Most horror films suck. They're not scary, the jokes are agonizingly lame, the sex is uninteresting, and the acting is usually crappy. And those are the movies that make it into theaters. The horror movies that regularly arrive on DVD shelves are even worse, which is a shame, considering that outside of a drive-in, there are few better places to indulge in a good scare, preferably sexy, than at home.
But because it offers just that, Cabin Fever almost a better movie for DVD than it was in the theater. What starts out like a standard teen sex/slasher movie gradually moves away from tawdry, nervous sex scenes --although it's not afraid to dwell on those -- and into the territory of genuine disgust.
It keeps its Clearex-clean face on for as long as it can, however, and the fact that director Eli Roth can make a movie as upsetting as Cabin Fever that's also goofy and sexy shows that he's learned his lessons from the master horror directors of the 1970s and '80s -- Wes Craven, John Carpenter, and David Cronenberg. He certainly starts with a story that any of them would have recognized. A group of teens -- both coupled and hoping to couple -- head out into the woods for a little love-filled vacation. They end up coming face to face with death.
Roth certainly has a better sense of humor than most of the old horror directors, who were so desperate to be taken seriously early in their careers that they never paused for a genuine laugh. (Some of the jokes here - particularly an attack from a pancake-loving kid - are very funny.) But he's also too smart to leaven his horror with the wink-wink jokes of movies like Scream, which left the basic horror movie formula in place while making fun of it. Cabin Fever, though it will please any fan of modern horror in the way that it hits all the necessary scares and squirms, isn't afraid to use the audience's expectations to set up even bigger scares. And not the kind that jump out at you either. What Roth is interested in is the kind of horror that gets under your skin and starts to eat you from the inside. Literally. Roth knows that a scare has a better chance of sneaking up on you when you're laughing.