Back in 2002 Writer/Director, Eli Roth (Cabin Fever and Hostel) was fresh out of film school and eager to make his mark on the horror community. Enter “Cabin Fever” starring “Boy Meets World” actor, Rider Strong along with four other fresh faces Cerina Vincent, Jordan Ladd, James DeBello and Joey Kern. Clearly inspired by the likes of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” and George Romero’s “Dawn Of The Dead”, Eli crafted his own claustrophobic horror flick about a flesh-eating bacteria, that spreads among a group of friends on a college break at a cabin in the woods. Roth went on to have further success in the genre with the “Hostel” series and as they say, the rest is history. Needless to say most horror fans (like myself) were surprised when word got out that Roth’s “Cabin Fever” was being remade, after all the film is only 13 years old (whoa scary that it’s that long already). With a script written (or for the most part, re-transcribed) by original Writer, Randy Pearlstein and Directed by Travis Zariwny (Scavengers) Cabin Fever is about a group of five friends, who become exposed to a flesh-eating virus while at a cabin on college break. This remake stars Samuel Davis (Exists), Gage Golightly (Pretty Little Liars), Matthew Daddario, Dustin Ingram and Nadine Crocker.
On several occasions I’ve said a specific review is going to be short and sweet and it never is (haha) but I’m really going to do my best on this one. Judging from the majority of negative press I’ve seen for this remake, it seems I’m going to have more positive things to say than most viewers, so that’s something right? I have to state upfront that I’ve spent some time conversing with Travis (the director) over the past few months. I got to asking him questions about the film, the idea behind it and even some stuff to do with his past and future projects, he seems like a good guy. Okay, so let’s get into the review shall we? I tried to go into the film with a completely open mind and did my best to put everything I’d seen in Eli’s film out of my head… and yeah, that worked for all of ten minutes. It’s very difficult to just judge any remake on its own merit but even more so when the original happens to be a film that kick started your love of horror (as is the case for me).
The ball gets rolling with some overhead shots of a luscious landscape that looks truly gorgeous. Oh wait, let’s backtrack… The very first shot of the film is a classy one looking through a tunnel, as a stranger jumps from above into a puddle of water, his game meat in one hand. A simple opening but when combined with a very base thumping score it sets the tone nicely. Unfortunately that tone I speak of isn’t appropriately built up when comparing it to the opening sequence in the 2002 film. Let’s talk about the score because I think that was one of the strongest aspects on display in Travis’s film. The original score, which I believe was done by Angelo Badalamenti and Nathan Barr was such a pulse pounding and memorable one but to my surprise so was Kevin Riepl’s in this film. The score is constantly intensifying, from the low-end synth sounds in act one, all the way through to the heavy bass and constant use of repeated notes during the climax, its great stuff!
Most of the original Cabin Fever was shot in North Carolina but the production moved to Oregon for the remake. I’ve never been there myself but the location they chose makes for some nice cinematography, it’s a very green backdrop. There’s some nice use of crane shots overlooking the cabin and the lake looks perfect, everything is nicely framed too. The cast are made up of mostly new faces (at least for this viewer) and the standard of performances aren’t too bad. When your hear all those lines you know off by heart being read by Actors and Actresses that aren’t the ones you picture, its tough. The original cast members were all of a similar age, if not slightly younger than this group during the shooting of the film but each of them made the most of their characters and the moments they had on-screen, this time around it doesn’t feel like they do. Dustin Ingram who plays Bert, the token fool and fifth wheel of the group was the stand out for me. He was given some gaming jokes and things that worked for his comedic ability. In addition, he gets to fool around with an automatic weapon which leads to an entertaining “video game” style sequence. I still don’t think he handles the role quite like James DeBello but he has his moments.
The remainder of the cast is fine and they do a decent enough job and if you never saw the 2002 version you probably won’t look to judge this group as harshly as the core fan base might. Daddario as Jeff, doesn’t give off the same arrogance as Joey Kern who originally played the character but Gage who plays Karen does handle her emotional scenes quite well. Nadine Crocker’s gorgeous and her take on “Marcy” helps give the film some attitude, much like Cerina did in the original. I remember seeing her pop up in the indie Horror/Comedy gem “Some Guy Who Kills People” (highly recommend). Lastly, Samuel Davis had the nice guy appeal that Rider had for his role of Paul but it wasn’t always present, plus some of the scenes for the character were cut in this version of the film. The blood and gore effects/makeup looks solid and I particularly enjoyed the nastier climax throughout the infamous shower scene, however that was the only impactful addition. Though it’s not a shot for shot remake it does tread over much of the same dialogue and information failing to bring anything new to the table.
Eli Roth’s original had a very unique approach, not to mention it was the first time I’d seen elements of Comedy and Horror within the same film (more of the latter of course). The presence of some truly memorable characters, combined with an offbeat comedic touch gave the film that cult type of status. Unfortunately some of the better dialogue was cut from the script and replaced with modern pop culture references and things more relevant to the youth of today. The problem here is the script missed the mark fleshing out those critical sequences and interesting characters that we celebrated in Roth’s film. For example, the store sequence involving Dennis and his random kung fu is just the first of many let downs. In Zariwny’s film the scene never moves inside the store nor does Dennis have that same peculiarity about him, ultimately resulting in an unnecessary bunch of scenes that are forgettable. Robert Harris (R.I.P) who played the original store owner was good-humored and supplied us with one of the best ending (and again random) interactions. In fact all the “hillbilly” characters had their own unique feel, this time around the casting feels off and the trio just seem to be going through the motions.
There’s two more iconic characters from Roth’s film that just don’t work either. When you have someone like Giuseppe Andrews doing his thing with ease and turning what could have been a dull character into the life of the party (pardon the pun), why mess with it? Deputy Winston was hilarious and probably one of the best things about Cabin Fever. Now no disrespect to the lovely Louise Linton, but the decision to cast her was a poor one. Now before you jump to conclusions it’s not because she’s a woman, or that she’s even that bad in the film it’s simply that Andrews embodies that character, nobody else was going to work. Then we have a strange but not at all funny portrayal of Grim by Tim Zajaros, You remember him right? Our pro skater, weed smoker looking for a positive bonfire with his dog Dr Mumbo at his side. It’s not just that Eli played that character and knew exactly the right notes to hit, it’s that Zajaros’s look and feel just doesn’t work and in addition the funniest lines from that original sequence were cut here as well.
Even if you can ignore different players reading the lines us fans know and love, on top of watching what were memorable characters being played far straighter and more awkward than you’d care to see, there’s a lazy structure and slow pacing to boot. For the first hour of Cabin Fever nothing much of interest really happens. I understand the start of the script is much the same as Roth’s but for whatever reason the pacing this time feels really slow. The action is slow to escalate which just gave me more time to focus on this cast that aren’t the cast I know. Both the dog in the opening sequence and the diseased hog later in the film look like latex replicas. It could just be the lens they used for the shot that made it look so fake but I’m pretty sure Eli used a real pig for that scene (already dead obviously). In the same part of the film Jeff and Bert ask the “Hog Lady” to call them a tow truck so they can get to town, that is before they realize her connection to the man they attacked. Anyways.. they tell her something like “Don’t worry about it, it’s turning into a nice day so we might walk”. Now that line was fine in the original film because of where and when it was filmed, this time around they head outside the barn and it’s raining fairly heavy so I’m not sure whether that was supposed to be a random gag or just bad continuity and lazy editing in the script.
Okay so this review wasn’t short I know.. but to be fair there’s a lot to discuss. I can’t in my right mind say that this remake of Cabin Fever is a poor film because a solid chunk of it is just Eli’s film modernized. It has its share of good and bad like any Horror film but the common question being asked my fans and reviewers (myself included) is What was the point? What purpose did it serve to “remake” essentially a shot for shot version of a film that was only made 13 years ago? Well folks.. that is something I don’t have an answer for, I honestly don’t know why it was made. It’s a film that’s neither here nor there. If you’re a huge fan of the original film you’ll find it hard to really want to watch this and if you’ve never seen the 2002 version there’s a good chance you’ll probably like it! I think Travis is a competent Director and did the best with what he was given, sadly it wasn’t a lot. I’m really looking forward to checking out his new Suspense/Thriller “Intruder” which he wrote and directed, I’m hoping for a better result.
My rating for “Cabin Fever” is 5/10