Lionsgate // 2002 // 98 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 16th, 2010
Terror...in the flesh!
Like many people, I knew very little about Cabin Fever when I picked it up at the video store. I was drawn in by the lenticular cover that featured the tress in the shape of a skull. Expecting another cheesy horror flick, I was surprised by how effective both the horror and comedy aspects of Cabin Fever worked. Rewatching the film on Cabin Fever: Unrated Director's Cut (Blu-ray), I'm even more surprised how well it's held up years later: it's seems no one has really taken up the gauntlet of horror-gore in quite this way since.
For those who haven't seen the film, Cabin Fever starts out as a typical Evil Dead knockoff where a bunch of Spring Breakers go to a cabin in the woods to drink beer and get laid. The only problem is that something has infected the local water supply. The flesh eating funkiness is now spreading, and the group has to survive without getting infected or killing each other.
A lot of people dislike Eli Roth and his films (and for good reason, in some cases), but it's impossible to deny one thing: dude paid his dues. He was almost thirty when he made Cabin Fever, and he'd spent time getting coffee on movie sets so he knew how things worked. When it was time for him to step into the director's chair he knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it. That makes Cabin Fever one of the most straight-up competent independent horror debuts of all time. The actors are well chosen, the camera moves and editing are tight, and the gore looks right. Having watched so many incompetent horror flicks I sometimes forget just how much a crappy effect can pull me out of the story. This doesn't happen in Cabin Fever, where the actors and the effects work in concert to keep everything focused on the cabin and flesh-eating death. The sense of isolation, claustrophobia, and paranoia is amazing and really keeps the film interesting. The film's over-the-top gore makes the flesh-eating more realistic, but also allows for some comedic moments that act as release valves for some of the tension.
The Director's Cut of Cabin Fever adds about five minutes to the runtime, and aside from a little bit smoother editing and a couple of scenes of violence, it's not fundamentally different. This is definitely a case where I wonder why the producers didn't just release the director's cut in the first place.
I really wish that Cabin Fever: Unrated Director's Cut was a slam-dunk release, but it's not quite there. On the plus side the film looks great in hi-def. Clarity, grain, and color saturation are all excellent and the night time scenes look deep and black. It's not the kind of transfer to show off a system, but for an indie film it looks good. Eli Roth was appropriately stoked to get Angelo Badalamenti to help with the score to the film, and the 7.1 DTS-HD soundtrack is worthy of his participation. There's very little surround action, but the clarity of both the score and the effects is excellent.
I also can't complain about the included extras. They start with a new gang commentary featuring Eli Roth, Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, Cerina Vincent, and Joey Kern. They're having fun, sharing stories about the afterlife of the film, as well as some of the changes in the director's cut. We also get two more Rotten Fruit shorts along with the three that appeared on the previous DVD release. They're not quite as much fun as the originals, but fans will appreciate them. The making-of ("Beneath the Skin") has been ported from the DVD release and it's a fine look at the film's production. We also get the martial arts antics of "Pancakes!" as well as the film's trailer.
On the negative side is the fact that this isn't the complete Cabin Fever package. There's no way to get the theatrical cut on hi-def at present, which means that fans will have to keep their old DVDs. It also means that those theatrical cut commentaries (all four of them, each worth listening to) aren't included either. Blu-ray is supposed to be the ultimate in home-theater experience, so we should be getting the ultimate versions of films, and with Cabin Fever that simply isn't the case.
Cabin Fever is a fun, gory little film that has earned its place among the best horror release of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Fans are absolutely going to want to upgrade to the Blu-ray for the director's cut, improved audiovisual presentation, and new extras. Any gory horror fans who haven't seen Cabin Fever yet should do so as soon as possible with either the director's cut or the theatrical release. Everybody else should probably give Cabin Fever a wide berth.
Cabin Fever is a great little horror gem. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Short Films
* Photo Gallery
* Theatrical Trailer