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“CABIN FEVER” (2016; Movie Review)

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The 2016 CABIN FEVER has been described as an exact scene-for-scene remake of Eli Roth’s original, while also coming billed as featuring “new characters and new kills.” Neither turns out to be exactly the case, but one thing it indisputably lacks is a reason to exist.

The film that launched Roth’s career in 2003 was already something of a “remake” itself, in which he synthesized his love for ’70s/’80s dead-kids-in-the-woods movies into a gruefest with its own rude personality. Its unapologetic homage to the graphic, gritty horrors of those bygone decades was something of an anomaly back then, but there have been countless screen tributes to them since, and the new CABIN FEVER, directed by Travis Zariwny (billed as “Travis Z”), adds nothing in terms of style or content to the long parade of throwbacks.

He does ill-advisedly call up memories of a past classic by opening in the mode of THE SHINING, with overhead shots of a car traveling a rural road and “Dies Irae” on the soundtrack. As anyone who’s seen Roth’s CABIN FEVER knows—and if they don’t, they’re advised to start there—the car contains a quintet of college students (played by Gage Golightly, Matthew Daddario, Samuel Davis, Nadine Crocker and Dustin Ingram) on the way to what will become a most unpleasant getaway, thanks to a virulent flesheating virus. But first, they make a stop at a rustic roadside store, where the difference between this movie and its predecessor first becomes pronounced: The old proprietor in the original, a very specific character who delivers the politically incorrect setup for what proves to be its best punchline, has become a couple of standard-issue redneck creeps, and the whole joke is gone.

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The calculatedly offensive explanation Bert (here played by Ingram) previously offered for hunting squirrels has also been deleted, which may be just as well in this day and age but is symptomatic of how CABIN FEVER 2016 has lost its inspiration’s satiric edge. Roth and Randy Pearlstein once again receive screenplay billing, but the more telling credits are for the 16 producers, executive producers, co-producers and co-executive producers, plus seven additional associate producers, on a film that inevitably feels like it was made by committee rather than by one ambitious fan-turned-director. There were clearly too many hands in the pie—and speaking of which, the infamous “finger-bang” scene is still here, along with most of the other nasty highlights, and the makeup FX certainly deliver the goods (though their creators, for some reason, go uncredited).

A few minor variations have in fact been pulled on the death scenes, most notably one that is given an extra, pointless level of drawn-out sadism. Zariwny is also more dependent on sudden jump-scares and loud noises than Roth was, and one of the most significant alterations is that Nathan Barr and Angelo Badalamenti’s memorably moody ’03 score by has been supplanted by overinsistent music by Kevin Riepl. Other changes: Deputy Winston is now a blonde gal (Louise Linton), and the concluding sequences have been condensed and simplified, with a head-scratcher of a signoff scene planted in the midst of the end credits. Oh, and I don’t recall a marshmallow that doesn’t blacken after it’s been burning for a few minutes appearing in Roth’s movie.

Much of the scenario proceeds the same way as before, though, and the real difference is that it lacks not only the confrontational zest it had the first time around, but the uneasy tension as well. More than half the movie’s over before the first of the principals gets infected, and it feels longer; the foreboding beauty that director of photography Scott Kevan brought to the original has been replaced by the polished but generic imagery of DP Gavin Kelly. It has been suggested that Roth (one of those many producers) backed this reboot as a way to hang onto the rights to the property, in the manner of the dire most recent CHILDREN OF THE CORN and HELLRAISER flicks. But with two CABIN FEVER sequels also having emerged in the past decade, it’s becoming clear that there’s little reason for anyone to explore this territory again.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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