31 Screams in October, Vol. 3, #24: Cabin Fever (2002)

Posted: October 28, 2016 in Movie Review
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24. Cabin Fever (2002)

Director: Eli Roth

Starring: Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, James DeBello, Cerina Vincent, Joey Kern, Arie Verveen, Giuseppe Andrews

If “Jaws” made you reconsider jumping into the water, then how much further does “Cabin Fever” go to make us paranoid about the good ol’ H2O? With moments of humor that do diffuse the situation a bit, it’s still a movie about a flesh-eating virus… something which does indeed happen in various parts of the world… and that is truly unsettling. It could have even verged towards revolting. But it doesn’t, and that’s thanks to the aforementioned humor, a likable cast, and a director’s knowledge of and love for the horror genre.

The film wastes no time in getting the story started, as a hermit comes across his dead dog, touching it without realizing it has been infected with a horrible, unidentified virus. Completely unaware that anything is amiss is a group of college students on their way to spend some down time at a cabin in the woods. Jeff (Joey Kern) and Marcy (Cerina Vincent) are already a couple, whereas Paul (Rider Strong) is still working up the courage to move his childhood friendship with Karen (Jordan Ladd) to the next level. The group’s fifth member, Burt (James DeBello) is crass and stupid. He’s the one who first encounters the hermit, now visibly diseased, whom he chases away with his rifle. Shaken by the incident, Burt decides to tell no one.

Sitting around a campfire at night, the group is visited by a strange young man named Grimm (director Eli Roth) and his obviously unfriendly dog, Dr. Mambo. They’re just about to send the guy packing when he reveals that he’s carrying a large bag of marijuana. That changes their minds really fast! As it starts to rain, Grimm realizes he has left behind some personal belongings which he doesn’t want to get wet, so he leaves. Soon after, the hermit returns, sicker than ever. Spewing blood everywhere, he scares the group back into the cabin, but they come back outside to scare him off when they see him trying to steal their car. In the process, the car is both vomited on and smashed up by weapons wielded by the group. Paul then accidentally sets the hermit on fire.

Going for help, they manage to stumble upon a house owned by the hermit’s cousin, so they back away. When they return, they find Dr. Mambo outside (with Grimm nowhere to be found) stalking the cabin. Everyone’s still quite distraught over what happened. The whole thing has made Karen feel a bit ill. Almost as if on cue, Deputy Winston (Giuseppe Andrews) shows up to investigate the disappearance of the hermit. Paul explains what happened, expressing guilt over the whole thing. Surprisingly, Winston tells him not to worry about a thing, suggesting that he instead continue having fun and promising a tow truck for Paul, whom he nicknames the “Party Man.”

Paul attempts to comfort Karen, initiating an intimate moment. As he moves to touch her, Paul does not realize right away that he is actually fingering infected skin on her leg. In a panic, Karen’s friends quarantine her in a shed outside. Knowing that they have to get Karen to a hospital fast, they work on cleaning and fixing the truck. Just as Burt completes his repairs, he realizes that he too is coming down with the flesh-eating virus. As with his encounter with the hermit, he shares this news with no one. The time has come to drive Karen to the hospital, but she vomits all over the truck before they can get her anywhere. Jeff, the coward of the group, chooses that moment to run off and hide, taking a bunch of beer with him. Burt drives down to the convenience store to try and summon aid. All he accomplishes is welcoming the wrath of the locals when a youngster who is prone to biting people takes a chunk out of Burt’s hand, thus infecting himself. As a result, the boy’s father and two other armed men chase Burt back to the cabin.

With Karen back in the shed, Paul and Marcy fear that death is coming for them soon. In their despair, the two have sex, an affair which they regret soon after. Paul leaves, while Marcy stays to bathe. While shaving her legs, her own infections start to reveal themselves. Panicking, Marcy runs outside and is immediately torn apart by Dr. Mambo. Elsewhere, Paul learns the source of the infection after discovering the charred remains of the hermit in the reservoir which serves as the cabin’s water supply. Running back to the cabin, he is too late to save either Marcy or Karen, whom Dr. Mambo is feeding on. Paul kills Dr. Mambo with Burt’s rifle, and then mercy kills Karen with a shovel.

When Burt returns to the cabin, the posse kills him before they in turn are all killed by Paul. Looking for Jeff, Paul finds the infected corpse of Grimm instead. Paul, noting that he is also now infected, takes the posse’s truck. Accidentally hitting a deer along the way, Paul is drenched in deer blood (no doubt mixed with some of his own) by the time he reunites with Winston, who is hosting an outdoor party. Winston had forgotten all about his promise to the “Party Man.” Paul disrupts the party, vomiting on some of the guests and knocking Winston out. Later, a passerby gives a visibly sick Paul a ride to the hospital, where he is unable to give any explanation for his illness, which the hospital is ill-equipped to handle. The sheriff tells a returning Deputy Winston to “handle” the situation. Paul tries to warn Winston about the source of the disease, which Winston misinterprets as Paul asking for water. Winston responds by leaving Paul near a creek. This infects the water in the creek, which is later seen being used for lemonade and bottled water (which is then shipped out to who knows where).

In the aftermath, Jeff returns to the cabin from whatever hole he crawled into. Initially saddened by the death of his friends, his despair turns to euphoria when he realizes he’s survived. Jeff’s ecstasy is short-lived, however, because he’s shot dead by police as soon as he steps back out of the cabin. However, since the police and many of the town’s citizens have already drunk the infected creek water, karma will be visiting them all soon enough.

I had watched the TV series “Boy Meets World” as a kid, so I was already quite familiar with actor Rider Strong by the time “Cabin Fever” was released to theaters. It’s a shame he hasn’t had a more successful career, because he’s really quite talented, and serves as a strong, relatable lead for “Cabin Fever.”  The idea for the movie came to writer/director Eli Roth after developing a skin infection on a trip to Iceland. Roth also displays his love of the genre with nods to films such as “Pieces,” “The Evil Dead,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Night of the Living Dead,” and “The Last House on the Left.” The main theme song for “The Last House on the Left” (entitled “The Road Leads to Nowhere – Wait for the Rain”) even appears on the soundtrack for “Cabin Fever.”

The bloody nature of a movie like “Cabin Fever” would be too much were it not counterbalanced by its moments of amusement. Much of this is provided by the scene-stealing Giuseppe Andrews as Deputy Winston. This is one officer of the law which anyone would want to party with, no matter how much of a dumbass he is. As this was Eli Roth’s directorial debut, he really hit it out of the park on this one. But “Cabin Fever” really deserved to be a standalone film. Instead, there has been a sequel, a prequel and a 2016 remake! Watch “Cabin Fever,” but avoid all the other series entries like the plague!

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Yes, it is a good general rule to avoid prequels, sequels and remakes without a really good recommendation. Wonder what the prequel and sequel used as the instrument or “delivery vehicle” of death?

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