Cabin Fever Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Travis Zariwny
Written by Randy Pearlstein and Eli Roth
2016, 98 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on July 26th, 2016
Gage Golightly as Karen
Matthew Daddario as Jeff
Samuel Davis as Paul
Nadine Crocker as Marcy
Dustin Ingram as Bert
Louise Linton as Deputy Winston
To say Hollywood occasionally lacks originality and loves a good knock-off is a bit of an understatement, as generations of filmgoers have endured countless remakes, retreads or whatever counts as re-imaginings. The proverbial expression “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” has been a staple in the industry, as producers have long chased the current success story or the last big hit. Interchangeable disaster pictures, buddy-cop movies, high-octane action flicks and other routine formulas have successfully clogged cinemas for decades, but the horror genre is especially susceptible to this temptation. The practice of Americanizing international hits for domestic crowds is certainly nothing new; one example being the frequent re-vamps of popular Asian hits, affectionately dubbed J-Horror. Self-cannibalization also proved appealing: in 2003, contemporary audiences were subjected to a barrage of new spins on recent genre “classics”, some of which were up to thirty years old (gasp!). This trend was pushed into high gear with the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), and soon the slasher subgenre became the next fertile ground strip-mined for a quick buck by the studio system as over two dozen titles were given a glossy new facelift over the next decade.
2003 also marked the arrival of Eli Roth, an independent filmmaker with a keen eye for dark comedy and an unquestionable love for horror. His debut film Cabin Fever avoided the clichés of the popular and safe material filling cinemas, instead offering an over-the-top entry in the body horror subgenre. A group of friends celebrating the end of college at a remote cabin are soon faced with the terror of an unknown bacterial contaminant that eats away their flesh from the inside. Facing a highly infectious disease without a cure, everyone’s friendship, loyalty and fortitude are tested as they must work together even at the risk of their own health and safety if any are to survive. Roth’s script is quirky, fun and relentless as he continues to ratchet up the tension and push his characters into increasingly horrible situations. The film is not without its flaws and detractors, but I had a blast when I saw it and still count it as my favorite of his efforts. Roth has returned to the director’s chair a few times with mixed results, but has actually proven to be quite the producer, helping other young filmmakers catch a break.
So now, for reasons I cannot comprehend, we get a remake of Cabin Fever just thirteen years after the original’s release. If this had been a foreign language film (i.e. Let the Right One In, 2008) that wowed audiences overseas, I could understand the desire for a domestic retread (i.e. Let Me In, 2010), though I would rather simply see the first version with subtitles. If Cabin Fever had been an obscure flick that played briefly and disappeared on video where it developed a cult following years later, I could be persuaded in time. As it stands, Roth’s film received a wide release in theaters courtesy of Lionsgate Films, and spawned both a sequel, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009), and a prequel, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (2014), so I fail to see the need for a do-over. One of the selling points on Cabin Fever (2016) is that it uses the same script as the 2003 original. This is mostly true with a few minor tweaks, similar to Gus Van Sant’s 1998 “shot-for-shot” remake of Psycho (1960) that managed to step off-message and make room for Walkman radios and awkward scenes of masturbation.
Everybody at some point has had that friend who likes to repeat other people’s jokes, but manages to butcher the material because no matter how hard they try, they somehow lack the skill of someone like Richard Pryor or George Carlin. The words are all spoken in the correct order, but the response is more of polite laughter than genuine amusement. Eli Roth is not a Master of Horror, nor is he the voice of a generation, and I don’t believe he would ever claim such titles, but director Travis Zariwny (Scavengers) makes Roth look like Sir Alfred fucking Hitchcock by comparison. All the Cabin Fever (2003) words and shots are handed to him on Blu-ray to study, but Zariwny lacks the talent to pull it off. Rather than using the original script as a springboard into uncharted territory, the remake languishes in an uncomfortable limbo where all traces of levity and fun have been replaced by clumsy attempts at being both slick and serious. If the original suffered from over-the-top performances by some of the cast, they were at least keeping in spirit with the gonzo nature of the material, whereas the actors here are interchangeably dull and forgettable. Cinematographer Gavin Kelly (Wake) gives the film a great look, but Zariwny fails to complement the efforts by drawing strong performances from anyone but the special effects team.
Sometimes a film works because of its originality, not in spite of it. I do not have anything against remakes when they are done well, and can list many that rank highly among my favorite genre films. A new version requires a fresh perspective rather than stale imitation and it is the resourceful efforts that are the most successful. Modern horror requires a lot of patience for devoted audiences, as we must sift through a lot of disappointing attempts before discovering the elusive gem that rewards our efforts. I don’t believe there to be any one single title deemed off-limits when it comes to remakes, but I cannot understand why the producers were compelled to invest in a second bite at a still viable property. Cabin Fever (2003) never struck me as something that would spawn a franchise, but the ensuing entries were never embarrassing; in fact the sequel is my favorite film from its director, Ti West. The eternal chase of the almighty dollar will always lead Hollywood down the easy path of following the familiar and proven ground, but the premature remake of a movie about a poisoned well brings an ironic twist to the mix.
Video and Audio:
The movie was shot last year in digital HD and looks as beautiful as one would expect. Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the picture is crisp with plenty of small-object detail and rich colors. Black levels are sufficiently deep and there is nice contrast for the numerous night exterior scenes.
The disc offers an aggressive DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that keeps things active when it comes to speaker activity. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion although the music is occasionally intrusive and you may find yourself adjusting volume levels.
English and Spanish subtitles are offered for anyone in need.
Extras are a bit light, as the main supplement on this disc is a short (11 minutes) behind-the-scenes featurette offering cast and crew interviews paired with footage shot on set of everyone working. There is nothing particularly exciting to see here, but the filmmakers are proud of their own efforts.
The original trailer has also been included.
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