Friday, December 19, 2014

Worth Mentioning - Gore and Pancakes

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody monitors the Cabin Fever trilogy.


In the mid-'90s, I was a young kid on the edge of becoming an obsessive compulsive germophobe. The news reports I kept encountering that dealt with a "flesh eating bacteria" people were regularly contracting did nothing to deter me from my hand washing, Purell-buying future. A bacteria that ate away at people's flesh was a terrifying thought, one that was full of potential for being the basis of a horror movie.

Aspiring filmmaker Eli Roth saw that potential, and in 1995 he co-wrote a screenplay with his film school friend Randy Pearlstein about a group of characters who become infected with some kind of highly contagious disease that basically causes them to rot to death.

It took several years for Roth to find the money to make Cabin Fever as an independent film, but after several years of searching he landed the cash and went into production on his feature debut.

Roth's inspirations for the style and structure of Cabin Fever were Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead, Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and John Carpenter's The Thing, with a nod to Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left in the soundtrack - a couple of David Hess's songs that were featured in Last House are also featured in Cabin Fever. Viewers may also catch references to other horror films such as George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Roth mixed all these inspirations together to make a film that is distinctly his own.

There was a lot of hype for Cabin Fever in the online community between its festival debut in 2002 and its wide theatrical release in 2003. A lot of positive reviews came from its festival screenings, and there was even word that the guys of the special effects group KNB, who provided the effects for Cabin Fever, thought it was one of the greatest movies they had worked on since Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II. Legions of horror fans awaited its release.

The reaction was mixed, with viewers who felt the movie didn't live up to the hype sparking a backlash. I would agree with those who didn't think Cabin Fever wasn't the frightfest early reviews had made it out to be - I thought it was more funny than scary. I would even agree with viewers who thought the characters were repugnant. I really don't like the group of college students at the center of the story at all, although they are occasionally amusing. And yet, I still enjoy the movie.

Like The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cabin Fever starts off with a group of young friends on a road trip. As in The Evil Dead, they're going on vacation, planning to spend a week in a small, isolated cabin in the woods. Travelling from the city into the country, they meet an odd assortment of characters - the silent little boy who sits on the swing outside of a market, biting anyone who gets too close; the market's kindly old clerk who uses unacceptable words; a pothead with an unfriendly dog.

The group reaches their destination and spends an evening settling in at the cabin. Couple Jeff and Marcy immediately christen the cabin with an intense session of sex, Paul goes swimming with his longtime friend Karen and makes an unsuccessful attempt to take their relationship to the next level (given the stories she tells and her general personality, I can't imagine why he's into her), and Bert wanders the woods, shooting at squirrels with a rifle. When night falls, it's time for scary stories around a campfire until a storm drives them inside.

While out acting like an idiot, par for the course for him, Bert came across an obviously seriously ill man in the woods who asked him for his help. Rather than help him, Bert got scared that he might be contagious and warned him off with his gun. That same man shows up at the door of the cabin that night, asking for help. Bert slams the door in his face.

Tired of the treatment he's been getting from the people he meets, and needing medical treatment, the man then attempts to steal Jeff's truck. What follows is utterly absurd. To stop the man from taking the truck, Bert fires his rifle into it, Paul beats the truck with a baseball bat, and Jeff batters it with a fireplace poker, even smashing his own driver's side window. Meanwhile, the guy is projectile vomiting blood all over the interior.

Stumbling out of the vehicle, the guy approaches Karen and Marcy. And gets hairspray sprayed in his face for his troubles. Paul then tries to ward him off with a flaming torch... which accidentally catches the man on fire. This sequence really speaks to how horrible the characters are. As Karen cries later, "That guy asked for our help. We lit him on fire."

Their comeuppance for their ill treatment of this ill man arrives swiftly. Soon most of them are suffering from the same flesh-rotting affliction he had... Largely because he dove into their water source to douse his flaming body, and now his decomposing corpse is floating in it.

As characters become sick, the dynamic among the group falls apart. There are arguments over how to handle things, relationships change, people are abandoned, the infection also affects the minds of the ill.

Some characters are so determined not to catch the disease that their friendships or romances with someone becomes irrelevant as soon as that person shows symptoms. Karen is the first to show signs of illness and is cruelly quarantined in a shed.

Although the basis of the film's horror, the illness is also used for gross-out gags (Paul discovers that Karen is sick by touching her in a more-than-friendly manner while she's asleep. He's essentially the hero of this film, and yet he's acting like a date rapist.) and humorous moments: Listerine is used as a disinfectant after unsafe sex.

The disease eating away at their skin isn't the only thing they have to worry about, either. The pothead's dog is running loose in the woods, violent and ravenous, possibly due to being infected itself. When townspeople discover what's going on out there at the cabin, they take extreme measures to make sure the disease doesn't continue to spread.

It wasn't just reading news articles about flesh eating bacteria that inspired Eli Roth to write this story, he also had experience with skin afflictions himself; a terrible case of psoriasis, and at another point an infection on his face. One day while he had the infection, he shaved and found that he wasn't just shaving off beard stubble, his skin was coming off as well.

Roth turned that real life scare into what may be the film's most popular scene, in which an infected Marcy shaves her legs and finds that she's shaving the skin off her legs. This effect has never worked for me, however. It doesn't really look like she's shaving off her skin, it looks like what it actually is - the actress is wiping off shaving cream to reveal the grotesque effect that is underneath. The shape of the wounds don't really correspond with the path of the razor... KNB have done awesome work, there are awesome effects work on display throughout the film, but I think this effect could have been done better.

At turns dark and creepy or ridiculous and funny, Cabin Fever uses a great premise to become an interesting study of how a group of extremely unlikeable characters handle themselves in a very dangerous situation. To say they don't handle it well is to put it very mildly.

The standout characters of the film aren't even members of the group. They are the aforementioned feral little kid (who goes crazy for pancakes) and the market clerk, as well as a party-minded police officer that Paul runs into a couple times, Deputy Winston Olsen. Deputy Winston's demeanor and way of speaking are absolutely hilarious, and the most he accomplishes in the line of duty is to suggest that a stressed out Karen drink a 40.

Even though I find the group in the cabin to be generally terrible people, I can see reflections of myself in how some of them try to avoid getting sick. The manner and frustration Jeff develops over the course of the film in particular made me think of how my OCD has sometimes made me act.

I don't find Cabin Fever to be the great, mind-blowing entry in the horror genre that it was hyped up to be before its release, but I do find it to be an enjoyable movie that is worth checking out. It's nowhere near the films that inspired it, but it is entertaining in its own way.


Cabin Fever director/co-writer Eli Roth had some ideas for how to handle a follow-up to his debut film, but they were a bit too off-the-wall for the tastes of the producers. Roth wanted to delve into the mind of party-obsessed police officer Deputy Winston Olsen in a film that would take inspiration from Disney's 1946 live action/animation hybrid film Song of the South. Winston's hallucinations would be represented by animated characters. There is a hint of this on the DVD menus of Cabin Fever, which do feature Winston interacting with animated animals. The producers, however, wanted to take the more audience-friendly approach of showing the flesh-eating disease the characters came down with in the original film infecting other characters in different scenarios.

Various filmmakers pitched their ideas for Cabin Fever 2, Hatchet writer/director Adam Green even wrote a full screenplay for the sequel, but the concept that ultimately made it to the screen was a collaboration between Roth's Cabin Fever co-writer Randy Pearlstein and the up-and-coming director who had been hired to helm Cabin Fever 2, a new guy on the genre scene who Roth had recommended for the job based on his debut film The Roost, Ti West. Joshua Malkin wrote the screenplay based on the story by Pearlstein and West.

Although it was released seven years after the first movie had its film festival premiere, the sequel starts right where its predecessor ended, with Roth's lead character Paul infected with the disease and dumped in the creek from which the Down Home Water bottled water company gets their thirst-quenching product.

Gasping for air, Paul rises from the water, horribly deformed by the disease that is causing the flesh to rot off of his body. He crawls out of the creek, stumbles off through the woods, staggers onto a road… and is obliterated by a speeding school bus.

Paul's presence in Cabin Fever 2 lasts for less than two minutes, and even though his face is so ravaged by the disease that he's barely recognizable, actor Rider Strong returned to reprise the role. For sitting through the makeup job and stumbling and staggering, Strong received top billing.

Giuseppe Andrews didnt get to star in a film all about his character Deputy Winston, but he did return for the sequel. He's the police officer who responds to the report of the school bus something. Even though it's clearly a human being who has been splattered all over the road, Winston assures the bus driver that he hit a moose and sends him on his way.

And they're not Song of the South-esque, but Cabin Fever 2 does feature animated segments. Animations during the title sequence and at the end of the film depict how the disease is spread from place to place through characters and bottles of Down Home Water.

A large shipment of infected Down Home Water is delivered to Springfield High School to be consumed by the faculty and attending teenagers just in time for the school prom, which has a Sea Disco theme.

As Winston starts to see signs of the disease continuing to spread through his community, he decides to ditch his job and get out of town. Andrews' scenes all involve him sharing the screen with some awesome person or another, from Larry Fessenden to Judah Friedlander and even American Movie documentary subject Mark Borchardt.

Winston isn't the only one who realizes what's going on. So have higher up authority figures, and a squad of shadowy, heavily-armed agents have been sent to Springfield to quarantine the infected and execute anyone who knows about this disease and how it's being spread. Winston bails just in time.

The disease sweeps through Springfield High, and when the prom is in full swing people there start spewing blood left and right and dropping dead. The illness kills people very quickly in this sequel. There aren't so many cases of people slowly rotting to death this time around. The disease many affects people by making them feel ill, start vomiting blood or bleeding from various other orifices, and then they fall over dead. The majority of the prom attendees have died within minutes.

The core dramatic story of the film is the love triangle between a young man named John; Cassie, the girl he has been pining for since they were children; and Cassie's rich, thoughtless, manipulative, bullying boyfriend Marc. John's best friend Alex also has a subplot entailing his quest to get a date to the prom and to have sex with any willing female.

The love triangle allows for a great scene in which John vents his frustrations about the situation to Cassie, expressing his confusion over how she could be into Marc when he's the worst human being in their school and she's the best. It's a fantastic moment of catharsis well delivered by actor Noah Segan. Marc will continue to be a problem for him after that scene, but from that point on the focus of the movie is really on the horror.

Cabin Fever 2 may not feature as much of the flesh rotting effects as its predecessor did, but it certainly does try its best to disgust and offend its viewers. In addition to copious amounts of blood, there's also seeping pus, urine, horrific frontal nudity, and cringe-worthy sights like a person trying to glue their fingernail back on. Nearly every bodily fluid is present and accounted for.

All that, plus a person tries to save their own life by amputating an infected limb in shop class. A saw, a torch, some duct tape, and they're good to go.

This film is paced very differently than the typical Ti West directorial effort. His movies tend to be slow burns, but Cabin Fever 2 gets to the prom rather early on and is almost nonstop action.

The movie was actually out of West's hands once it was shot, and he was so unhappy with the results that he unsuccessfully lobbied to have his name taken off of it. West's credit remains, and he knows what his vision was and why he's upset with the finished film, but I don't see why he would want to disown it completely. For most of its running time, Cabin Fever 2 is a very solid little gross-out horror movie.

It isn't until the last 5 minutes before the end credits start to roll that the movie falls apart. It's in those moments than an absolutely horrendous scene plays out which doesn't feel at all like the preceding movie. It seems like it was shot by someone other than Ti West and edited by someone with no concept of pacing. There's no style to it and just goes on and on.

Except for that poorly made epilogue, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever is, for the most part, an enjoyable movie. It's a little sloppy, there's not much to it, but it's not a bad way to spend 86 minutes.

Ti West went straight from Cabin Fever 2 into making the '80s-set The House of the Devil, and it appears that he already had the '80s on his mind when he was filming this movie. The production design is full of vintage items. There's also a callback to the 1981 slasher Prom Night when that film's theme song plays at Springfield High's dance.


Initial word around the internet was that Cabin Fever: Patient Zero would be a prequel to Eli Roth's original film and the sequel that was disowned by director Ti West. However, the finished film doesn't seem to have taken that route, in fact there is a reference to two outbreaks of the souped-up flesh-eating disease that is at the heart of this franchise, incidents that were isolated and contained.

The setting for this third installment is the Dominican Republic, where a group of Americans, including a man named Porter (Sean Astin) and his young son, came on a humanitarian mission to build houses for the poor. As the film begins, the Americans have already been wiped out by another outbreak of the flesh-eating disease... all except for Porter, who is a carrier but asymptomatic. Porter is taken into custody and quarantined in a subterranean laboratory on the uncharted Inferno Island. A team of researchers, led by the unscrupulous Doctor Edwards, need to study Porter in order to find a cure for the disease and avoid a global pandemic... but the man doesn't take his new role as a rat in a cage very well at all.

While the situation in the lab gradually falls apart to a disastrous degree, a young man named Marcus has come to the Dominican Republic to get married. He's marrying up, marrying into money, and he's changing his ways to fit in with his prim and proper bride-to-be and her wealthy family... but before the wedding, Marcus's wild brother Josh, old pal Dobs, and friend/former crush Penny are throwing him a bachelor party that begins with a couple hour long yacht ride - during which there are blow-up dolls, huge dildos, and attempted seductions - and ends with what is intended to be a peaceful night of camping on an uncharted island and smoking a whole lot of marijuana.

Unfortunately, the uncharted island they've chosen to camp on is Inferno Island, where the flesh-eating disease has not been very well contained at all. After swimming in water full of rotten fish carcasses, members of the party begin to develop painful rashes and bloody noses... and viewers familiar with this series know that it's only a matter of time before their affliction gets much worse and much more disgusting.


The gore effects in this film, provided by Vincent Guastini's FX team, are plentiful and repulsive, with many gag-inducing gags on display. Bodies rot, people spew blood from their orifices, badly infected characters tussle with each other lose body parts in the process, the aforementioned dildo comes back into play, and there's even a moment that greatly one-ups the fingering scene from the first movie. And though is insanely gross, it's also hilarious.

Directed by former Marvel Comics artist Kaare Andrews (Altitude), with enough lens flares to make J.J. Abrams proud, and written by Jake Wade Wall, whose previous credits include the When a Stranger Calls and The Hitcher remakes and 2008's Amusement, Patient Zero follows in its predecessors' footsteps in being a rather low budget affair, which is mainly evident in the locations being sparse and doesn't have much of an effect on the overall quality. While the previous films were heavily comedic, this one has some laughs but leans further into darker, more serious territory. And despite the events occurring on a relatively small scale, particularly in comparison to Cabin Fever 2, somehow it felt to me like there were greater stakes this time around.

As the movie nears its conclusion, characters descend into a living nightmare that's reminiscent of the climactic sequence of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and/or House of 1000 Corpses.

Patient Zero is a solid entry in the Cabin Fever series that I imagine would be more well-received than part 2 was. Certainly, I haven't heard any talk of Kaare Andrews disowning it.

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