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Feature


Five college friends take a trip to a rented cabin in the woods for the usual college sex and drug romp. Unfortunately, the friends are visited by a desperate and frightened drifter, who appears to have been infected with some kind of terrible skin disease. The eventually chase the drifter into the woods (on fire), but not until he’s already vomited blood all over their now broken truck. Trapped with no cell phone service among creepy, white trash locals, the friends begin turning against each other when signs of the tramp’s disease begin to appear on their otherwise blemish free skin.

Cabin Fever: Unrated Director's Cut
Cabin Fever isn’t a great movie, but it’s a very good first film, and is a solid sampling of Eli Roth’s future talent, of which I think he has plenty. I don’t get the popular disdain aimed towards Roth in the geek community. His growth from film to film is exponential, and I’d hazard to say similar to geek favourites Terry Gilliam and Peter Jackson. Hostel II isn’t quite comparable to genuine classics like Brazil or Braindead (even if it’s a vastly underrated modern horror flick), but I can really see the guy taking things to a more serious level in the future, given the correct opportunities, and probably more of a separation from Quinten Tarantino, who has definitely helped his career, but is starting to define it at this point. Detractors should probably at least admit that Roth has a real directorial voice, even if it’s one they don’t like.

Again, at the very least, Cabin Fever is a novel take on the post- Scream generation throw-back horror flick, and it was a front runner of the whole early ‘00s ‘70s horror revival’ thing. Roth’s film looks mostly modern, excepting scenes that feature obvious visual homage (the Texas Chainsaw Massacre shot being an obvious example), but his tone and subject matter is often agreeably outmoded, specifically pertaining to the filler, the misplaced comedy, and the often detestable characters. The humour rubs a lot of modern viewers, those ‘out of the know’ the wrong way, and I can’t really blame them, but it does fill out a type. I’d actually argue that the more modern dialogue based comedy falls flatter than any of the oddball touches. Maybe most important to its long term survival, and its place in the grime-caked early double oughts, Cabin Fever is a quintessentially American horror film, and honors other quintessentially American horror films. Hostel saw Roth exacting the feel of Asian horror, and Hostel II featured a particularly European flavour, but Cabin Fever screams Americana, and though mostly thematically separated, recalls other grotesque explorations of Americana like David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks.

Cabin Fever: Unrated Director's Cut
It’s clear that Roth had a few specific images in mind for the film (the ‘fingering’ scene, the bowling alley story, the leg shaving scene and the bizarre, kitchen sink final act), and built his script around them. This is not out of form for the ‘70s exploitation Roth occasionally quotes, but doesn’t make for a very tight standalone, modern motion picture. Cabin Fever isn’t the most memorable film overall, but there are memorable parts in the stew, and the episodic strangeness definitely feeds the film’s straight horror elements. And unlike many recent horror/comedy hybrids Cabin Fever’s horror elements are genuinely frightening. Perhaps it’s just my predisposition to fearing disease, and the idea of own body turning against me, but the ‘high concept’ idea of a microscopic killer is much more indelible and bone-chilling than abstractly motivated killers. I love Rob Zombie’s Firefly family, Alexandre Aja’s hefty mutant killers, and Mick Taylor of Wolf Creek, but they don’t frighten me personally outside of a shock level.

This Blu-ray isn’t just a catalogue release for Lionsgate. The studio is using the first high definition release as a good excuse to finally put out Roth’s director’s cut, which fans have been apparently clamoring for seven years now. The longer cut isn’t any kind of revelation, and there’s almost no additional gore or sex, but the film ‘breathes’ better, and builds a better sense of dread. It makes for a slightly more ‘artistic’ experience, but the exploitation is far from lost.

Cabin Fever: Unrated Director's Cut

Video


Cabin Fever is a surprisingly ideal candidate for a Blu-ray upgrade thanks to its use of Super 35 film, and this transfer will make fans very happy overall. Colours are the big plus, and they’re all very bright and reasonably clean. The blood is especially bright, which some viewers might find silly, but is pretty cool from a colour separation standpoint. The DVD definitely features browner blood that blends into its surroundings a little more ‘realistically’. Other reds stick out as well, even though the autumn pallet features plenty of warm hues, and the bulk of the pallet is pretty natural. Details are much sharper than the DVD, especially in wide angle views of the forest, which are now much more consistent with the close-up shots. The detail levels aren’t as consistent as more expensive films on the format, and there’s some muddying during the darkest scenes, but there’s very little edge-enhancement. The print does have a large share of grain and snow, and the blacks are occasionally infiltrated by the surrounding warm hues, but overall this is a good upgrade, director’s cut status aside.

Audio


Cabin Fever features some killer, hyper-active and occasional abstract effects that, along with an aggressive string score, makes the film sound more budgetary endowed than it was. This DTS-HD 5.1 track is pretty similar to the DVD release, but all those commentary tracks and extras clearly had an effect on the overall compression, and the Blu-ray has big advantages in the realms of volume, LFE punch, and overall channel separation. The incidental noise isn’t as layered or realistic as some bigger releases, but there are some subtle elements of the forest setting that make their way into the back channels. The creepy, grotesque sounds that represent the gorier moments on the track, and the dialogue both manage to creep out in front of the aforementioned aggressive music, which regularly impresses with its warmth and realism. There are times I could swear the sting quartet was sitting right behind me.

Cabin Fever: Unrated Director's Cut

Extras


The extras begin on the right foot with an all new audio commentary featuring director Roth and actors Rider Strong, Jordon Ladd, Cerina Vincent and Joey Kern, recorded just for the director’s cut release. Missing from this release are the other five commentaries, which is silly, but due to time constraints I’m not going to complain. If memory serves correctly this new track fills out a lot of the same big talking points as those old tracks, but works better as a retrospective piece. There’s definitely too much blank space for an Eli Roth commentary track, but the stories and tone is memorable and sweet. Highlights include Roth’s story of meeting Peter Jackson and his Lord of the Rings crew, a few good comparisons between Cabin Fever and There Will Be Blood, tales of Roth’s father’s post- Cabin Fever psychology career, and samples of the local love of Boy Meets World.

A retrospective doc would be preferable, but ‘Beneath the Skin’ (29:00, SD) is a pretty fun bit of making-of featurette. The featurette has an endearing and intimate tone, and covers the bulk of inspiration, homage, scripting, casting, cinematography, production design, settings, music, special effects, direction, stunts, dog stunts, car stunts, and release. This is followed by five of Roth’s The Rotten Fruit animated shorts, two of which were not available on the DVD release. Unfortunately the two new episodes have some pretty big sound problems. ‘ Cabin Fever: The Family Version’ (1:10, SD) is a good gag that points out how impossible it would be to make the film child friendly, and ‘Pancakes’ (1:45, SD) sees the kid who played Dennis rocking out to ‘Gay Bar’ with his gnarly kung-fu skills. Things end with a slide show (2:30, HD) and trailers.

Cabin Fever: Unrated Director's Cut

Overall


I’ve gone back and forth on my opinion of Cabin Fever for years now, but as a debut picture it really does work to introduce a modern voice to the film landscape. The growth from here to Hostel II is incredible, and I hope Roth takes the Peter Jackson route and goes with something surprising for his next release. Fans should be very happy with this Blu-ray release, which doesn’t only look and sound great, but features the long lost director’s cut version of the film, which is a marked improvement on the familiar theatrical release. Most will want to hang onto that original DVD release too, though, because none of those commentary tracks are available here.

Reviewer Note: Huge thanks to Troy Anderson at Andersonvision.com for the screencaps, which have been resized for the page.


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