"Cabin Fever": What the hell was Peter Jackson thinking?

by Eric Melin on September 19, 2003

in Print Reviews

With 3 hours to kill before a show in Little Rock, Ark., I entered a theater with my band-mates to see this movie, mostly because the ads on TV featured positive quotes from Peter Jackson and Premiere magazine. It was a gamble, for sure. But every now and then it’s kind of fun to go to a film I know absolutely nothing about.

Unless that film is “Cabin Fever.”

What the hell was even going on in this movie? You know how, in horror movies, characters do really stupid things that no real person would ever do? Maybe somebody goes into a dark room by themselves to look for some unimportant object, only to face certain death. Or some action is taken that leads directly to worsening an already bad situation, even though you can’t see any logical reason for that action in the first place.

“Cabin Fever” is a entire movie built on stupid move after stupid move.

It starts right at the beginning, when one of a group of incredibly dense college kids leaves a blood-spitting, diseased drifter for dead in the woods and then, unbelievably, doesn’t mention the incident to his fellow cabin-mates.

The first hour of “Cabin Fever” is an absolute bore. It was obvious by that point that this movie was never going to get scary. So the gamble didn’t pay off. Five bucks down the drain. Oh well.

What was so strange and intriguing, however, was that it was so much worse than boring. And I can’t stress this part enough-NOTHING THAT HAPPENED EVER MADE ANY SENSE AT ALL.

“Cabin Fever” is a masterwork of ineptness on the part of Eli Roth, the director/ writer/ editor. But when I finally resigned myself to the fact that this movie just plain sucked, an odd thing happened. It got funny ­ uncomfortably funny.

The stupidity was taken to an absurd level. The bad mullet-wigged kid who was introduced at the beginning of the movie now doesn’t merely bite strangers who come too close to him. Now, he also does high-flying kung fu kicks and screams “Pancakes!” at the top of his lungs.

Just like the mysterious disease that’s spreading through the woods, there’s no explanation for this sudden shift in tone during the last twenty or so minutes. And I was so desperate for something entertaining that this new tone was very welcome. Many of the bits are poorly executed and not really that funny, and that made them almost funnier.

When another of the characters starts laughing about how he survived the night, I knew he was about to suddenly die. But his laughter went on for so long, I wondered if his unavoidable death would ever happen. Eventually he was killed, but so far after he should have been that I had to question whether the scene was done that way on purpose.

And I guess that is the biggest question I have about “Cabin Fever.” Was it ineptness, or was it winking absurdity? Was Roth going for bad on purpose, to hoodwink the audience and then swipe the carpet out from under our feet in the last nonsensical act?

He obviously went for campiness toward the end, but since the funny business was also pretty shaky at best, I’m pronouncing that “Cabin Fever” is through-and-through an awful film, albeit an intriguing failure. Mystery Science Theater would have a field day with this one.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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