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Cabin Fever (2002)

Gorehounds rejoice, for you have a new god in Hollywood, and his name is Eli Roth, here to bring you another reason not to go into the woods. You might know the rules for dealing with cannibal rednecks, angry spirits, and hockey-masked psychos, but what do you do when the killer is a billionth your size?

Roth’s first movie, Cabin Fever is an American horror movie inspired by Roth’s real-life experience with a skin infection he contracted on a trip to Iceland (but of course taken to its gory upper limit). It draws upon elements of many of Roth’s favorite horror movies like The Evil Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It stars Rider “Boy Meets World” Strong, James “Scary Movie 2” DeBello, Jordan, “Never Been Kissed” Ladd, Cerina “Not Another Teen Movie” Ladd, Joey “Super Troopers” Kern, and Matthew ” PANCAAAAAAAAKES” Helms. The movie was shot on a relatively small budget of $1.5 million.

A man walking in the woods encounters the rotted corpse of a dead dog. He turns it over and is sprayed in the face with blood. Sometime later, five college friends, Jeff (Kern), Marcy (Vincent), Paul (Strong), Karen (Ladd), and Bert (DeBello) have rented a cabin in the woods. On their way to the site, they stop at a local convenience store to stock up, and Paul has an encounter with Dennis, a mentally handicapped boy with three apparent interests: Pancakes, kung fu, and biting people, as Paul discovers. At the cabin, Jeff and Marcy have sex, Paul and Karen swim in the nearby lake, and Bert goes squirrel hunting. Instead of squirrels, Bert encounters the man who found the rotted dog, whose condition has deteriorated. Like, a lot. Terrified and disgusted, Bert shoots him to try to drive him off and runs back to the cabin. The man follows him back to the cabin, begging for help, and tries driving off him their car but vomits blood inside it. Ultimately, he exits the car and Paul sets him on fire, whereupon the diseased man runs off, dying in the lake. A local deputy offers to call them a tow truck. After that, things start going rapidly downhill for our intrepid heroes…

Karen drinks a glass of lake water and starts feeling ill. That night Paul discovers rotten spots on her thighs, and the other quarantine her in a nearby tool shed. Fearing that they are also infected, the others argue about what to do. The next day, Bert realizes that he is infected but does not tell anyone. When Paul and Marcy insist on helping Karen, Jeff bails on them, taking all the beer (currently the only reliable drinking source), while Bert drives off to try to find a doctor. In revenge for Jeff abandoning her and because she figures they’re both doomed to die anyway, Marcy has sex with Paul, assuring him that she is healthy but later finding red patches where he touched her. Paul, rightfully worried about the disease going around, tries to disinfect himself with Listerine. Bloody medical carnage lies in both their futures, though, and once the townsfolk catch wind of things it looks like nobody’s going to make it out of the woods alive…

Cabin Fever is a unique twist on the “slasher in the woods” premise, and in my opinion it was done well. In overall ambience the plot feels like both a zombie movie (who’s infected? How long before the infection gets us?) and a slasher movie (merciless quantities of blood), in an affectionate throwback to the gory, tit-filled horror movies of the 80s. I’ve alway enjoyed the idea of a slasher movie without a concrete antagonist, somebody specific that you could try to escape, and the breakdown of the protagonists’ friendship added a lot to the paranoia of OMG FLESH EATING BACTERIA. The main characters were not well-defined, but here they didn’t need to be. I did get the impression that the locals had battled this disease (or similar ones) before, which made me wonder why they didn’t insist that the kids pick up lots of bottled water.

The disease FX were wonderfully nauseating. In addition to Roth’s own experience with skin-eating diseases, one of the sound mixers had also survived a bout with flesh-eating bacteria, and maintains that the makeup is 100% accurate. I actually found myself writhing in discomfort during the leg-shaving scene (scraaaaaaaaaape… EUGH!), even after seeing other characters with decomposing sores. It was possibly the best justification for death by sex ever, too – I mean, you shag someone with a highly contagious case of the rot, of COURSE you’re going to die too!

In all, Roth’s premier movie is a delightfully stomach-turning addition to the horror genre. I would recommend it to all gore fans and those with strong stomachs who enjoy a nice scary romp in the woods.

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