writer Randy Pearlstein have the uncanny talent for weaving into their narrative every cliché, plot device and nuance from the horror cannon of the last 25-or-so years. As an homage, it’s energetically made, enjoyable while it lasts, but never breaking new ground or leaving behind much of an imprint.
Five horny, party-hardy co-eds take off for a week of sex, squirrel hunting and campfire stories at a secluded cabin. When a local hobo crashes their party, raving and stumbling in the throes of what is clearly an evil virus, things heat up. One-by-one, they begin to fall ill, panic and paranoia set in, and, in their blundering efforts to seek help, they only turn the already-freakish locals against them. The pathology of this virus isn’t clear other than it turns you into a raving lunatic and your skin into hideous bacon strips. North, in that sense, has commandeered the makings of crackerjack medical horror, with its slow-burn dread, then grafted it onto far less interesting teen-scream material.
Scott Kevan’s cinematography and Nathan Barr’s score, with help from David Lynch veteran Angelo Badalamenti, are effectively eerie and evocative. On their lead, North builds a genuine sense of creepiness and foreboding. Certainly, “Fever” packs its share of jolts and none-too-shabby black humor, both worthy of a place alongside Romero. But after all the noise dies down and “Fever” cools, resolving itself as predicably as any “Elm Street” installment, what do we have? A remembrance of past frights, I guess, but as a horror yarn in its own right, it just bleeds into the background.
Directed by: Eli Roth
Written by: Eli Roth, Randy Pearlstein
Cast: Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, James DeBello, Cerina Vincent, Joey Kern