Cabin Fever is a comedy/horror film – and the presence of bit-part characters with cute names like Sir Chug-A-Lot, The Bunny Man, The Happy Bald Guy and Hospital Hottie should indicate the balance between genres that director Roth aims to strike. This isn’t a nudge-wink spoof in the style of Scary Movie, however – there are some gruesome moments as a flesh-eating virus munches its way through five generic white-bread American teens vacationing in a remote, Blair-Witchian forest. But the emphasis is much more on gross-out laughs, horror-buff in-jokes and surreal sight-gags, preventing any real build-up of tension as the victims succumb to their messy fate – James De Bello (from Crime + Punishment in Suburbia) the stand-out as a gloriously knuckleheaded uber-jock, his anti-squirrel jibe a stroke of sheer frat-house genius.

This is Roth’s debut, and is very much the work of a lifelong horror freak who can’t believe he’s actually been entrusted with an actual movie-camera. His script (co-written with Randy Pearlstein) is a wildly uneven, unapologetic grab-bag from countless earlier, better, scarier pictures most obviously Night of the Living Dead, The Thing, The Evil Dead and Last House on the Left. But the fact that Roth had the idea of re-recording the incongruously lyrical songs from the latter splatterfest indicates he’s more than just another tiresome gore-geek.

Working as David Lynch’s assistant for five years clearly did him no harm at all — the presence of Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti’s moody themes on the soundtrack adds an unexpected touch of atmospheric class. Roth even chucks in a distinctly Lynchian weirdo cop (Giuseppe Andrews) at one stage, typical of his film’s enjoyably freewheeling, anything-goes, scream/laugh-now-dont-think-later attitude – one that proves almost as infectious as its eponymous bacillus.

10th July, 2003
(seen 7th June: Showcase, Dudley)

USA 2002 (released 2003) : Eli ROTH : 94 mins