Note: I usually try and write spoiler-free reviews, but I have a hard time believing anyone who isn't a hardcore fan of Cabin Fever will bother reading this write-up, and an equally hard time believing that those who want to see Cabin Fever 2 (an even rarer breed) will be too upset at this point if I spoil bits of both movies.
Cabin Fever (as readers of my Blu-Ray review will know) is this critic's number one horror movie of the decade. In short: Eli Roth's debut feature is more bizarre, hilarious, and insane than most off-the-wall horror/comedies added together, and I ate up every wonderfully gory second of it. In 2006, the first news of a sequel came trickling down, and although history has shown that the vast majority of sequels can't live up to their predecessors, sometimes the very creation of follow-up can fascinating enough to justify the effort. The "science" of sequels is a complicated web of opinions, second-guesses, pressure, expectations, and overthinking, all dependent on the motivation of the filmmakers and the franchise in question, and analyzing these choices in an attempt to decipher a pattern is a personal hobby (twice as fun if the sequel in question is extra-awful).
Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever was filmed in 2007, and sat on the shelf at Lionsgate for years, with little to no word about the status of the project until 2009, when co-writer/director Ti West finally revealed that the producers had taken the film away from him and had edited it themselves. He said that he not only had no idea what state the film was in anymore, but that he basically disowned it (despite not being allowed to officially rebrand it an "Alan Smithee film"). More waiting followed, until a few critics took to Twitter saying it had screened at Toronto or Fantastic Fest, with an announcement of the DVD a few months later. Now that the finished product is finally here, it's safe to say that it's one of those rare instances where both the final product and the "web" are equally interesting, and that Cabin Fever 2 comes dangerously close to being a worthwhile sequel.
The movie opens with Paul (Rider Strong), his face bloated and deformed by the dirty lake he's been lying in for days after being unceremoniously dumped there by the lecherous Deputy Winston (Giuseppe Andrews) -- retaliation for breaking up an underage drinking party and clubbing him with a stick. The DVD packaging suggests that Paul is "determined to survive and warn others of the danger", and Strong actually takes top billing (!), but horror fans will probably not be surprised to learn the actor only racks up about a minute of screen time before Paul stumbles out of the woods, and a spectacular encounter with a school bus cuts his participation short.
Anyway, the bus is headed for Springfield High School, and so is the fever, a point literally illustrated by a hysterically funny animated opening credit sequence detailing the journey. Years ago, in an email to Creature Corner, Eli Roth said that when Lionsgate asked for a sequel, he pitched an animated folk musical where Winston and several forest pals roam the mountains and sodomize the corpses of the first movie's victims. It's, uh, not surprising that the studio passed, but it's easy to believe this intro is West's tip of the hat to Roth and his unused treatment, perhaps in response to Roth's support and endorsement of West as his successor.
From there, we meet John (Noah Segan) and Alex (Rusty Kelley), two students at Springfield who are having girl trouble. John's problem is his longtime friend Cassie (Alexi Wasser) and her decision to choose Marc (Marc Senter) over him, despite the overwhelming evidence that Marc is a douchebag, while Alex is simply without. John is considering trying to make a move on Cassie while she and Marc are (temporarily) separated, but Marc intimdates John between classes, and Alex insists that she isn't worth the inevitable pounding. John and Alex both plan to blow off prom, but through a series of last-minute mind-changing and the course of the day's events, both of them find themselves in attendance after all, where the attendees who aren't drinking the bacteria-tainted punch are gulping down infected bottles of Down Home Spring Water.
Even the most skeptical fans will have to admit that Cabin Fever 2 is not shy with the gore, splattering the screen with an admirable amount of unhinged enthusiasm, even inventing several all-new, seriously revolting ways to cover the characters in various body fluids (the most disgusting gore gag being some seriously diseased "junk"; the funniest is a spray of blood from a guy's tracheostomy tube). The prom scene, clearly meant as a nod to Carrie and Prom Night (complete with a cut from the PN soundtrack), is almost wall-to-wall blood and guts on the dance floor, with our heroes encountering a few additional horror scenes elsewhere inside the school. Segan and Kelley (who sounds practically identical to Clark Duke and has a similar build) are both appealing and entertaining enough in the lead roles so that the movie can skate by without any other well-developed characters. At about the halfway point, John delivers an angry speech to Cassie outside the school, one that actually packs an emotional punch that many audience members might relate to. Another huge highlight is the full-fledged return of Giuseppe Andrews as Deputy Winston, who actually puts two and two together this time and runs around town trying to save his own neck. As a bonus, Winston's story thread includes 2 fun cameos: Judah Friedlander as a naïve Down Home Spring Water employee, and, even better, American Movie's Mark Borchardt as Winston's cousin Herman. Had Andrews, Friedlander and Borchardt all occupied a single scene together, it might have been too much indie comedy trucker hat for the movie to handle.
Everything stays agreeably gross and occasionally hilarious until the film enters its third act, where someone has clearly run in with a pickaxe and hacked the last 20 minutes to bits. The goings-on at the high school are basically abandoned, and several characters' fates become a mystery, while the lack of well-defined supporting characters turns into a crutch. Again, John's speech to Cassie is a good one, but the movie doesn't put enough pressure on the love triangle to make it really work, and the character of Cassie is also woefully underdeveloped (through no fault of Wasser's). After limping around for a few minutes, the movie awkwardly shifts gears to an extended, unfunny strip club scene that West was not involved in, and an even-less-funny reprise of the animated intro, also created without West (and a noticeable step down in production quality from the animation of the opening credits; the sequence looks like it was created with MS Paint). There may have been other edits here and there, and it's not clear where exactly West or the screenplay by Joshua Malkin were headed before West chose to walk away, but I can't imagine it's either less entertaining or more anticlimactic than what the final product feebly offers up. Saying the ending is unsatisfying is akin to calling the sinking of the Titanic "a technical difficulty".
Even if this second chapter is extra-profitable (doubtful), it seems unlikely, after the fights and delays on this entry, that Lionsgate would be interested in furthering the franchise. And it's a shame, since it seems like there's still some gas left in the tank; the promise of another film following Borchardt and Andrews is almost irresistible. More than anything, one wants to know what West's original Cabin Fever 2 was really like, a secret which will probably be lost forever, unless future Lionsgate execs grow a little miracle insight about a low-budget sequel they had filmed years ago and unceremoniously dumped on DVD. In the meantime, fans should still be able to wring some enjoyment out of the version that does exist for themselves, as long as they keep in mind that it turns to a gooey, virus-ravaged mush before the credits have started to roll.
The poster for the original Cabin Fever took an image of the titular location and used trees, shadow, and the features of a house to form the image of a skull. The DVD cover for Cabin Fever 2 takes an image of a bus driving through the woods and superimposes a skull over it with Photoshop, which is not the same thing. The package is much more yellow in comparison to the red artwork of the original, but taking into account both the front and back layouts, it looks about the way you'd expect the packaging for a direct-to-video horror sequel to look: like a cheesy approximation. The case is an ECO-BOX with no insert, and the whole thing is wrapped in a slipcover with identical artwork.
The Video and Audio
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image on this DVD is problematic on several standard technical levels, but the flaw that trumps all of the other ones, the genuine dealbreaker, is that the picture appears to be vertically stretched. Watching the first few minutes of material set at the high school, it was impossible to shake the feeling that people's faces were too tall, and after a few minutes, I popped the disc in my computer and used the controls on my DVD playback program to smash it down. Since Cabin Fever 2 is making a direct-to-DVD premiere, I obviously have no point of comparison, but the altered dimensions viewed via computer looked distinctly more "right" than the unaltered aspect. It seems as if the film is actually meant to be presented in a 2.40:1 ratio (like the original Cabin Fever), but Lionsgate encoded it at around 2.20:1 instead.
Obviously, this is a huge issue (worthy of a replacement program, really), but corrected discs sound like wishful thinking (seeing as Lionsgate's waited so long to dump the film, I can't imagine they'd care enough to rectify this mistake). Anyway, beyond that, the image is extremely soft and filled with artifacts, as if this were a master analog version of the film rather than a digital transfer. When all is said and done, the image would probably rate around two stars if it didn't appear stretched, but the issue makes it distractingly unwatchable (I had to watch the rest of the movie on the computer, using the quick fix).
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, and it's as dull as the picture, although, at the very least, it doesn't seem to be warped across the sound field. Most of the sound comes right through the front three channels, with only the occasional music cue briefly activating the rears. It's easy to understand, anyway. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Two featurettes are included: "Gore Reel" (3:07) and "Cabin Fever 2: Behind the Scenes" (12:47), which is merely called "Behind the Scenes Featurette" on the menu. Neither of these are revelatory, although the making-of piece hints at a more developed love triangle. Director Ti West is noticeably absent from the making-of, and the interviewees that remain don't make any reference to him, either.
Early announcements of the DVD mentioned an audio commentary (participants not named) that is not present on this disc. There's an extremely remote possibility that the track is being held as a potential Blu-Ray exclusive (apparently the film is not debuting on both formats), but we'll never know for sure unless a Blu-Ray version is ever made available (and, like a replacement program, it doesn't seem like a good bet).
Trailers for Blood Creek, Saw VI, Train, Cabin Fever, and promos for Break.com and FEARnet play before the main menu.
I'm biased. I love Cabin Fever unabashedly, and a good 75% of Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever either measures up or manages adequacy. The last 25% are a pretty serious failure, though, and coupled with the mucked-up image and weak bonus features, there's no reason viewers need to run out and buy this disc before they've given the movie a try. Unless you're a Cabin Fever completist like me, consider renting it for a few gory chuckles, although it's worth waiting a week or so to see if Lionsgate is willing to acknowledge or correct the disc's serious framing error first.
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