While I was born in the ’80s, the majority of what influenced my love for horror happened in the ’90s. Video stores were still popping up in every corner when I was a kid, and I would call up everyone to see if a certain movie was in stock. Walking through the aisles, my picks were often based on cover artwork and familiar faces that you wouldn’t normally see in Teen People magazine. I remember renting CUT simply due to the fact that it was a slasher flick starring Molly Ringwald and Kylie Minogue. When the SCREAM franchise began, I realized I knew nothing about horror cinema, in particular those from the 80s. While I knew some of the references, I took it literally when a character asked about a werewolf movie with E.T’s mom in it. While horror has gone mainstream now with many films become huge franchises (THE CONJURING, INSIDIOUS), theatrical releases were far apart in the ’90s, making each one a special event for horror fans. One thing that was especially rare was body horror, and fresh face horror fan Eli Roth was going to bring it back.
Roth had previous entertainment experience working with the likes of Howard Stern and David Lynch when he was able to release his directorial debut in 2002, CABIN FEVER. We follow Jeff, Marcy, Paul, Karen, and Burt: all college students who rent a cabin in the woods to have a good time. The meet the local rednecks, including a kid who loves pancakes and biting strangers. Their stay in the woods is off to a rocky start when they encounter a crazed hermit with a skin infection who tries to get into their cabin. They set him on fire in self defense and the hermit runs off into the woods, presumably dead. What they don’t know is that his dead body ends up in the water that runs into their cabin and these kids prefer to drink from the faucet versus bottled water. They discover Karen is infected when Paul attempts to feel her up and ends up with more than what he bargained for on his fingers. They quarantine her in the nearby shed, but they each up victims of the unknown virus (except Jeff, who gets gunned down by the local police).
We follow Paul as he attempts to find help, but he is literally falling apart and no one wants to get near him. This town reacts harshly to him, but almost as if they’ve dealt with this before. His body is dumped into the creek by a careless deputy and his blood flows into the local water we see being used for a kids’ lemonade stand and (in an after-credits sequence) bottled water being transported by truck.
In 2002, CABIN FEVER felt fresh, a big contrast to a lot of the PG-13 horror coming out at the time. THE RING was a huge success and spawned several J-horror remakes, but hardcore enthusiasts were hungry for blood on the screen. Roth was one of those enthusiasts and utilized his love for the obscene to incorporate some stomach-churning moments into his debut. Fans of Roth’s films find pleasure in watching good-looking idiots make awful choices and fall victim to gruesome consequences. The most obvious example in CABIN FEVER is when Marcy emotionally gives up and convinces Paul to sleep with her since they’re all going to die anyways, comparing their situation to a crashing plane. She doesn’t mind they aren’t using condoms until she goes to shave her legs afterwards to find her flesh slicing off along the blades. Sex has always been an aphrodisiac for death in horror, often a catalyst in the FRIDAY THE 13THfranchise and Roth loves to embrace it.
CABIN FEVER ended up becoming Lions Gate’s highest grossing film of the year, making over $30 million worldwide. This makes for an interesting note as this ended up being the same distributor who unleashed THE HUNGER GAMES. Roth is often referred to as one of the directors responsible for the torture porn movement that followed this movie. Audiences were clamoring for the extreme, which was evident after the financial success of Roth’s next movie, HOSTEL. This led to not only sequels to both his films, but other films that pushed censorship limits onto the screen. Lionsgate found massive success with the SAW franchise where the victims were forced to make themselves physically suffer in order to survive. French director Alexandre Aja made fans notice with one of my personal favorites, HAUTE TENSION, turning what began as a home invasion story into a journey into psychological terror with a divisive twist. Aja let viewers know early on that anyone was game killing off a child early in the film and incorporating graphic murders in vibrant colors and brightly lit settings. The success of that film led to him directing notable American remakes like THE HILLS HAVE EYES and PIRANHA 3D, which features Roth himself in a significant role. While aiming for the extreme has taken a step back as censors have loosened up their reigns especially on television, that isn’t stopping filmmakers from trying to shock viewers.
In 2014, word got out that a potential fourth CABIN FEVER film was going to be released. Yes, there was a two and a three, neither of which Roth directed. The fourth film was to take the virus abroad, taking place on a cruise ship, but those plans were scrapped in favor of a remake. What’s odd about this is that the remake would make use of the original script, but different director. This can’t be classified as a shot by shot remake like PSYCHO, but still begs fans to ask why go this direction. Maybe this was a cheap way to make money off a familiar property, but there’s no commentary on the Blu-ray release so there’s not too much to dive into behind the scenes.
Released in 2016, the new CABIN FEVER feels more like a fan film reenacting favorite moments of the original. This version, however, takes on the more politically correct path to go along with our new political climate. There’s no bareback sex and the infamous racial slurs from the original are gone. Burt is still an idiot, but much less of a scumbag who no longer favors the word “pussy.” He also now carries an assault rifle instead of a BB gun because, well, this is America. Subtle updates are made to the dialogue with mention of no wi-fi connection in the much larger cabin and lack of ability to play videogames. Karen now carries a smartphone that she takes selfies with, which later plays into the cliffhanger when she uploads photos of her decaying body onto social media prompting a concerned acquaintance to look for her.
This remake is unique in the sense that it really is the less offensive version of Roth’s film. I’m not saying that I was offended by the original, but many others were. The characters were dichotomies as they were pissed by a local’s use of the n-word, but called each other gay. This is no longer present in the remake. Even the party loving deputy has now turned into a female version who plays the role more sexual predator than anything. She carries a scar the camera loves to focus on, but goes unexplained. Maybe some of these moments are meant to be explored in a planned sequel, but as of now, no other films are in the works. The fact that Burt is a fumbling privileged white male who carries a dangerous weapon he doesn’t know how to safely use feels like underlying message especially nowadays.
A lot of remakes get accused of sanitizing their inspirations in order to reach a broader audience, but CABIN FEVER has to be one of the more obvious examples. I was not a fan of Roth’s film when I first saw in theaters back in my high school days. Now that I’ve seen many of the films that have influenced him, I revisited it and found myself laughing along with him, as I now get the humor in it. CABIN FEVER is not meant to scare you, but to deliver to a good time, and maybe just make you think twice about where you get your water from.
REVISIT THE COUPLE INSTALLMENTS OF THE COLUMN…
Tags: Alexandre Aja, Angelo Badalamenti, Cabin Fever, Cerina Vincent, David Lynch, Eli Roth, Horror, Howard Stern, IFC Midnight, James DeBello, Jordan Ladd, Lions Gate Films, Nathan Barr, remakes, Rider Strong, Ryan Folsey