In these modern times of desensitized teenagers, it’s rare that a horror movie can invoke a reaction from an audience, as well as being scary. In 2002, Eli Roth (who later went on to make Hostel) did just that, with the story of five teenagers who rent a cabin in the woods but soon start falling victim to a flesh eating virus as a result of infected water. Surprisingly, this age old narrative was received well by critics and professionals alike, with Quentin Tarantino even going so far as to say that Roth is “the future of horror”. Whilst time has disproved The Chin’s prediction, Cabin Fever went on to gross $33 million dollars from a miniscule $1.5 million budget, which was seen as worthy enough to make a straight to DVD sequel. Whilst the second is no where near as engaging as the first, the excessive gore diverts our attention enough from the woeful acting and saves Cabin Fever 2 from being total failure.
Locationally transplanted from the woods to the high school, Spring Fever follows a group of painfully stereotyped high schoolers on the night before their prom. There’s Jonathan (Noah Segan), the nerd with the pretty best friend who he loves, and she’s the only one that doesn’t know it. His overweight, social misfit best friend Alex (Rusty Kelley, living up to his first name in his acting skills) is against going to the event, until he comforts Liz (Regan Deal) and she agrees to “maybe” meet him there. You may be wondering where the “infected water” bit comes in to play at this point, and believe me I was too. The smart opening animation sets the scene well, charting the journey of how the water reached the school. But on closer inspection it may be a little too precise. Since the credits explained everything the audience needs to know, the first 20 minutes of actual footage barely touch upon the subject, and play out like an episode of teen drama The OC.
When the story gets going, and the unfortunate teens begin to show symptoms of water intake, it’s not uncommon for the gore to reach such a high level that it borders on unnecessary. Of course, a film like this has every intention of cramming in as much intestines and blood on screen as possible, but there really is no need to go to the lengths that some scenes do. It’s not ‘fun’ gore, just plain unpleasant. The major difference is the effects that the water has on people: in the first, it was a slow, arduous process for the characters. But here, it seems like the water reaction is much quicker and more aggressive in its outcome. Within minutes, victims are projectile vomiting blood and generally not having a pleasant evening. Personally, I thought the first movie got it right in terms of how the water affects drinkers, but being set at a high school prom a larger body count was always going to be the main focus.
Another point that Cabin Fever got right where its predecessor didn’t is the chemistry of characters. Sure, they were expendable teens, but you couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for them when the effects took over their bodies. Here, it’s impossible not to want the illness to strike them as soon as possible. Rusty acts with the same level of enthusiasm that would be expected from a builder who’d been given the task of constructing a replica of the Eiffel Tower from toothpicks, single-handedly. Noah Segan just about qualifies for the lead in a straight to DVD release, but he appears much too calm in many scenarios where a little emotion wouldn’t have gone amiss.
I realise there’s a lot of negative points raised here: the unlikeable characters, absence of any story for a lengthy period of time and a feeling that the story has strayed too far from the first makes Cabin Fever 2 an avoidable affair, but on the plus side the impressive make up effects make about 10 minutes memorable.