Eli Roth’s Debut Movie Cabin Fever Is Still a Gooey, Gory Good Time

How do you know if you’ve made a suitably sick and twisted riot of a horror movie? How about when Brain Dead and Bad Taste director Peter Jackson makes the crew of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King down tools on three separate occasions so he could screen it for them?

How do you know if you’ve made a suitably sick and twisted riot of a horror movie? How about when Brain Dead and Bad Taste director Peter Jackson makes the crew of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King down tools on three separate occasions so he could screen it for them?

That’s exactly what happened for Eli Roth’s debut movie Cabin Fever. It would be weirdly specific if it happened for more than one movie, but still, it’s a testament to how much Roth’s film revels in sticky, gooey, gory goodness and pulls it off to intentionally unpleasant success.

Cabin Fever, released on this day 20 years ago, sees a group of friends head to a remote cabin in the woods where they encounter something horrifying. Not mutant hillbillies or demonic books though, something far more normal and unsettling — a flesh-eating disease that makes the lives of these vacationing youths disgustingly miserable.

The idea didn’t come from thin air. Roth was inspired, if you can call it that, by an incident in his own life when he worked on a horse farm in Iceland. The rotting hay in the barn caused a severe reaction in Roth’s skin. It bled and broke out in sores, and when he had to shave, his skin literally peeled off with the razor.

(embed)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sieu-nuNnrQ(/embed)

In a disturbing coincidence, the film’s sound mixer, John Neff, survived the real-life version of the flesh-eating disease after coming into contact with the bacterium during a minor surgery. It took nearly two weeks of intensive care to save Neff from a horrible fate. If anyone was going to know the authenticity of the effects and FX in Cabin Fever, it would be him. He gave the make-up in the movie a grim seal of approval.

Cabin Fever is repulsive on a lot of levels that don’t involve flesh slopping off pretty young actors. Roth’s love of schlock horror is apparent in that department, but also in the general off-tone of the movie itself. It’s like a teen sex comedy gone wrong. There are bizarre moments of comedy such as the whole ”pancakes” scene and even the sex scenes carry the awkwardly goofy feel of a comedy (which is at least partially intentional). One of the actors in the film, Cerina Vincent, had even appeared in the teen sex comedy spoof Not Another Teen Movie as a riff on the nymphomaniac foreign exchange student.

Cabin Fever certainly leans into being odd and offensive on a level reminiscent of sex comedies and Troma films, and that’s what makes it such a delightfully disgusting watch compared to the bleaker nastiness of Hostel.

Out of the Cabin and Into the Fire

Credit: Lionsgate

A sequel, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, continued on from the events of the first movie, and was helmed by future X and Pearl director Ti West. It’s a lesser film in terms of bottling that icky formula of the original, but it’s grimly entertaining to see the disease rip through a high school prom.

A third entry, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, moves the action to a remote island and features more attempts at raising the sicko bar with a particular nightmarish scene for anyone with a hang-up about oral pleasure. With both sequels, the quality is undoubtedly lower, but the intent remains the same.

Compare and contrast with the utterly pointless 2016 remake that goes beat for beat with the original but strips back the gore, personality, weirdness, and humor of it to leave a painfully ordinary structure for a truly awful remake. Sitting through the grossest moment of the original trilogy is an absolute breeze compared to enduring Cabin Fever 2016.

Eli Roth cemented his place in the modern horror pantheon with Hostel, but in the years since, the weirdo magic of Cabin Fever has eluded his filmography, in the good sense anyway. Knock Knock was the bad kind of weird. Still, with Roth’s long-gestating Thanksgiving slasher finally becoming reality and looking something closer to that early work, maybe the spread of Cabin Fever can infect the seasonal slasher with the right kind of weird, silly, and gross horror.