Cabin Fever

on September 12, 2003 by Chris Wiegand
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School's out and another vanload of teens takes another ill-advised trip to the woods in "Cabin Fever," writer-director Eli Roth's brisk and efficient homage to the 1970s horror cycle. Charting the fallout of a killer infection in a lonesome backwater, this unapologetic schlock-fest succeeds as a midnight special. Cult status seems assured.

Pity the film's fun-loving party monsters: They've barely had time to unpack and jump in the sack before a horrendous flesh-eating virus has mercilessly invaded their cozy log cabin. Within hours, said virus is racing through their bodies, resulting in rashes, gashes, projectile vomiting and the worst razor scene since "The Big Shave."

Like its predecessors, Roth's feature debut--which won much attention at the Toronto Film Festival in 2002--says some bold and pretty bleak things about human instinct. As the fever spreads, these teens grow increasingly suspicious of each other and are eager to oust, rather than assist, the infected among them.

A self-confessed horror nut, the director liberally borrows themes, motifs and styles from a glut of '70s horror staples including Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Steeped as it is in the legacy of such superior works, his feature--like the recent "Wrong Turn"--invites inevitable comparisons.

The equation does "Cabin Fever" few favors but it nevertheless remains a proficient debut. While there are plot holes en route, "Cabin Fever" gets by with the aid of great make-up work, memorable turns from the male leads--including Rider Strong of TV's "Boy Meets World" in a change-of-pace role--and a sophisticated visual design through which the picture gets progressively darker as the teens' troubles escalate.

Technical credits are uniformly high and the whole is driven by a wonderfully compelling score that combines Angelo Badalamenti's compositions with David Hess's music for "The Last House On The Left." Starring Jordan Ladd, Rider Strong, James DeBello, Cerina Vincent and Joey Kern. Directed by Eli Roth. Written by Eli Roth and Randy Pearlstein. Produced by Evan Astrowsky, Sam Froelich, Lauren Moews and Eli Roth. A Lions Gate release. Horror. Not yet rated. Running time: 94 min

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