Baddie: Probably the flesh eating virus.
Lesson: Never ignore the creepy locals.
If you’ve been reading /horror [SciFridays], you may know how I feel about Eli Roth. Hint: The feeling is not warm fuzzies. However, when a director has the gall to remake his own campy horror movie not even fifteen years later as a straight horror (with the exact same script) well, color me intrigued. I’m weak like that.
Cabin Fever (’02) originally came out when I was twelve (Roth’s full length directorial debut), and I’ve previously discussed the extreme effectiveness of the leg shaving scene. Frankly, it’s otherwise a fairly standard teen horror comedy. Teens go to the woods, teens get sick, horror shenanigans ensue. All the teen tropes are present: the stupid friend, the friends who have sex all the time, and the friends who haven’t hooked up yet but want to desperately. As far as horror goes, it’s adequately bloody, because Eli Roth is (if nothing else) a good gore director.
To be honest, Cabin Fever ’02 is not really a super entertaining movie (I know what I said). While it does contain little snippets of interest, and while there are some definitely great horror moments, everything in-between is painfully slow. The slow burn potential of a flesh-eating virus should have excellent tension, but Roth squanders this opportunity. Additionally, because the virus doesn’t affect the state of the person (no madness, no placidity, no spread instinct) there should be more attention played to the slow erosion of realizing you have a flesh-eating virus. Rather, characters are often quickly dead, except for poor Karen, who has the most compelling story line as a result. I’ve talked about the Roth-technique, where he expertly establishes tension, and then we’re left with a sloppy payoff to some great tension (Karen drinks contaminated water, so we know she’ll be infected, but then it’s in a very creepy involuntary fingering (hooray), we learn that she definitely is infected.)
The second half is kind of a circus. A circus with a terrifying leg shaving scene. Then the circus devolves into a weird survival revenge thing, and, uh, yawn. I don’t know, it ends, I guess?
2016’s Cabin Fever, directed by Travis Zariwny (Roth served as executive producer), is supposed to be a straight play of the same script, you wouldn’t surmise that immediately — the opening with a much less real looking dog that’s pathetically named ‘Pancakes’ doesn’t really set the mood. The dog carcass actually explodes with blood, which, while being much more in the Roth house of horror, also does not help the cause. Watching the remake really brings to light how much actual insanity the series evokes. For example, the kid outside the gas station that bites one of the teenagers, and then the inane bowling horror story that I’m pretty sure is only there so that Roth can have two cameos (to his credit he does not repeat either performance in the remake).
Before the movie hits its stride in the second half, everyone in the remake also has this air of gravitas about them like the ghost of Eli Roth is whispering in their ears to “BE SERIOUS OR ELSE”. It unfortunately just makes it a little funnier. The first half is also full of charming little millennial nuances, like the “idiot” friend panicking over no internet or television, or taking like, oh my god so many cute selfies.
That being said, betwixt the two films, the remake is…sigh…better. It’s weirdly more nuanced and is better acted towards the second half despite it’s tendency to take itself more seriously. Also, the finger bang scene is now consensual! Hooray!
The second iteration of the leg-shaving scene is faster and more furious, and culminates in a creepier way, but the best death in both movies now belongs triumphantly to Karen. It’s a satisfactory culmination of all the failures of everything else and manages to successfully combine the previous foreshadowing and is just unsettling enough to be extremely effective.
I still think, at least plot-wise, that the whirlwind of cops and townsfolk and teenagers and virus is confusing at the best, and a sloppy way to wrap up the film at the worst. It feels distinctly like being written into a dead end and having to wrap everything up extremely quickly. This time they had the decency to remove the weird race humor though, so Zariwny does have that going for him.
Ultimately, while the first movie is campy and maybe a little fun, I feel like the remake eventually settles into itself and the result is a clumsy horror fest with a great climax and a mediocre resolve. It is a more mature effort, most notably removing most of the awkward late 90’s comedy and relying more on substance than it’s predecessor. Even though it’s the same script.