Not the "Blair Witch"-sized hit that the distributors hoped it would be, Eli Roth's oddball indie horror picture "Cabin Fever" still provides a decently creepy 90-minutes. The film, like most horror pictures, follows a group of teens - Paul (Rider Strong), Marcy (Cerina Vincent), Jeff (Joey Kern), Karen (Jordan Ladd) and Bert (James DeBello). The other four are couples; Bert's just a jock that somehow tagged along for the ride.
While their plans of beer and fooling around go fine for a while, their fun is interrupted when a local hermit comes to their cabin, demanding help. He's contracted a disease that essentially rots his skin, causing him to bleed out terribly. While the kids - freaked out and unaware of how to help - manage to scare him off, it's not too long before one of them starts showing signs of having caught the same terrible disease.
The kids start to turn on each other, each one afraid that they'll be next to come down with the virus. The townspeople, who are like something out of "Deliverance", are no help, either. The film's performances really do little to add to the picture, coming off as rather bland (Vincent, Ladd and Strong). The townspeople fare somewhat better, as some of them (including a little kid that likes to chomp random people's hands) are fairly creepy.
The film's visuals are fairly good, considering the budget. I still think, years later, that "Blair Witch"'s rough quality was one of the main reasons why it was so chilling. "Cabin Fever" starts off with a rather warm color palette, but thankfully the palette chills once things get worse. The 2.35:1 widescreen framing also works well for the film. The film's make-up effects - by popular effects house KNB - are also quite well-done, although there's not as much gore in the film as the "hype" would leave one to believe.
The film does generate a couple good jump scares and pulls together some paranoid tension in a couple of stretches, yet it really never gathers too much intensity or momentum, as the occasional attempts at dark humor and skipping between tone and genre (not to mention several plot holes and questionable choices by characters) really only serve to take away from the tension. Beyond all that, the film isn't particularly original - while it does manage to side-step our expectations on who's going to go first, it clearly does take ideas from other films. Most recently, "28 Days Later" certainly did more with something quite similar.
There's a great deal of potential with this film, as the atmosphere of the town and woods could clearly have been taken further advantage of. Not to mention...what the hell is with the ending?
VIDEO: "Cabin Fever" is presented by Lion's Gate in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer seemed perfectly fine, if not remarkable in any way. Sharpness and detail remained just average, as the picture tended to appear slightly soft and came up somewhat lacking in shadow detail.
The presentation didn't have too many of the usual issues, but I did notice a few slight compression artifacts and instances of edge enhancement. The print appeared to be in fine condition, although a speck or two was spotted. The film's changing color palette also looked fine, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: "Cabin Fever" boasts a decent Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The surrounds do kick in randomly to provide some unexpected bumps and thumps, but mostly, the rear speakers provide some minor ambience and slight reinforcement for the score. Audio quality remained fine, as dialogue and sound effects remained clean.
Commentaries: Director Eli Roth has the first commentary to himself. Roth joins Jordan Ladd and Cerina Vincent in another commentary. Roth joins the producer and cinematographer in another commentary. Joey Kern, James DeBello and Eli Roth provide a fourth commentary.
Also: A nearly 30-minute "making of" documentary, "Chick-vision", which blocks the film's scary parts (strange feature); the "family version" (1 minute, 13 seconds) and strange animation shorts by director Roth. The film's trailer (which makes it look better than it is) is located under the Lion's Gate logo on the main menu.
Final Thoughts: "Cabin Fever" had great potential to be a genuinely creepy blend of several horror films. Unfortunately, the film often sabotages its own attempts at generating tension and I never was particularly involved with the characters. Lions Gate has put together a fine DVD, with enjoyable audio/video quality and supplements, but I'd only lightly recommend a rental for those who haven't seen the film yet.