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The plot is familiar to
anyone who has seen movies like Friday
the 13th or Halloween.
In an environment empty of reassuring authority figures like parents or police
departments, a clique of friends in their late teens to early twenties face an implacable
menace that dispatches them, one by one, in an especially grisly manner. It's a device
that's so commonly used that it has acquired the formalism of a Kabuki play the
actors might as well wear stylized masks indicating The Average Guy, The Pretty Virgin,
The Conceited Jerk, or The Slob. In Cabin Fever, the sacrificial victims are five
college students who decide to celebrate graduation by renting a remote cabin in the North
Carolina mountains where they can have sex, drink beer and smoke dope to their hearts'
It's the nature of the menace that helps to set Cabin Fever a
cut above the genre to which it pays homage, and makes it intriguing rather than merely
predictable. The characters are threatened not by some supernaturally powerful killer
hidden behind a hockey-mask/burn scars/maniacal grin, but by a disease. Narcotizing
fasciitis, commonly known as flesh eating virus, comes knocking on their cabin door in the
form of a local hermit, deathly sick and pleading for help, his skin a mass of blood. His
horrifying appearance and one character's guilty secret touch off a panic that rapidly
escalates into mob violence and murder.
From then on, love, friendship, and empathy rot along with the skin of
the disease's victims. The first student to come down with the sickness is escorted out of
the cabin and locked in a tool shed while her erstwhile friends try to figure out a means
of escape that won't involve answering embarrassing questions about the hermit.
They must contend with a grotesque illness, their own hysteria and two
cardinal sins of youth -- snap judgements and an inability to actually pick up on clues
when they are offered. That cute, fey old shopkeeper with the Santa Claus beard might be
just an example of local color, or he might be a violent racist but either way he
has a friendly warning to offer that's probably worth hearing. That lady screaming curses
at a pig she just eviscerated might be crazy or she might have an understandable
reason for being angry that's germane to what's happening back at the cabin. The students,
of course, don't pause long enough to find out, too freaked out by the shopkeeper's
sinister use of the "N" word and the pig lady's violence to listen carefully.
There are some logical holes in the film, but the onset of the disease
is depicted with merciless consistency. The audience, unlike most of the characters, knows
how it is spread, and much of the tension lies in the viewers' wincing awareness of who is
most likely to be the next victim. In one especially gruesome moment, the horror lies as
much in the certainty of infection as it does in the Grand Guignol that's unfolding on the
This film is not for everyone. Hypochondriacs and people with weak
stomachs should stay away. Occasionally director Eli Roth winks a little too obviously at
his audience while paying homage to past films. (One sequence is so plainly lifted from
another classic horror flick that its predictable outcome annoys rather than amuses.) But
it has a mordantly witty screenplay by Randy Pearlstein and Eli Roth and fine performances
by Rider Strong as Paul (The Average Guy), James DeBello as Bert (The Slob), and Arie
Verveen as the Hermit.
Cabin Fever is a well-crafted, truly nasty piece of work with
a deceptively innocent looking final scene that will make many in the audience shudder.
For horror aficionados there can be no higher praise.
- Pamela Troy