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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Cabin Fever  (2016)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
1.5 Stars
(Release Date: July 5, 2016) – 2003's "Cabin Fever" may have been a loving, bloodied throwback to low-budget horror cinema of the 1970s (a few soundtrack cues were even directly lifted from 1972's "The Last House on the Left"), but Eli Roth's feature writing-directing debut still feels current. Financially more modest than the runaway success of 1999's "The Blair Witch Project," this $1.5-million indie nevertheless broke out, getting picked up by major distributor Lionsgate, going out in wide release, and making a comparative bundle in initial U.S. theatrical receipts alone ($21.1 million). The arguable start of a new trend toward more extreme mainstream efforts—2004's James Wan-directed "Saw" came out a year later—"Cabin Fever" is very much a horror movie of the post-9/11 era. The decision to remake it little more than a decade later with the exact same script co-written by Roth and Randy Pearlstein is but a cynical cash grab. Indeed, the pessimistic presumption that teenagers from 2016 could never be bothered to watch a movie from 2003 is nothing if not a stark comment on the state of present-day Hollywood.

Marketing materials for the new, unimproved "Cabin Fever" admit the story is exactly the same—five college friends on a remote cabin getaway are terrorized by a contagious, flesh-eating virus that unknowingly seeps into their water supply—but claim there are "all-new characters and all-new kills." Such a statement is a decided stretch; there might be one mode of death slightly different (and certainly more needlessly graphic) than the one in the first film, while a single character, Deputy Winston, receives a gender change (the role was previously played by Giuseppe Andrews and is now portrayed by Louise Linton). All character names, including Winston's, remain the same. Scene-for-scene, line-for-line, the film is so close to its predecessor it is no surprise the original screenplay has been recycled. This isn't a clever experiment in form the way Gus Van Sant's underappreciated 1998 "Psycho" remake was—and, keep in mind, 38 years had passed between it and Alfred Hitchcock's immortal 1960 classic—but a desperate, shameless, pointless ploy to bleed a few extra dollars out of a franchise without even bothering to put a fresh spin on it.

It is admittedly difficult to judge 2016's "Cabin Fever" on its own respective merits because it is so intrinsically similar to the 2003 version. The film is, for the most part, slickly shot, and the actors—particularly Samuel Davis (2013's "Machete Kills") as lead Paul, Gage Golightly (Amazon Studio's "Red Oaks") as longtime classmate and crush Karen, and Nadine Crocker as the practical, uninhibited Marcy—give their all in physically and emotionally demanding parts that don't deserve them. The trouble with "Cabin Fever" is there is no spontaneity, every beat and every gag stodgily telegraphed by its familiar source material. The film is occasionally jolting in its gruesomeness, but terminally by-the-numbers. What was director Travis Zariwny (credited here as Travis Z) trying to prove with this derivative exercise? The answer is anyone's guess. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, executive producer Eli Roth must be squealing all the way to the bank.

Read Dustin's Theatrical Review

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

For a film soaked in so much blood and carnage, "Cabin Fever" is quite the 1080p looker. The transfer takes advantage of the wilderness setting, pinpointing with lush clarity every branch, leaf and thicket. Likewise, the idyllic lakeside cabin location exhibits robust colors, grandeur and dimensionality. Detail is strong, making the copious gore-strewn, skin-devouring make-up effects appear all the more vivid and lifelike. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master is uneven, if for no other reason than because the increasingly bombastic music score threatens to drown out dialogue on a number of occasions. The sonic presentation mostly makes up for it, however, with exquisite surround activity. From bugs buzzing to birds chirping to rain falling, the audio mix places viewers in the midst of the rural locale. Back channels are liberally used, providing a nice layered atmosphere.

Blu-ray Features
  • "The Making of Cabin Fever" Featurette (11:03, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:48, HD)
Bottom Line
From a filmmaking perspective, the 2016 remake of "Cabin Fever" is capably shot and far from inept. As a creative enterprise, it is a wearisome dead zone, an inferior repeat of the 2003 sleeper hit without a solitary legitimate reason for existing. If you are a huge fan of the series or a genre completist, it may be worth seeing as an exercise in how the same script can be shot with different actors a little over a decade after it was initially conceived. The always-reliable Scream Factory never disappoints with their releases, and this high-def offering is as good as the film will look. More casual consumers can feel pretty secure, though, in sticking with Eli Roth's original.

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© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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