One day a young up and coming director by the name of Eli Roth went for a trip up to Iceland for a w eek or so and caught a nasty case of trench foot. As he picked at the flaking skin on his soles, an idea struck him. Yes....a plan. What we got from this skin affliction getting filtered through the mind of Mr. Roth was Cabin Fever, an attempt to return to the grisly, gratuitous “roots” of horror from the 1980's. The only part he was missing was good ideas. Let's pick at this festering little flick and see if anything worthwhile spurts out.
To this movie's initial credit, the opening titles are pretty well done. Arguably the scariest part of the movie is watching the white background of the opening credits gradually tint yellow and develop brownish patches, which slowly colour into a rotten, gory dark red. It's an understated and disturbing tone setter that braces you for what is to come.
We delve into some verdant rural landscapes, while some scruffy, Neil Gaiman looking dude wanders around the woods with a rabbit, checking on his sleeping dog. His attempts to wake the animal prove fruitless when it proves to have been reduced to a pile of blood jello with a fur coat on by some unknown force. He gets squirted in the face by a little squidge of gore, and things get nasty.
We cut to our....”protagonists” for the evening, a group of five irresponsible college kids on their way to an old cabin in the woods. Because that always pans out well for these people.
Okay, maybe this is only because I was (and still am) a hideous shut-in and bitter, misanthropic geek during my college years, but I don't really see the appeal of shipping out to some spooky cabin in the middle of nowhere, especially at college age. There's just five of you, what are you going to do up there, get drunk and wander around a bit? I can do that at home, without running the risk of being horrifically killed by backwoods psychopaths/eldritch demons/redneck zombies/incestuous cults. I clearly don't get it.
These five morsels are headed out to their cabin while piled into a jeep, blaring out shitty, early 2000's Nu Metal and generally making me pray for their swift deaths with every line they utter.
The gang stops at a general store for food and beer, while UnshavenDouche chats up a seemingly catatonic kid named Dennis on the front step, who proceeds to bite his hand. Welcome to Missouri. The cascading blonde EuroDouche Jeff threatens lawsuit to the boy's father and follows his girlfriend, Marcy, inside. While buying their things, the aging yokel behind the counter attempts to warn them about something, but gets distracted by their poking around. The gang quickly bails after the old man casually states that the rifle on the wall behind him is “Fer n***ers”. Classy.
They get to the exact same cabin that exists in every horror movie and start poking around, swiftly finding their niches: Jeff and Marcy head off to loudly and obnoxiously pork, while Unshaven Paul heads out to get sweet on Karen, the other lady person on this trip. Our fifth member: Fratdouche, just sort of drunkenly wanders around with a varmint rifle looking for something to shoot. He finally manages, plugging Scruffy Neil Gaiman from earlier, who now looks very sick indeed. God, everyone is so unsavory in this film, including the young lovers Paul and Karen. He is dancing around the whole “do you like me?” question during a raft-borne tanning session while Karen is clearly laying down the landing lights for him, then they kiss and she slips into the water. Dude, this isn't highschool. Do something!
Meanwhile, Fred Durst over here is feeling pretty apologetic over shooting Neil, until the guy actually was the gal to ask for help, at which point the walking beer keg panics, threatens to shoot him and scares him off, not even bothering to tell any of his friends what happened. I cannot wait to see him melt.
That night, Paul's attempt at an out of nowhere creepy story that will not factor into the plot again gets interrupted when....okay.
A dog startles them all, and his owner runs in. A fella by the name of Grimm, who quickly paints himself as an impenetrable tool by unironically using the word “Face!” as a burn. This is Eli Roth cameoing in his own film as some wandering stoner who stumbles into the plot, wearing a soul patch that almost reaches his knees and bearing a huge bag of pot as a piece offering. I swear, this character is so vividly separate from the action and so out of left field, I had to pause the movie and give myself time to recover, if only from getting a sight of that facial hair.
After a brief bit of pointless jibber jabber, Grimm wanders off to whatever ethereal plane spawned him, Burt takes a bet that he will drink nothing but beer the entire time he's up there, and the group heads inside to settle down before going to bed. A knock at the door reveals that Infected Gaiman from earlier has found them, begging for help. The fratboy, who's name is Burt, takes this as a chance to act like an incurable ass once again, slamming the door in his face. He screams that they should not come into contact with the clearly infected and badly ill man, until they all hear him breaking into their jeep. So I get to watch five unpleasant college kids gang up on a sick and desperate man, beating him with sticks in an attempt to force him out of the car he is trying to start without physically touching him, inadvertently shooting up their own vehicle (again, by way of Burt) and finally waving a torch in his face like he's Frankenstein's Monster, all while he violently hemorrhages blood out of his mouth. Marcy's attempt to ward him off with blasts of hairspray intersects with Paul's torch and the two great tastes come together into a makeshift flamethrower, lighting the poor bastard on fire. I suppose they just decide to keep on it, until he's completely immolated and wanders off screaming. Our heroes.
The gang files back inside, troubled by what they saw and sleeping fitfully, figuring that there is nothing they could do for him at this point. By the next morning, Jeff and Marcy's relationship had become badly strained, Paul is trying to comfort a hysterical Karen and Burt is sulking in a corner, burning marshmallows. As Marcy leaves the house to get some air, a pan reveals that the sick man from last night collapsed into the nearby reservoir, which supplies the tap water to the cabin...
I suppose that these people have never heard of filters, fluoridation or any sort of methods for making the drinking water potable.
Paul pours himself a glass of that very same deadly water and heads back to consoling Karen, who has the best line in the film as she sums up events so far:
“That guy asked for our help. We lit him on fire”
She promptly takes the water offered to her by Paul and takes a big, fateful gulp.
Meanwhile, Burt and Jeff have headed out on foot to try and find a mechanic that can look at their car, meeting up with a local woman “slaughtering” what is very clearly a pig corpse with a few overdubbed squeals. C'mon, you couldn't at least get a guy to wiggle it a little?
The lady is in a bad mood, considering that her hog seems to also be infected with whatever is going around and she doesn't seem to keen on helping these two strangers who just showed up. She actually does prove to be amicable, offering to call up a friend, until Jeff notices a picture on the counter coincide with the woman talking about a missing family member. It seems that the guy they burninated the night before was actually the woman's cousin? Or possibly husband? Or possibly both. The boys skedaddle before she figures anything out and run into Marcy, cheap jump-scaring into her line of sight.
Back at the cabin, a cop has checked in to the place about the disturbance last night. This is Deputy Olsen, and awkward, uncomfortable chunk of comic relief in this movie that serves to ask about Paul's tendency to party and promising to help them out with a tow truck by tomorrow. The way he seems to try to make friends with Paul and invite himself to any future shenanigans they get into, or otherwise talk about the history he has in bedding women at parties comes off as more atonally silly and a bit unsuiting to the rest of the film. There is a better place for a character like this, but we'll get into that later. But seriously, this guy really wants to party.
Burt and Jeff start to clean the car of blood, hoping to clear it of contaminants. They get briefly harassed by Grimm's dog, who shows up without his master and looking a lot more aggressive. The work continues until sundown, until we move back inside with these very awkward fades to black that happen at multiple points through the film. Back inside, Paul has been sharing a bed with Karen, who has started to complain of nausea and discomfort. He decides to feel her up a bit, but when his fingers get too far south of the border, they come up very bloody.
I think this is one of those rare times where you find yourself really hoping that your girlfriend is just on her cycle right now. Not the case, as large bloody lesions have started to open on her inner thigh. Paul freaks out, Burt hears and ONCE AGAIN begins to scream at everyone in the room and they decide that they cannot have a sick Karen in the cabin with the rest of them and banish her to the nearby workshed. Because that worked great when you did it to Wilford Brimley in The Thing. At the very least they give her a blanket and mattress, and Marcy leaves her some food.
Paul's attempt to find help fails AGAIN when he peeps in on a woman at a nearby farmhouse, only to be threatened off the property by her irate husband. If only he could try not to be a creepy dick.
Back at the cabin, everyone is yelling at each other all over again as Jeff cusses out his girlfriend, Marcy weeps in a corner and Burt just generally acts like an absolute jackass. We are at least vindicated when he “Loses the bet” and takes a big swig of water, while Marcy sips a cup of tea...
The next morning, Burt has gotten the jeep running, but is starting to feel the effects of the virus, coughing up blood and noticing a growing rash on his stomach. The disease is frequently compared to catching an STD throughout the film, with freshly infected characters noticing the warning signs popping up around their groin. He's on edge when Grimm's dog shows up again, still barking away and seemingly interested in all the that blood that everyone is shedding.
The gang tries to transport Karen to the car, but her legs give out on her and she starts to vomit blood. Jeff yells about not sharing the car with such a violently ill person, Paul yells at Jeff, Burt yells at both of them because he wants to get moving and we're off again. I understand the desire to paint growing levels of hysteria and paranoia between characters as a situation grows more and more dire, but the problem is that everyone escalates to shouting matches so quickly over essentially nothing, and none of the characters ever seemed like really good friends to begin with, so there is no sense of social degeneration. We're just watching dicks being dicks.
The latest group meeting ends with Karen back in the shed and Burt driving off in a rage, saying that he'll bring back a doctor. Jeff has decided to just bail as well. He grabs two six-packs and fucks off into the woods, yelling one last handful of insults over his shoulder as he leaves to go be a bad guy in Die Hard. Marcy is consumed with despair at this point, saying fatalistic things like “We're all gonna die” or “It's like being on an airplane you know is going to crash” or “Might as well bone”.....
Wait, what?Paul actually takes her up on that last offer, quickly retreating to a bedroom so they can bump uglies.
Okay, this sex scene is completely out of nowhere. The whole “Might as well go out with a bang” thing makes some semblance of sense, but the speed at which these two previously barely in contact characters decide to nail each other is staggering. Because watching your crush vomit up blood while the skin falls off her legs is such a turn on. The sex scene is even interspersed with shots of Karen lying in the shed, struggling to breathe. Also, I feel a need to point out the simple fact these two are breaking the Number #1 Horror Movie Survival Rule: Never have Sex. Did nobody watch Scream? These two fornicators even decide to ride bareback, assuring that Paul gets his fair share of the virus.
While Paul attempts to wash his genitals with Listerine afterwords (That'll help), a very sick Burt heads back to the general store and it's time for everyone's favorite scene.
The Pancakes kid has lived in minor infamy for a number of years, all based on the one scene in this film when Dennis, the loopy kid from earlier, starts screaming “Pancakes!” at Burt, proceeds to do a weird little martial arts kata at him and then bites him on the hand, unintentionally infecting himself as well. What exactly makes this stand out the way it does? Is it the choice of the word pancakes? Is it the frankly ridiculous representation of a mentally impaired child? Is it the confused tone of the scene, that varies between dire and desperate, to surrealistically goofy, back to serious? Is it those little spin kicks?
I'm banking on the spin kicks.
So Burt gets his hand chomped, Dennis's dad freaks out when he thinks that his son is infected and decides that the only recourse is to shoot Burt. I don't think that fluid-borne flesh eating diseases work on vampire rules. Burt gets his wacky “Chased by angry rednecks” scene that is only missing a banjo, and we get back to Paul, who has decided to wander off into the woods because....uh.
He discovers Harry's body in the reservoir and the implications of this hit home. Also, in a scene that is just real enough to be pretty freaky, the ladder he is leaning on gives way and he falls into the water with the corpse. I guess if he wasn't infected before, he sure as hell is now.
Back at the cabin, Marcy is shaving her legs in the tub while the effects of the virus start to become known, opening up lesions on her back. She continues to shave, even when CHUNKS OF HER SKIN start to come off as well. Lady, that's gotta hurt. Please stop. She throws on a bathrobe and heads outside when she hears the dog outside, but doesn't seem to plan more than that. Doggo smells blood and makes for Marcy, knocking her down and eating her alive. I'm sorry, but is that dog infected too? Why does it seem to have gotten a dose of Super rabies? Is it really that appetized by the smell of blood? Maybe it's operating on Resident Evil rules, where the same disease that makes humans slow, rotting husks turns animals super fast and violent.
Paul returns to find bits of Marcy all over the place, her entire body having been reduced to scraps of flesh and the occasional limb. Either the virus had given her entire body the structural cohesion of Plasticine by this point, or that dog was REALLY hungry. He heads to the shed to find the still-voracious dog chowing down on Karen and bolts, managing to kill it with the varmint rifle. Expect Karen is still alive! Except also most of her face has been chewed off, the actress now wearing a pretty fake looking prosthetic.
Paul realizes that there is nothing he can do except put her out of her misery and humanely shoots her with the rifle he's holding- no wait, that would make too much sense. He beats her to death with a shovel. Our hero.
As Paul gears up to leg it back into town, he runs into a half melted Burt on the front steps with the rednecks in pursuit, helping him inside. When the trio of pursuers finally get there, they kick in the door to find Burt with the gun. Fratboy wastes his moment of surprise with a one-liner and gets his head blown off, and Paul manages to take out the gang with his shovel, a screwdriver and an improvised treebranch.
Still hot off his latest killing spree, Paul bolts, hoping to find Jeff. We get a brief, pointless scene where Paul finds Grimm's body, also torn apart by his dog (Seriously, how hungry is this animal?) and finds the local's truck, driving back towards town. On his way back, he hits a deer. More blood gets squirted on him, the truck dies and he's down to legging it, eventually stumbling across another group of partying students, complete with Deputy Wilson in attendance. He begs then for help, clearly very sick and covered in blood, and just when I think this movie is going to make an attempt at narrative symmetry, Wilson gets a call to shoot some contagious mass murderer and Paul attacks the party, knocking out the useless Deputy and causing some harmonica player's instrument to get rammed down his throat in a completely out of nowhere sight gag. Paul collapses on the road and is taken to the hospital by a passing truck, where some doctors finally have a look at the guy. Oh, and a creepy bugs bunny mascot finally gives Dennis his pancakes in a side room. Glad that subplot payed off.
The doctors say that they need to transport Paul to a better facility, and the local Sherrif volunteers to take him, in the sketchiest manner possible. Wilson shows up and takes Paul away, clearly to an unsavoury location. Bye Paul.
The next morning, a hungover Jeff emerges from his hiding place at an abandoned shack, looking more and more like Trey Parker in Baseketball every time I see him. He wanders back to the cabin and looks over the carnage, and I see they did not have the money to spring for an exploded head. Boooo. Jeff loudly and triumphantly exclaims that he made it, cackling like a mad man in one last display of jackassery before he is gunned down by the cops outside, who are looking to cauterize the entire situation. The bodies are stacked and burned, the Cabin is abandoned and their possessions are buried. Deputy Wilson assures his boss that Paul's body was disposed of, when actually he abandoned it right next to a river. Amazing.
Some kids fill up their cooler from the river and start selling lemonade right next to the general store, and the movie ends with most of the town drinking their fair share. There's an admittedly kind if funny moment where it turns out that the old store clerk is actually good friends with a local group of African Americans and gives the gun from the beginning back to them. Turns out he was just fixing it. And then the credits start to roll.
This movie is one of the worst I've seen thus far. The characters are unlikable, the dialogue is stiff, the story makes no sense and the tone is all over the place. It's a lot more entertaining if you see it as a particularly messy year from the world of Cabin in The Woods. Eli Roth claimed to want to bring back the gratuitous horror flicks of the 80's but the problem is that a lot of the movies he wants to pay tribute to were never really that good. There is nothing overly gratuitous in things like the movie's sex scene: It shows minimal nudity, there is really no cause for it and it serves minimal narrative purpose. If you want gratuitous, at the very least give us Burt's head exploding. You could have done it! I believe in you!
The real root inspiration for this film can be traced back to Troma Studios, the company responsible for ridiculous, gratuitous and over-the-top gorey films like Toxic Avenger and Poultrygeist. These films are entertainingly bad and incredibly hokey, but they KNOW that they are. There are no illusions that what they are creating is genuinely scary or meant to be taken seriously. Cabin Fever on the other hand, sort of thinks that it can be a legit horror movie while also keeping stuff like the harmonica gag, the character of Deputy Wilson, out of nowhere sex and the PANCAKES! Kid in the story. It's a confused mess that flops in on itself. Avoid this film like the plague.