Cabin Fever

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The plot in a nutshell
Five college students head off for a relaxing vacation from school, miles from civilization, at a quaint cabin. Okay, quaint might not be the right word - how's dilapidated? But there's no psycho killer, no monster in the forest, no rampaging beetles, or rabid dog, or feral cats. This time it's just your basic garden variety flesh eating virus. One by one, they succumb, seemingly unable to even get away from the cabin let alone back to a hospital. Calling the local villagers friendly would be like calling Paris Hilton chaste. Along the way we learn some valuable lessons, most importantly - drink nothing but beer.

Relatively Spoiler Free Thoughts
Cabin Fever was directed by Eli Roth, and he pulls a excessive Hitchcock, having a roll as a young camper who stumbles into the story for no apparent purpose beyond giving the director something else to do. His character's dog actually has a plot purpose, which goes to show just There should be a 'Directing Teen Horror Movies 101' class, and this guy should be forced to enroll.  Perhaps I'm being a little harsh...nah.

At least he starts out by the book - of the five teens, three are male and two are female. Of course, there can never be as many or more women than men, as it upsets the balance of testosterone. Of the women, one is virtuous and sweet, while the other is wild and sleazy. Both must be hot, just so teen boys will attend to see them topless. The three males must fit appropriate stereotypes as well - one should be big, stupid, and clearly dropped on his head one too many times as a child, one must be a stud puppy but with a completely self centered personality, and one is the sweet, slightly misunderstood and nerdish good guy. He has every one of these clichés covered perfectly.

Take this perfectly classic dysfunctional family of friends and stick them in a remote location. The woods are always scary, even in the daytime, and if there's a cabin, it doesn't get much better. Evil Dead used the formula to perfection, but even Joe Sixpack could make a scary home video at this location.

But what will provide the threat? Obviously, everything has been done to literal death. Ah, but a flesh eating virus - how creeptacular is that! Just consider the possible gore fest with something like that! What fun!  Roth supposedly got the idea while in Iceland, where he contracted some sort of less virulent strain of flesh eating bacteria.

So we have our characters, our location, and our threat, all text book. To screw up a set up like this actually requires effort. All that's necessary is to put together a basic premise that brings them all together, and play out this plot in a believable fashion. Unfortunately, that's where this film completely falls apart. Once the set up is in place, no one in this film does anything that makes sense, or even seems remotely possible. If you spend your entire time watching a film wondering "Why the hell did they do that?", you'll never manage to work your way into the movie. I'll get into all the gory (pun intended) details during the spoiler section below, but suffice to say that my first activity upon learning that I had a flesh eating virus wouldn't be to get into the tub and shave my legs.  And before you jump all over me, yes, this scene is based on Roth shaving his face while being sick and having layers of skin come off (or so the story goes).  But he wasn't in the middle of nowhere with four friends, struggling to survive - he was getting up in the morning to shave.

The director wasn't content with screwing up the basic premise with mind boggling stupid actions on the part of every main character, he figured he'd throw in another completely unrelated 'teenagers in the woods' plot line and have the backwater locals go all Deliverance on their ass. I don't consider this a spoiler, since it comes out of nowhere and makes absolutely no sense. It's as though it's part of another film, although he does try his best to staple it into the rest of the plot.

For the final death blow, take this mess of a film and make it a dark comedy. Or at least I think that's what the director believes he did. Dark comedies make fun of grim, horrific human behavior. They should be weird, but not stupid. Throwing around a bucket of gore while winking at the camera, and cracking a joke occasionally does not a dark comedy make. We get 100 minutes of fairly straight forward - if nonsensical - teen horror, and then the last 10 minutes turn into some sort of half hearted attempt at dark humor. It's as though there are two different films here, and there's no meshing the two together.

The acting is passable - the girls scream on cue, and the boys bluster for the title of chief gorilla convincingly - but they are asked to do such wildly implausible things that it's tough to really judge.

Rating - Skip It
Even the die hard horror fan can opt out on this one, unless you're really interested in seeing how NOT to make a film. Films like this do serve a purpose - they act as a warning to others. Have you ever watched American Idol? People audition for that show who clearly believe they have talent, but sound simply awful. That's what this film reminded me of. The director and writers (one of which is Roth) think they are witty, clever and hip. Simon needs to have a talk with them.

And lest you think I simply hate basic, simply B horror movies, I'll remind you that I thought Wrong Turn was at least worth watching, and Freddy vs. Jason was better than I had expected. I'm not sure how Cabin Fever managed to stay off the worst films of 2003 lists - if Ebert thought the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the worst movie of the year, he must have been asleep during Cabin Fever.

Spoiler Laden Thoughts
Ah where to begin...perhaps at the beginning...











We're never really told the source of the virus, but that's okay. No need really - the best threats are the shadowy ones. The dog gives it to the bum, the bum wanders over to the kids, yadda yadda yadda.

The start seems solid enough, until we find out later that the bum is the cousin of the lady who lives in a nearby cabin. It must be nearby, because the kids walk to it and back during one day. When the poor bastard first got sick, wouldn't he go to his cousin's? Why wander around acting lost? There's no indication that the disease effects your brain, so why would he not seek out help from the obvious person? Well, because they had to get sick of course! Creating implausible character actions to support the plot is indicative of poor writing, and runs rampant through this film.

So our sick loser gets shot at by one of the kids, and for some unknown reason, said kid decides not to mention it to anyone. Uh, you were talking to the guy within viewing distance of the cabin ("Hey, is that your cabin over there?"), but you thought you'd just ignore the whole encounter. That makes perfect sense to me! I mean, c'mon, who could have predicted that the guy would make it the 30 yards up to the cabin sometime that night?

Once our infected carrier gets to the cabin, the kids react rather poorly, and act out defensively. Of course, doing so will only make their situation worse, but I can give them that. Most people would react pretty poorly to a guy with half his skin falling off standing on your doorstep. But in the ensuing battle, somehow their truck ends up undriveable. How exactly? It never was very clear. Sure, the big doofus manages to shoot the truck once, but that's with a .22 caliber rifle. What's that one shot going to do? Hit a hose or a belt maybe, but certainly not pass through the engine block or transmission. What could he have hit - standing at the front of the truck and firing into the radiator - that would make the truck not even start? They also proceed to swing a bat at the bum, missing completely (he seemed suddenly spry for a guy that looked like hamburger) and bashing in the hood, fenders, windows, etc. But what has that got to do with driving the truck? Again, the truck had to be disabled to move the plot along, but the way they did it made no sense. Let's not forget that they do get the truck running again later - pretty much through magic, since there's never a single word of explanation about what's wrong with the truck or what they are doing to fix it - but suffered that curse of breaking down at just the wrong time.

Now that our young screw ups have managed to destroy the truck, they stand toe to toe with old hamburger face, fighting him off. Of course, going back inside the cabin and locking him out seemed to escape them, but since they were stupid enough to come out in the first place, I suppose that's not surprising. They managed to light him on fire - for future reference, waving a torch at a monster only works if he's Frankenstein - and he then goes off to conveniently die in their water supply. Now we get those long pauses on that glass of water...ooooo, she's going to drink...not she goes! They start getting sick, and yet, they never really seem to make much of an effort to save themselves.

At first of course, they aren't sick themselves. They just have a busted truck, and a sick guy they've torched running around the woods. So when they make their first foray out and find the woman at the next cabin, perhaps you can understand a little of their reluctance. They realize the guy is her cousin, and decide that rather than call a tow truck and get their butts out of there, they'll run off back to the cabin again. I wouldn't have done that - do you really want to continue to hang around until the police show up and try to explain to them why you're turning their fine local citizens into charcoal, and continue to risk getting whatever rather nasty disease is going around? But they seem to think it makes more sense to run off back to the cabin of imminent and painful death than ask for help.

It doesn't seem to change though even after they start getting sick. When the first girl, the pure and sweet, contracts the disease, do they send someone out to the highway to flag down a car and get help NOW? No. They force her to lay out in an old shed, and locking her in,
they wander off again to look for another cabin. Even when they find one, they manage to screw it up. In perhaps the only plausible scene in the film, our young hero (although at this point, after locking his supposed life long love in a nasty shed, you realize that none of this group is going to live - or deserves to) sees the lady of the cabin through a lighted window, naked and lounging seductively on the bed. I can guarantee any man, not just a horny 20 year old, would stop and his brain would lock for at least 30 seconds. That's just enough time for hubby to appear outside with a shot gun (how did he know someone was outside?) and scare our less than heroic hero away. Does he go back later, perhaps when the guy is calm? Nope. Does he try to find another cabin? Nope. He heads back to the cabin. They always head back to the cabin.

Every character in this film acts in completely ridiculous ways. I mentioned the leg shaving earlier. The attractive but sleazy girl, after seeing the disease ravage her friend, realizes she's contracted it as well. And what does she do? Runs a nice hot bath, and gets in to shave her legs. Is this really some sort of top priority? Is this even something people do to relax? No. It's simply another case of the director thinking how cool it would be to have her shaving her legs, and then reveal the gory sores oozing blood under the shaving cream. And yes, it's a real stomach turner. But it's also the stupidest thing I've seen in a movie in ages. Maybe they thought this represented black comedy - along with the stupid and yet trying so hard to be surreal scene with the deputy on the bike - but if that's the case, they have no concept of what makes a black comedy work.

To throw another stupid log onto the moron fire, which was burning out of control by this point, our studly but self centered character decides to run off by himself to avoid getting sick. Fine, that seems plausible. But does he try to walk his way out? Just get the hell out of there? No, he holes up for the night, and decides to COME BACK TO THE CABIN. What possible reason could he have for this? Well, it's so we can do a very poor homage to Night of the Living Dead, where our only survivor gets offed by the very people who should have saved him. It's not that it actually made any sense for him to do that, but they wanted that scene in the film, and figured you wouldn't notice the complete lack of logic. Not that the scene was worth having - by the third time he screamed "I made it!" I was screaming "Shoot him!".  And speaking of shooting, why the hell didn't they just shoot the damn dog?

That brings us back to the ridiculous ending and our warm hearted and caring locals. When one of the young but inflicted main characters does finally make it out to the local gas station, he's met by a group of gents who figure the best course of action is to simply kill those with the disease. They fail of course, allowing the director to up the body count by three, but eventually our one lone hero, although sick, makes it to a hospital. And what happens? We're supposed to believe that the hospital staff allow the sheriff to take him away, no reports, no CDC involvement, just take him away. The sheriff kills him of course (although we don't actually see it), and heads back to the cabin to clean things up. Burn the bodies, and we've got nothing to worry about. Except for that one kid, the not so bright but oh so obnoxious jock, who somehow manages to drag himself down to the river to pollute the local water supply. I say somehow, because the last time we saw him, he was laying dead in the cabin, having been shot by a sawed off shotgun at close range. But who's counting.  (A eagle eyed loyal reader pointed out to me tonight that it was actually our hero, dumped by the police, who was laying in the river.  That answers the question of how Bert managed to drag himself out of the cabin after being shot - buy why would the cops dump a diseased body, when they were torching the rest?  Ah, because it was the moron deputy who did it...)

I can tolerate a lot of stupidity, especially when it comes to horror movies. But the people involved with this film went the extra mile to make one of the ten worst films of last year. If I was counting, I'd put this baby right at the top.

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