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Homeowner Revolt: A rural homeowner takes arms against the threat posed to Prop. 13 by Warren Buffett in 'Cabin Fever.'

In the Woods

'Cabin Fever' gives its characters cryptic speeches before gutting them

By Richard von Busack

ONE GOOD CASE of flesh-eating bacteria is more distressing than any number of lurking maniacs. Cabin Fever understands that and is one step ahead of the competition. Ever since King Cronenberg evolved into moodier kinds of terror (and Spider is scarier than Cabin Fever by a mile), the idea of disease as a source for horror is underused (except for 28 Days Later)--and there are so many more juicy diseases lurking about, ready to become metaphors.

Ghastly necrosis is unleashed like the wrath of hellacious bad movies upon the physiques of a group of richly deserving college students, who have gone to a cabin in the Blair Witch State Forest to drink and sexually tease each other in the approved Real World fashion. Many of them have learned the phrase "That's so gay" from South Park, and they use it at all occasions.

A cinema that once presented us with Rip Torn and Tuesday Weld brings us a Rider Strong as the star, but the idea of "star" is immaterial in this gore-fest, compared to the question of whether it is better to have the obnoxious one, Bert (James DeBello), die later rather than sooner. Bert is the one who wears a baseball hat that says "FU," carelessly sets campfires and threatens to blast squirrels with a rifle. ("Because they're gay? No, actually, I don't care if they're gay or straight, I'm gonna shoot 'em anyway.")

Fortunately, Cabin Fever matches its first premise--"Everyone in this movie deserves to dissolve"--with a second premise: "But they must say some really cryptic things first." Giuseppe Andrews' long speech about the virtue of the nearby Bumpkinville as "a real party town" was finer in its way than the complete works of Sam Shepard. The film's most captivating moment was surely a dialogue between a passerby ("My skating name is 'Grim.") who has a dog named Dr. Mambo, which provokes the following Best Drive-In Movie Writing exchange. A Stupid Victim to Be: "Dr.? What kind of doctor is he? Is he a professor?" Grim (incredulous): Yeah, he's a professor! A professor in being a dog!" (Apparently, he's a mad professor. The notes comment that Dr. Mambo is played by "Rock," a borrowed K-9 officer "who was so crazy and unpredictable no actors could appear on camera with him.")

Rock gives the film's most unironic performance. About five minutes of Cabin Fever transcend the familiar easy-to-love yuckles (chuckling and going yuck at the same time). An example is one sequence of a woman sobbing in the bathtub as she gets rather more than she bargained for when shaving her leg. This is almost the lone instance where pity starts to rise, along with the gorge, and without pity there can be no terror. Auteur Eli Roth makes a well-appointed stab at a cult film, with sumptuous autumnal photography by Scott Kevan and effects in the noble old Tom Savini style. I've seen less expensive-looking corpses in movies that cost 10 times as much. And movies like Cabin Fever deserve to exist, but I think the fun-and-games of it work against its fright factor. Thing is, the movies Roth is borrowing from all have one thing in common--they aren't kidding around.


Cabin Fever (R; 94 min.), directed Eli Roth, written by Roth and Randy Pearlstein, photographed by Scott Kevan and starring Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd and Joey Kern, plays at selected theaters valleywide.


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Web extra to the September 11-17, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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