Strictly speaking, the Cabin Fever franchise isn’t a series so much as it’s a collection of movies. With a wide-open premise that only requires a flesh-eating virus as connective tissue, it’s no wonder it’s resulted in three very different movies (and one déjà vu-ridden remake). I enjoy it for that, if only because it’s a rare thing for a franchise to basically act as a glorified anthology. And if I could be even more honest (and low-brow), I enjoy it because it’s a series full of awesome gross-out gags, with each seemingly committed to outdoing the last when it comes to over-the-top gore (well, again, except for the remake—you can probably guess by now which one I consider the worst). It seems appropriate that a franchise that opened with a riff on The Evil Dead would eventually somewhat mirror that series, at least in terms of each entry feeling different from each other. Don’t mistake that for me equating it with Raimi’s trilogy in terms of quality—it’s a far cry from that, but I appreciate its willingness to stretch the boundaries of its premise (for three movies, anyway).
4. Cabin Fever (2016)
Considering this franchise had already more or less proven its viability with two different sequels, it’s especially surprising (and disappointing) that it retreated so quickly to an uninspired remake. Shot from virtually the same script as Eli Roth’s original, it boldly asks aloud what that movie might look like if it were less fun. It’s someone trying to do an Eli Roth movie without really doing an Eli Roth movie, a confounding approach that’s always at odds with itself. Director Travis Z. only feels concerned with replicating the gore, which, despite the franchise’s reputation, is not really enough—you miss all the puerile nonsense, not to mention Roth’s desire to rub your nose in the whole thing. Sure, it mostly seems calculated for maximum repulsiveness, but at least it has a purpose; this redux has none.
Even in a loose series like Cabin Fever, this prequel entry feels like the odd one out. Only half of it feels like what you expect from this franchise, as a group of ill-fated friends throws a bachelor party on a remote island that also happens to serve as the same site for a compound dedicated to studying the outbreak of a deadly, flesh-eating virus. In a lot of ways, Patient Zero is reminiscent of those late 80s/early 90s Italian “sequels”—you can vaguely sense the connection to the “franchise,” but it feels just off and obviously exploitative.
Between the scientific-military compound and island settings, Patient Zero particularly reminds me of the third and fourth Zombie entries, and there are definitely worse things I can say about a movie than that. This is especially true here since this one follows in the most important tradition of those films: it is gory and nasty as all hell, a total flesh-melting, face-peeling exercise in body horror. It’s gnarly and gross in equal measure, just like any decent Cabin Fever movie should be.
Honestly, the two sequels here could probably flip places on a whim—technically, part three is a better-made, more polished product, whereas Ti West’s infamously troubled film is a ragged, messy, juvenile little screech. It’s more in keeping with the Cabin Fever tone as a result, though, so it earns the nod as the best follow-up to Eli Roth’s seminal splatstick effort. Genuinely one of the most aggressively unpleasant movies in recent memory, it carries the flesh-eating virus to prom night, where high school drama collides with outrageous body horror.
This is not an easy movie to watch: most (if not all) of the characters are awful in their own specific way, and the over-the-top gore isn’t even closest to the sickest thing in a parade of schlock that features a janitor pissing blood into a punch bowl and strip club patrons ogling a high school girl. It’s also proof that Rider Strong had one hell of an agent that was capable of snagging him top billing despite the fact that he shows up just long enough to be the victim of the nastiest body explosion this side of Robocop.
Have we somehow slept on how great Cabin Fever is for the past decade? I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s hard not to acknowledge it as the arrival of a singular voice. Sure, it’s riffing on The Evil Dead and any number of other similar movies, and it’s hardly the first to deliver disturbing gore with its tongue planted in its cheek. Nonetheless, it felt like a breath of fresh air back in 2003, when this sort of movie just didn’t play in multiplexes in podunk American towns. And yet, here was the type of deranged, unhinged gorefest that you’d usually have to trawl through a VHS rack to find. What’s more, it was gleefully delivered by a maniac that had the nerve to laugh every step of the way.
I can still remember the nervous energy and bewildered faces as the auditorium lights went up: this felt like a movie that only I enjoyed, and it all but made me an Eli Roth fan for life. It’s odd to say this about a film that I saw when I was nearly twenty years old, but Cabin Fever was a formative experience that confirmed that like-minded horror fans were out there making exactly the type of movie I wanted to see: violent, silly, kind of confounding. By no means is it a perfect movie, but it was kind of exactly the perfect movie for me at the time, and it holds up as one of the most indelible horror efforts from the past decade. No matter how you feel about it, it seems unlikely that you’d ever completely forget it. At the very least, I can only assume that nobody who’s seen it will ever feel tempted to feed weird kids named Dennis, lest they want to end up on the business end of the wackiest martial arts display this side of Pieces. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: