Five kids looking to spend a post-grad vacation in the woods find themselves trying to fend off a deadly flesh-eating virus and the backwoods bumpkins trying to protect their own. A hit at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever has been dismissed by some as a mere Evil Dead knock-off. But this is a specious claim considering that one of the film’s many pleasures is how it manages to transcend its many shout-outs. The film is clearly indebted to the Sam Raimi whackathon, but it also tips its hat to numerous Lynchian anti-suburbia idylls and Wes Craven’s skanky cautionary tale The Last House on the Left. (Within the original score by Nathan Barr and the ever-subversive Angelo Badalamenti are buried David Hess’s creepy folk songs from the Craven film.) As an AIDS parable, the film appears to arrive a good 10 years too late, but Roth has fun encoding his clear-eyed political polemic in Southern-fried slapstick. The horror genre is often seen as a conservative one, but this is a misnomer of sorts. Some of the best films in the genre (Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) target rather than coddle conservative hang-ups. The inhospitable teens in Cabin Fever kill a hermit (Arie Verveen) infected with the film’s mysterious virus. “He asked us for our help. We set him on fire,” says one teen, failing to find a context for their violence. When the man’s corpse falls into a nearby reservoir, he infects the local drinking water the teens subsequently drink. The virginal Paul (Rider Strong) and his friends must suffer through a delirious and ironic comedy of errors that frustrates their attempts to flee their cabin prison after Karen (Jordon Ladd) is infected. The film’s cabin fever is a contagious one and it perpetuates a vicious political cycle. These teens aren’t punished for the pot they smoke or the unsafe sex they partake in, but for the conservative political ends they serve: themselves. Of course, the locals are no different. A triumvirate of yokels (a father, a son, a holy spirit?) carrying a mysterious box descends upon the teens as if they were about to conduct an exorcism. “This ain’t Christian,” observes one man as he approaches the pagan site. Through it all, it’s difficult not to think of a hypocritical, self-righteous Reagan administration trying to contain the AIDS virus in the early ‘80s (notice the duplicitous and repeated use of the word “gay” throughout the film). Feverish political and religious allegories aside, audiences will likely be drawn more to the film’s liberal bloodletting. Indeed, if the film’s scares don’t shock you, then you’re sure to catch its razor-sharp wit.
- Eli Roth
- Ron Pearlstein, Eli Roth
- Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, Joey Kern, Cerina Vincent, James DeBello, Arie Verveen, Giuseppe Andrews, Richard Boone, Robert Harris, Matthew Helms
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