Way back in 2009, a mere months after Barack Obama was sworn in as President, an odious political meme started making the rounds. Featuring the smug mug of disgraced former and cocaine addict Commander-In-Chief George W Bush, it had the gall to ask “Miss Me Yet?” Apparently since Obama hadn’t fixed the quagmire of dual wars, a crashed economy and a country mired in culture wars that served as the lasting legacy of the Bush/Cheney regime.
While watching Travis Zariwny’s remake of Cabin Fever, I couldn’t shake the thought of the Bush meme. Eli Roth’s original film launched him as a member of the “splat pack” back in 2003, and he stood at the vanguard of genre directors that would propel horror into exciting new directions over the next decade. Yet after the commercial and critical drubbing of the under appreciated and misunderstood Hostel 2, Roth took an extended break from behind the camera, focusing instead on acting and shepherding a number of horror projects to fruition in his role as executive producer. Somewhere along the way social media turned Roth into the symbol of “bro horror,” an embodiment of the white, male privileged class that permeates entertainment. A return to directing didn’t do much good for Roth. His ode to the Italian cannibal films sat entangled in distribution limbo for two years before underwhelming at the box office. Stepping outside his comfort zone, Roth’s thriller Knock Knock weeks after The Green Inferno to a collective shrug.
I can’t think of a reason the Cabin Fever remake exists except to remind fans that Eli Roth was once a figure to root for in horror circles. For this remake, Zariwny uses Roth and co-writer Randy Pearlstein’s original script while Roth serves as one of almost twenty executive and associate producers for the film. The new film serves as a near beat-for-beat and scene-for-scene xerox of the 2003 effort, with the unfortunate decision to remove the sartorial fun and offbeat meanderings that made the original such a blast.
The basics remain the same. Five friends head off the beaten path to a remote cabin in the woods for a week of drinking, fucking and relaxing by the lakeside. What they and the townsfolk are unaware of is the water supply has been contaminated by a fast acting flesh eating virus that turns victims into puddles of bloody, oozing goo in no time flat. One by one the friends and anyone else that has the misfortune of coming across them is left screaming in agony as their flesh is stripped from their bones.
Zariwny adds nothing new to the original film, unless you count gender swapping the stoner sheriff for a sexy blonde. Aside from minor changes to the kill scenes, everything from Roth’s film remains intact, including the gnarly finger banging scene and leg shaving moment. However where Roth infused his film with an unabashed sense of fun and silliness, Zariwny plays the same material with no zeal or joy. This is especially evident in Kevin Riepl’s overbearing score, which would feel more at home in a Holocaust drama than a campy horror effort.
On the plus side of the ledger the practical FX work in the update offer plenty of visceral thrills. Yet that was also the case with Roth’s effort. Furthermore, the 2003 Cabin Fever stood out because it was so unapologetically gross and trashy at a time when mainstream horror had veered towards covering everything with a glossy sheen of respectability, whether it came in the form of model perfect casting or an aversion towards anything to visually arresting. The original Cabin Fever didn’t offer anything wholly original, yet it was embraced by audiences because Roth understood what fans of 70s and 80s horror cinema loved so much about the genre. Stripped of the source material and title and given any other name there would be nothing to distinguish this film from dozens of other direct to video efforts released every week.
Remakes aren’t necessarily a bad thing, even when the source material isn’t old enough to buy a bottle of booze or even drive a car. Even given the fact that few remakes will become beloved classics like The Thing or The Fly, they should at least be entertaining in their own right (Piranha, Evil Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, heck I love the Friday the 13th remake) and a fresh perspective on the story. The new Cabin Fever does none of these things, and as an hour and forty minute slog to endure, it’s sole purpose seems to be to remind the audience that once upon a time Eli Roth made a move that people enjoyed quite a bit. Miss him yet?