With this episode of Cinematic Crossroads, we take on Eli Roth’s debut film, Cabin Fever. So let’s get started!
Special Guest Start: John Pata. John Pata comes from the land known as Oshkosh, WI, where he is the owner of Head Trauma Productions. Pata co-wrote/directed the feature length film, DEAD WEIGHT, released earlier this year. He also is the president of the Time Community Theater, a volunteer-based, non-profit theater in Oshkosh, and continues to organize various horror events as Oshkosh Horror. Oh, and he loves burritos and iced tea. I mean LOVES them.
Jon Kitley: This is a clearly a film that defines the Cinematic Crossroads, so we’ll just jump right in. How do you feel about CABIN FEVER overall and why?
Aaron Christensen: Oh, man. I thought CF was so damn stupid and the characters so unlikeable that I really hated it the first time I saw it.
John Pata: I will fight you, AC. Just sayin’.
AC: Now, this could have been because I had heard that this was THE flick to see and expectations were high, but even on subsequent revisits, there are some serious logistical problems and the characters are just as unlikeable. I don’t care about any of them.
Brian Kirst: I really enjoy the film – despite itself. It’s got enthusiasm, energy, fan boy glow and some vision behind it. I think the serious body horror sequences and homages to previous scare films work well, but that the slapstick style, incredibly stereotypical humor involving the backwoods characters falls flat. In fact, if I was still living in a small country town, I might even be offended. “You think we’re all like that?”
JK: I honestly don’t remember if I caught this in the theater when it first came out, so it might have been when it hit DVD. Either way, all the pre-hype had pretty much run its course. I do remember really liking parts of the film, and really not liking other parts. But this was one of those films where the hype was going strong way before the movie opened. For me, that usually sets it up for a letdown because the expectations are so high.
AC: What’s funny is that I watched it again later that same year because I hated it so much the first time around, and then I kept hearing everyone else loving on it, so I went back and watched it again. Didn’t love it, but hated it less.
Dave Kosanke: I’ve enjoyed the film each time I have seen it. The characters are all well written and the acting is also generally good. The story itself is a little unusual since a flesh-eating disease isn’t a common horror film device. This idea put the audience off guard since you never really knew what was going to happen next.
JK: I will say I love the concept of the film. Very simple, but very effective, and easy to put yourself in that situation.
DK: Roth also added just enough quirky bits to keep things fresh like the campfire story about the bowling alley massacre. There are references to classic horror movie moments but they aren’t distracting and seem like pieces of film he always wanted to pay homage to when finally given the chance to direct.
BK: I was told by a horror-loving acquaintance about six months or so after CABIN FEVER came out that there were tons of homages in it. The ending definitely smacks of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and the bowling sequence seems to be an appreciation of 80s slashers. This same guy even told me that one of the kills was an homage to one of the murders in PIECES. I think he mentioned the moment specifically, but I can’t remember what it was and it didn’t strike a chord when I re-watched it.
JP: I’m just going to come out and say it (even if some will disregard everything I have to say because of it): CABIN FEVER is one of my favorite horror films. By that, I mean it is absolutely in my top ten horror films (even though my top ten actually consists of at least fifty titles). Why? It’s as absurd, gory, ridiculous, and fun as many of the 1980s films I grew up with, as well retaining a very interesting and yes, I will say unique take on the backwoods bloodbath sub-genre (flesh eating bacteria vs. your typical slasher and/or creature).
DK: Agreed. Everything flows well from the cinematography right down to the musical choices. Speaking of which, the added bonus of having Angelo Badalamenti along helps quite a bit as well and when you hear his music you can’t help but think of David Lynch and I think some of the aforementioned quirky bits are a nice homage to Mr. Lynch, like the bunny man in the hospital for example.
AC: I assumed that was a nod to THE SHINING.
JK: One problem I had was that while I didn’t hate the main characters, I really didn’t have any sympathy for them, at least in the beginning. Some of them did show a little humanity towards the end of the film. But there are other parts I really dislike, like most of the townspeople and the whole thing with the old man behind the counter, his racist comments, and even worse how it plays out at the end. Just plain stupid and didn’t find it funny at all. Also really didn’t care for the deputy, as well as Roth’s cameo character, though to be honest, had no idea that was him when I first seen it.
AC: Ah. “Obnoxious” equals “entertaining.” I get they are supposed to be “types,” but I would never want to spend any time with them. Plus, these people are friends? Really? Didn’t buy that these guys would ever be hanging out together.
DK: It’s a distinct group with multiple personalities yet I can see how they can all get along.
JK: It was hard for me to believe that some of them would want to come out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere for a vacation. Don’t see them as the outdoors types.
AC: Yes. Hello!
JP: Okay, for real, though, the casting was outstanding. The chemistry within the group was totally legit, which assisted everyone’s mental and emotional switch when shit started going bad.
BK: I think the cast is pretty solid. On first viewing I especially loved James DeBello as the idiotically jerky Bert. He had played a nearly autistic nerd who was terrified of and terrorized by his beautiful, psychotic sister in the teen style thriller SWIMFAN about a year before CABIN FEVER and I thought his role, here, proved how impressive his skills were. Of course, now he has gone to star in things like TRANSYLMANIA, so that just proves what being eclectic will get you in Hollywood.
AC: See, based on the commentary, DeBello comes off as a caustic jerk both on and offscreen, one of those guys that you might be friends with, but who you wouldn’t want to invite to your party or into a group outing because you just know he’s going to say or do something that will be memorably heinous. That might have something to do with the state of his career.
JP: A dickish character like Bert should be easy enough to play, but being able to evoke a slight charm like DeBello did isn’t as easy.
DK: DeBello has some of the best lines, especially his masturbation story which cracks me up every time I hear it. Even though his character comes across as a jerk he still tries to do the right thing when things get ugly. I also enjoyed Giuseppe Andrews as Deputy Winston. Some of that bias is due to the fact that both he and DeBello were in DETROIT ROCK CITY and it was great to see them back together again in another project.
JP: Oh, Deputy Winston. Let’s face it, Winston should be a total fucking creep, and while he is a creep, he doesn’t seem as threatening as he should, all due to Andrews’ subtle comedic oddities in his deliveries.
JK: I was completely puzzled over as to why anyone thought he was entertaining. And re-watching it again, it still puzzles me.
AC: I. Fricking. Hate. Deputy. Winston. The most unrealistic character in the entire film.
DK: It does make sense to have such a nitwit representing the police which would explain why the kids can’t get any serious help until it is too late and even then we see that the local police wouldn’t have been much help in the first place.
AC: Hate. Deputy. Winston.
BK: As a fan of scream queens and final girls, I kind of dug Cerina Vincent’s sassiness and Jordan Ladd’s sweetness, as well. Of course, now that they have multiple genre credits between them, I like them even more.
AC: I had no idea that Jordan was Cheryl Ladd’s daughter and Alan Ladd’s granddaughter. Just found that recently.
JP: Gotta admit, I’m a big Jordan fan. Here she was able to play the sweet girl and the only character I actually felt bad for catching the virus. Cerina was also able to take a character I typically would write off (the snotty too-hot-for-anyone girl), and give her some sincerity. Even if she does just want to fuck when shit’s messed up.
AC: I think it’s funny that Jordan is supposed to be our “good girl,” because she comes off pretty bitchy on her commentary track whereas Cerina sounds like an absolute hoot. (I’m sorry Cerina’s not doing the convention circuit much these days, because I would actually say “hey” to her now after years of just walking by her table without a second glance.)
DK: Also the interplay between Rider Strong and Jordan is quite good as well, and it is funny that when we finally see an attempt at a love scene between the two as it ends up climaxing in a most nightmarish way!
AC: Rider’s Paul is obviously our protagonist and he is the closest we come to a sympathetic character. Listening to him on the commentary, he’s also the most likeable although Joey Kern is pretty cool as well.
JP: I wasn’t as impressed with Kern as the prick character of Jeff (yes, there is a difference between a dick and a prick) until I saw him in a few other titles, notably THE SASQUATCH GANG. But Rider Strong… It’s not that he did a piss poor job or anything; he did fine. It’s not you, Rider. It’s me. I grew up when Boy Meets World was in its heyday, and I just couldn’t take him seriously. All I could see was Shawn Hunter…and Shawn Hunter’s nipples and armpits. Thanks for that, Eli.
JK: I thought the main cast members did a well enough job, believably fitting into those general character molds. It really was the supporting roles that I had the most problems with, either just plain stupid, silly or being pretty hard to buy in to. Almost like Roth wanted a chance to write some funny (or what he thought was funny) dialogue and/or scenes. I just didn’t feel that way.
AC: I don’t think a lot of the deliberately bizarre humor works all that well. The “pancakes” sequence, Deputy Winston, the guys at the general store… These are some of my least favorite moments. Now, the over-the-top black humor such as the deer coming through the windshield…
JP: The deer…THE DEER!
AC: …and the harmonica in the throat, those have actually grown on me, but I didn’t like them at first either. It’s like Roth wants to have it both ways: telling a serious, realistic, gory horror flick yet being all weird and quirky at the same time. I remember the first time I watched I really got annoyed with the hairpin changes in tone. Now, I’ve kind of accepted them as part of the deal – still, I would have liked a more serious approach.
BK: I, honestly, don’t even know if I would call the humor in CABIN FEVER quirky. I think it’s more over-the-top and a stereotypical Hee-Haw crack at country folks and I don’t really think it works. While the actors are committed to what they are doing, I don’t believe for a second that these characters would be able to tie their shoelaces let alone be capable of multiple murders and covering them up.
JK: I didn’t see the humor in some of the stuff. Like the old man and the black people in the country store? Is that supposed to be funny to have some old hillbilly dropping the N-word and speaking like he’s off the streets of the ghetto? Don’t think so.
DK: Granted, Roth’s quirky humor isn’t for everybody, but stuff like Cerina Vincent performing anal antics on her boyfriend isn’t something you’d see in too many horror films, or at least ones not affiliated with Troma. Yet these moments don’t overpower the grim situation(s) at hand.
JP: The goofy parts work enough to make you feel comfortable again, and then the grim creeps in to knock you off your feet. I laugh my ass off every time I watch CABIN FEVER. I find a lot of the dialogue to be amusing as hell, the outlandish characters (Grim and Dr. Mumbo, need I say more? FACED!), the situations (finger-banging scene, deer) and the gags (harmonica in the throat). I am such a fan of the contrast between the grim and the goofy in CABIN FEVER. They balanced each other out and didn’t hurt the film overall, like the dopey cops in LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, for example.
AC: Let the record state, however, that being more successful than LHOTL in balancing humor and horror is no great accomplishment.
DK: Speaking of which, the David Hess tunes used in the original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT work better in CABIN FEVER since they fit the vibe better.
JP: Have you watched the special feature about the score on the DVD? I was an instant fan of Nathan Barr’s score upon my first viewing, and appreciated it even more after watching the featurette. Anytime someone make a banjo sound creepy is doing all right by me, but he also adds a beautiful audio background that enhances what we are seeing on the screen.
AC: Now, see, I like the musical homage, because the songs fit tonally within the film. It’s the herky-jerky ride that I didn’t appreciate. I think Roth was deliberately trying to make a “stupid 80s horror movie” such as the ones he grew up on, and I felt that effort and it bugged me. What’s interesting is that it pre-dated the whole ready-made cult movie movement that has taken us over in the past five years, where it’s supposedly a “tribute” to a bygone era.
JP: Everything hit me the right way. There’s a legit feeling of “no one is safe,” the gags actually got a reaction out of me (tell me you can watch the leg shaving without cringing even the slightest), “the locals,” and there’s a bloody fingerbanging scene.
AC: Since people keep bringing up the fingering sequence…For as effective as it is in the short term, are we expected to believe that Rider Strong is so completely clueless about the female anatomy that he thinks her vagina is located on her thigh?
JP: Whoa, whoa, whoa…The vagina is NOT located on the thigh?! DAMMIT!!!
AC: The red/orange paint blood effects are also a little cheesy, surprisingly so for KNB. Seriously, the stuff Bert scratches off his neck, the stuff they spew, it all looks like Hammer blood.
JP: I will say, the stuff Bert scratches off his neck is something that bothers me to this day. There is nothing that even resembles some sort of wound, just looks like fake blood applied to his neck and he rubs it with his hand. That is one area I agree they failed.
BK: I think the effects work well – lots of blood globs and serrated flesh – nothing too outlandish but it all looks pretty natural. I think it fits in with the low key, country style of the film. I think the sequence when Paul finally cracks and viciously attacks the posse of murderous locals is well executed and its momentum is enough to appease most gore hounds as well.
JK: The shaving sequence in the bathtub is still just grueling to watch. The dog attack sequences could have been much gorier, but I think they way they handled it was much more effective, leaving more up to your imagination.
JP: Karen’s mouth makeup has to be mentioned, the stand out work of the entire film, while Marcy’s shaving wins for best gag. It’s also worth noting how much of the effects work is shown in daylight or well lit situations. I do greatly appreciate how not everything is seen, be it for practicality (the trained dog not working out like planned) or a directing choice. For example, when Paul beats Karen to death after finding her face all chewed up – keeping the camera locked on him and not showing us the bloody mess created makes that scene so much more powerful and menacing.
DK: The FX are used sparingly and it was the right choice. Roth would ultimately go for the gusto in the HOSTEL films but here we don’t get a 10 on the Gore Score. We mainly see the aftermath of the damage, and only on the director’s cut do we really see what happened to Burt. That said, the FX are really good and I didn’t notice any blatant CGI stuff in there either.
AC: I agree that the nice, splattery and juicy makeup effects are terrific. The fact that they are over the top when they are means that the rest of the movie didn’t need to be. They feel realistic, unlike, say, the bizarre comedy sequences. Hello, completely inappropriate WTF “pancakes” sequence right in the middle of the hell-on-wheels third act.
JP: “PANCAKES!!!” is incredibly awesome. I don’t care how random/out of place/absurd it is. It rules.
DK: Whereas bits like “pancakes” are great since stuff that like isn’t seen or heard in too many movies and keeps things interesting, the part when “we think the old man at the store (who likes to refer to some black folk with the dreaded “N” word) is a racist but it turns out he isn’t” just doesn’t work for me.
JK: All of the country store sequences are my least favorite in the film.
BK: While I wouldn’t say it’s my least favorite, I’ve got to say there is a sequence that always baffles me: Marcy shaving her legs in the bath. First of all, I’ve always wondered in a time like that, WHY are you shaving your legs? A familiar, comforting ritual perhaps?!?
AC: The logic of the bathtub scene doesn’t bother me so much – I mean, she’s feeling infected with what’s going on with her back (Rider’s handprints), so it makes sense she might want to clean up. Shaving legs, sure that’s a bit of a stretch, but not terrible.
BK: But, even more so, it seems like she should have noticed – or does notice – that the skin on her legs is being shredded long before she stops using the razor. Is it Marcy’s hysteria and despair – or is it a filmmaker reveling in a shock set piece that will define the film despite common sense? I am more curious about that than anything. (H-m-m, maybe I should listen to the commentary, huh?)
JK: The shaving sequence literally makes the hairs on my arms stand up…even just thinking about it. Very simple, not over-the-top, but extremely effective. I also liked when the country folk went to the cabin to get them and got a surprise of their own.
JP: The leg shaving most certainly stands out, but I think Paul hanging off the ladder to check the body in the water might take the top spot. It’s the perfect set up, once you see him descend down the ladder, you automatically think, “Oh, come on. Now, why would you do that?” You know he’s going to fall in, yet when it happens, the payoff is spot on: Face-first right on the charred corpse. Then to add insult to injury, the rung breaks as he tries to get out of the water. Because you’re watching it happen to the main character, at that moment all bets are off.
DK: There are plenty of favorite moments but to pick one I’d have to say that the dog attacks on both Vincent and Ladd are executed perfectly. We never really see too much of the attacks themselves but it sure does resonate when we see bits and pieces of Vincent’s body scattered about.
AC: The dog attack scenes are also my favorite (with Cerina’s topless scenes a close second). Hate the Roth/Grim cameo, love Dr. Mambo. Although why IS he so fucking vicious?
JP: Obviously, Dr. Mambo is a doctor of death. Duh!
BK: I think the scene after Jordan Ladd’s Karen is infected and her friends lead her out to the shed in the nighttime is my favorite. It’s simply acted, hauntingly filmed and is everyone’s worse fear – that their friends will turn against them in a time of crisis. It may even have more resonance for me as a gay man in the light of the AIDS crisis in the early 80s when so many infected men and women were shunned by their family and friends due to lack of information and (perhaps justified) fear.
JK: Speaking of bleak, I liked the ending, except I think it went on a little too long and the whole party at the end was unnecessary. All they need to do was throw Rider in the lake and pan over to the water filtration plant. Then again, nobody in town there was that smart to realize what was going to happen by dumping the body there?
AC: Why, oh WHY does Deputy Winston leave Rider by the stream??? I absolutely remember that clinching it for me on the first viewing. Just hated that.
BK: Like I said previously, all those local characters just come off as unbelievably stupid to me. So, even though I don’t buy that he is capable of murder, I do believe he is dumb enough to leave him by the stream causing more contamination and the possibility the body could be found and traced back to him.
DK: I enjoy the bleak ending, although the “Swing Low” jamboree at the very end is kinda perplexing. That’s Roth for you! Actually the ending was a good set-up for the sequel (which only took seven years to arrive) when the infected water reaches a more populated area and causes havoc at a high school during prom. Sounds like a good idea to me! The grim tone is maintained all the way to the end and frankly for horror films in the 2000s that was pretty much a standard practice – love it or hate it.
AC: Is the ending bleak? It comes off as joke to me, with the whole lemonade business and the shooting of Jeff coming out of the cabin. Dave, it’s funny that you say it was in keeping with the grim tone because I would have liked it had it been bleaker in general, but then again, I wish that the film had taken itself more serious throughout. I actually preferred HOSTEL to CABIN FEVER for that reason, because it retained a consistent tone.
BK: I usually hate films where all the lead characters die. I truly view my horror films emotionally, like a reflection on life. The final girls/guys are my heroes and I put myself in their place while watching. It’s a “Life sucks, but if you keep barreling through, you’ll survive” vibe. But with CABIN FEVER, even though all the primary faces expired (although Rider Strong’s Paul does revive, momentarily, for the Ti West sequel), I truly liked the haunting resonance of this virus continuing on into the world. I think the image of the child getting water from the stream does it for me. It’s an almost poetic image in a frequently silly film.
JP: In a way, the ending is what completes the film for me. Take the ending away, even change one bit of it, and my enjoyment and appreciation would decrease. For one, having everyone die was the way I wanted it to end, but never expected them to actually go there. When it did, I was quite shocked. And when the lemonade stand shows up, and the band starts playing, I began cheering. No joke. I saw it on opening night, by myself actually.
JK: Did you other guys see this before Roth’s other movies?
AC: Roth’s “other” movies? This is one of the reasons why I get annoyed with Eli Roth these days, the fact that he’s only done three features in ten years while still somehow remaining “relevant.” Guy is at the top of the food chain, with his pick of projects, and he’s just doing his producing and “presenting” thing. GET ON WITH IT, Mr. Future of Horror. Ahem, what were we talking about? I saw CABIN FEVER before HOSTEL, but not in the theaters. I watched it on DVD in 2004. Twice.
DK: I saw it on its first run in the theater. It was hyped as a hardcore horror film and while some of the humor wasn’t expected, it still delivered the goods.
BK: I also saw it, first run, in the theater.
JP: I remember seeing a trailer for CABIN FEVER and I was not interested. Looked like another dull teen scream fest. Then the Fango cover came out with Jordan Ladd and her beautiful mouth makeup, and my interest was piqued. That Friday, I had nothing going on so I decided to give it a shot. I cannot express the range of (positive) emotions I went through while watching this. I went in with little to no expectations, and was just floored. The entire time I was reminded of so many of the 80s flicks I grew up with, I was ecstatic. This was before the big boom of “80s throwback” films, and I felt like Roth captured that essence. In fact, once the credits hit, I was laughing, applauding, and “hooting and hollering” all by myself while everyone else walked out of the theater, very obviously disappointed. That is a memory I cherish quite fondly.
DK: However, for the HOSTEL films he gave us weaker characters and instead aimed it squarely at the gorehounds who favor violence instead of a good story. Granted at the time it was a springboard of all kinds for torture porn rip-offs and wannabes but it didn’t resonate as loudly as CABIN FEVER if you ask me. It was more just an excuse to trot out scenes of torture which frankly become boring after a while. HOSTEL II didn’t fare any better. I did enjoy his THANKSGIVING trailer though and would like to see him return to directing since he does have talent but he needs a good script and truthfully he seems more adept at humor than he does horror. For the record I think he is a decent actor as well…maybe he should stick to performing in front of the camera?
AC: Oh, man. I’m not even going there.
JP: I was really excited for HOSTEL to see what else Roth could put out. I wouldn’t say I dislike HOSTEL, but I’m not terribly fond of it either. The charm of CABIN FEVER and THANKSGIVING is, to me, where I feel Roth excels. The “seriousness” and “trying to be disturbing” qualities of the Hostel films seem forced, unnatural to Roth’s writing and directing. Towards the end of HOSTEL II, I feel like his style of horror starts to come out.
JK: Other than CABIN FEVER, I have only seen the first HOSTEL, which I didn’t care for.
DK: The CABIN FEVER DVD does have some great extras. The Easter Egg with Deputy Winston and porn star Stephanie Swift (and some other lady whom I didn’t recognize) is pretty funny. Sadly, I sold the DVD when I heard the Director’s Cut was coming out on Blu-Ray and alas that particular extra wasn’t ported over.
AC: I agree that the DVD is definitely jam-packed with goodness. What’s interesting is that if you listen to the original Lionsgate commentaries – recorded before the film had even made it out in wide theatrical release – Roth comes off as a pretty cool cat who grew up as a big horror fan, making films from when he was a kid, shooting on the weekends with his friends, then he went on to NYU film school with the intent of making horror movies…I mean, this guy was someone who really wanted to be a horror director and damn it, he went out and made his dreams come true. But then, he started showing up everywhere as the poster boy for modern horror, and being in every single newspaper, magazine, news spot or documentary, coming off as this smug, self-assured know-it-all.
JP: I really want to like Roth, especially because I am total fanboy over CABIN FEVER and THANKSGIVING, but I’m kind of annoyed with him. It seems like he got “too big for his britches” really fast. I anxiously listened to every commentary on CABIN FEVER, read all the interviews, and couldn’t wait for what was next. He seemed like a fanboy just like us. Then HOSTEL came out, and while I wasn’t as happy about it as I hoped, I still got the DVD right away and went through all the commentaries and behind the scenes footage. I couldn’t help but think, “Man, it would be fun as shit to talk horror with him.” Then came along the Tarantino days and Roth seemed to have changed. Leave it to Tarantino to turn someone into a semi-douchebag. I’m still curious and anxious to see what Roth has to offer, though. I just hope he hasn’t become too much of a Hollywood player.
AC: That’s exactly how he comes off these days, as the Junior Tarantino, except he hasn’t proved he has the talent to back up a giant ego. QT, like him or not personally, has established himself as a solid director, so I’m willing to put up with his obnoxiousness. Roth? Not yet, not so much.
BK: I gotta say, I love Eli Roth. I think he genuinely loves the genre and seems like a cool guy. I truly enjoyed HOSTEL and HOSTEL II (Heather Matarazzo’s death scene in the latter is grotesque and beautiful all at once) despite some occasional narrative flaws. I certainly don’t mind that he has become more of a genre celebrity of late with appearances in everything from Piranha 3D and the Tarantino films. I always enjoy it when he pops up in stuff. I AM interested in seeing what is next for him as a filmmaker, though. I would imagine that inactivity has more to do with the brutality of the business than anything else. The relative lack of success of HOSTEL II, the falling apart of his highly profiled adaptation of Stephen King’s CELL…Hollywood may consider him yesterday’s news.
JK: My opinion of him these days is much worse than when he first came out. I think any promise that he showed here with his first film has been lost especially since he’s been following around Tarantino for the last few years. I did not care for HOSTEL thinking it was more just to show gore with very little plot, and haven’t, and will not, bother with HOSTEL II. While I did love his fake trailer for THANKSGIVING (though he even had to put himself in there too!), he just seems to pop up everywhere to voice his opinion. Sure, he may be just a big horror fan, the same as we are, but it gets annoying. Remember when directors would make a film about every year or so? He may be a talented director and know quite a lot about the genre, but kind of hard to prove that when you’ve made three movies in 10 years.
DK: I still think Roth has some value left but he got stuck riding the Tarantino bandwagon and this seemed to derail his directing career since he figures he can act in a Quentin production which at least keeps him employed. Otherwise with the box office failure of HOSTEL II who knows what project he would have tackled next had he not decided to work with QT. I heard he is working on some cannibal project which could be interesting but again one wonders if he is just smitten with gory nonsense these days instead of telling a good story and writing good, memorable characters like he did in CABIN FEVER. Even with all of the stuff that followed in the wake of CABIN FEVER there really hasn’t been anything like it since. In fact one could argue that CABIN IN THE WOODS was influenced by CABIN FEVER in that both productions clearly put a different spin on the old “kids trapped in a cabin” scenario but I’d argue that CABIN FEVER does it much better and will have a longer legacy as time goes on.
AC: No one has yet mentioned the “gay, gay, gay” comments of Roth’s characters, and I think it’s worth talking about since it made headlines back in the day. It’s not like one character says it, three of the five main characters use the term. Do I think this make Roth a card-carrying homophobe? No, but I do think it makes him a bit of an insensitive jerk.
DK: I don’t know why Roth was singled out for the “gay” word usage in CABIN FEVER. Fangoria magazine couldn’t come up with anything creative in their postal zone column back then so they filled it with angry rants directed against Roth & CABIN FEVER (they finally let Roth have the final word but he seemed none-too-pleased that it even went that far). Other movies have used the term in a negative context. ven though it is only said once, “retard” is another phrase that you aren’t supposed to say anymore that appears in CABIN FEVER. (“Midget” is another one.) Could it be that the movie took place in the 2000s when politically correct usage was hyped up? Sure the way the term is used is wrong and nobody should think otherwise but in a movie where the characters are all kinda shady it doesn’t seem out of place that they would talk like that.
AC: See, this is where I see Roth wanting to have it both ways, same as with his goofy and grim. He wants these characters to be likeable (even though I don’t find them as such), but then he has them saying stupid-ass un-PC statements.
DK: I know Roth said he grew up around similar people and frankly so did I. The neighborhood that I grew up in was surrounded with kids (and parents) that talked with no concern with what was coming out of their mouths. Considering this was the 80s it makes sense that Roth would tie this behavior in with the characters in his film since that seems to be the decade he loves the most.
BK: Roth definitely seems to be singled out for the gay thing. I wasn’t aware there was any controversy with CABIN FEVER, but I do remember several heated letters in Fangoria about the same circumstances in Hostel and the fact that its main villain was essentially a self-loathing gay man. As a homosexual, there is almost always an immediate gut-punch feeling whenever a straight male character uses the term “gay” or “fag” in any sort of derogatory manner –whether in hate or for humor’s sake. But aside from that, I really have no issue with any of Roth’s characters using those terms. It has always seemed natural for the characters.
JP: I recall seeing CABIN FEVER for the first time, and how much the word “gay” stuck out to me. At first, I wasn’t exactly sure what to think of it. Seeing that I was about the age of the characters in the film when I saw it, I have to say that it’s an honest portrayal of early 20-year-olds at the time. Was that what Roth was going for? Not sure, but I would buy it.
BK: C’mon, they are straight college-age guys. It’s how they talk. A lot of my good, supposedly “enlightened” straight friends still joke around about “gay shit” and they are much older than the characters in Roth’s films. I, ultimately, can’t take the real life jabs too seriously let alone the machismo-based joking of fictional characters.
JP: To me, CABIN FEVER is a fun, bloody, romp, and that is good enough for me. I admit, AC has a lot of valid points, but I don’t think of it as some achievement in filmmaking or storytelling; rather it’s just a great way to spend 90 minutes. Of course there are the flaws and the “what the hell were you thinking” and “oh, that’s just stupid” moments, but I never tried to take CF seriously. When I want some top of the line filmmaking, I’ll pop in HOWLING VII: NEW MOON RISING.