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Top Ten year-end lists are a great source of entertainment and intrigue for most film buffs. Whether it be comparing and contrasting someone’s opinion with your own or checking out some quality flicks you may have missed throughout the year, these lists are great to sum up the past twelve months. 2003 was no exception, so it was interesting to see what films made it regularly on the Top Ten lists of some respected reviewers. One such film to bob up more often than not was the horror flick Cabin Fever which, though not generally hitting anything higher than four or five in the list of ten, definitely had many horror fans beaming at the thought of quality slasher films returning to the big screen. So it was with much anticipation that I stuck this disc in the player and prepared for a couple of hours worth of blood, gore and a real good scare.

Cabin Fever
I’m definitely no slasher fan, which works both positively and negatively for the purpose of reviewing the disc. For one, there are no rose (or is that blood?) coloured glasses to look upon the film with. But secondly, the chance of missing some important homages and well-placed conventions is definitely present. Either way, let’s think of this as any other film, not one that will appeal to a certain little clique and no one else.

We begin like so many other slasher films have done before, with a bunch of carefree kids taking a break after graduation (I think). What is it with always having kids on a year-end/school-end/college-end trip instead of something else? How about a scout jamboree or national chess championship? And why not have a gore-flick where it’s adults out in the middle of nowhere being hacked to pieces? It’ll happen, I’m sure. Coming to a screen near you.

Anyway, these kids go on a little trip to a log cabin somewhere in the woods. There’s the good-looking couple (Joey Kern and Cerina Vincent, who wears little more than a hair tie for much of the film), the sexually-tense pair of “friends” (Jordan Ladd and Boy Meets World’s Rider Strong, the only real recognisable face in the flick) and the chunky, aggressive fifth-wheel (James DeBello, of Swimfan fame), who all appear possible of getting knocked off first. Whether anyone or all of them get out alive I’ll leave to you to find out, because this is definitely the kind of film to go into with a very open mind and basically no knowledge of what goes on beforehand.

As a film it’s a pretty interesting little story that could have gone one of two ways; either straight to the rental shelves as a cheap, stock-standard horror or into cinemas as an accomplished scare-fest that never pretends to be rocket science. Thankfully it leans well towards the latter end, though admittedly not quite as far as I thought from all the Top Ten list hype that preceded the viewing. Sure, it’s a pretty creepy film that really does have you a little scared rather than laughing hysterically at some lame prosthetics and make-up. However, I don’t think it’s anything we really haven’t seen before in some form or another along the long road of past horror flicks. The saving grace Cabin Fever possesses is that it seems like a very simplistic script, story and setup so the actual payoff is somewhat more powerful than you may have expected.

Cabin Fever
The cast does a great job of bringing the serious elements to their parts while still indulging the audience with the fun and frolic inherent in the first act. It takes a while to get to the real guts of the story (pardon the pun) so the script at least keeps things interesting as we learn who these little kids are. Ladd and Vincent are more than just eye-candy (though it’s quality candy, I might add), while Strong and DeBello are particularly sharp in their roles. Kern isn’t quite up there with the others but his role is a little more difficult to play than the rest. And look out for a cameo from director Eli Roth, who stood in as a pot-smoking weirdo when their first choice actor just wasn’t working out.

The 2003 Seattle Film Festival was the place where all the buzz began, and it seems the vibe continued right through to the year-end best-of lists. Whether the film is up there on your Top Ten of the year remains to be seen, though I’m not quite sure what all the fuss is about right here. It’s a pretty darn good flick but 2003 was a particularly strong year. But if it’s a little scare-fest you’re after, coming off the back of the much more accomplished 28 Days Later, then you’ve definitely come to the right place. Check it out.

Usually you equate out-and-out horror films with scratchy, grainy visuals that aren’t that sharpest or clearest pictures in the world. Thankfully for this more soft-core thriller we have a great-looking 2.35:1 transfer that makes the events in the film actually seem a little more shocking. This clean looking set is bathed in  blood more than once and the colours come out well and truly on top. Sharpness is great, skin tones are spot on (and there’s plenty of Cerina’s skin to reference it with), and visual nasties never really rear their ugly head. Grain is surprisingly kept to a minimum, making this a pretty darn good transfer overall.

Cabin Fever
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track included on the disc is more of a subtle mix than anything startling, which works to good effect for a film of this genre. What you’re left with is a brooding, mysterious and creepy mix that shoots effects around the rears at the opportune moments while giving you crisp, clear dialogue shifted squarely across the front stage. The more intense sequences let loose a little more but it’s the low-key moments where the clarity of the soundtrack, particularly in the rear ambient sounds and effects, really comes through.

The score is naturally full of long string notes followed by some sudden crashes in all the right places. While nothing really new to the horror score arena we do get some really cool little tracks dotted throughout the story that are great to listen to when pumped out of the speakers. The more classical, romantic kind of track during one of the film’s sexier (then uglier) moments is very much worthy of a mention as it becomes quite powerful in contrast to what happens directly afterwards. Check the film out to get what I mean.

Some cut little extras have included here that really add some weight to the disc. First up is the commentary track with director Eli Roth, actors Jordan Ladd and Cerina Vincent, with Roth’s parents chiming in towards the end thanks to a cheeky phone call from their son. Roth and Ladd carry the bulk of the track and immediately give us the impression that they kind of fell in love during the making of the movie. Either that or they were already a love match before they began. It’s a very fun commentary for the most part even though the pair tend to gush on each other a fair bit. They are so comfortable that nothing is really out of bounds to do with the film, which means they cover everything from Jordan flashing her boobs to the conditions they encountered while filming. Vincent pops up just after the half-way mark and she gives us a little more insight into her role and how she coped with those infamous sex scenes. It’s reminiscent of the flighty but fun track on the In Crowd disc, so if you enjoyed that then you’ll get a kick out of this one.

On to an Australian extra included on the disc, which is the Popcorn Taxi Q & A session with Eli Roth. Popcorn Taxi is a kind of film club which organises screenings and interviews and the like. This one should rank as one of their better efforts as Roth can talk very convincingly at length. Running for around 35-minutes, you’ll get a lot out of this if you’re at all interested in filmmaking in general.

Behind The Skin: The Making Of Cabin Fever is a lengthy piece which begins in very graphic fashion and ends with a little comic touch. In between there’s some great footage from the shoot as well as clips of the movie, interviews and outtakes that create an entertaining mixed bag. It highlights how much fun the cast and crew had during the shoot if nothing else.

Next up is the audition tape for Dennis, known as the Pancake Boy in the film. It really is a tape transferred onto DVD and has to be one of the more bizarre pieces I’ve seen on a disc. Set to the Electric Six song “Gay Bar”, the 2-minute clip is merely Pancake Boy jumping around performing various martial arts moves with a stick. Strange like his character, though I’m not really sure of the point.

Cabin Fever
Continuing the strange additions, we have three short animations entitled Rotten Fruit. The three films, Room Service, Snackster and Battle Of The Bands, use the same animation technique and surround the antics of several animated fruits. A weird but somehow entertaining look at Eli Roth’s earlier work.

Rounding out the collection of extras is the theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer, both of which are well worth a look. You can also listen to several audio clips from the film around the animated menus by using your cursor or mouse. They’re kind of like easter eggs but aren’t all that hard to find, nor are they very interesting. And while we’re on the topic of easter eggs, anyone who can find the Region 1 disc’s eggs should drop us a line.

Overall this is a neat little package but you can’t help but feel disappointed that some of the Region 1 extras aren’t included here. The Chick Vision featurette, several commentary tracks, some pretty funny easter eggs (apparently) and a few other bits and pieces are missing, making an import a likely option for real fans of the film. Disappointing but at least there’s something here for Region 4 buyers.

While this film may well have been over-hyped by its addition to many Top Ten lists at the end of 2003, there’s still some real value in what is a very entertaining little slasher flick. The video and audio are great and the extras are worthwhile if a little light compared to the US version, so you shouldn’t hesitate picking up the disc upon its release.