CABIN FEVER “Do I have something in my teeth?”

Cabin Fever

dir. Roth

Opens Fri Sept 12

Various Theaters

Out in some anonymous woods somewhere a mysterious disease infects a hunter, whose flesh quickly begins to dissolve off his bones. Desperately seeking help, he descends on a cabin where a group of young, unnaturally attractive urbanites are partying. Drunk and startled, the hotties beat the woodsman savagely with baseball bats, virus-infected blood flies everywhere and presto! The readymade disease-vs.-humans plot for Eli Roth's directorial debut Cabin Fever is born.

Despite these banalities Fever could have been a spooky little ride. Yucky diseases are always creepy, and with some cool gore effects and some interesting character dynamics this one could have made an impact. Instead Roth's flesh-dissolving makeup team is amateurish, and his characters are right out of Horror Movie Class 101. There are two requisite bimbos, an oafish comic relief guy (a failed creation thanks to the truly unlikable frat boy actor James DeBello), an uber-WASPY uptight guy, and the nice, normal hero (Rider Strong from the sitcom Boy Meets World). There're also a bunch of typical woodsy hillbillies who chase the kids around trying to kill off the last remnants of the disease, and a hilarious stoner cop played by Guiseppe Andrews.

The camp, plus some truly funny scenes, plus a few moments of true suspense, adds up to a strange, choppy film that waffles between balls-out silly and failed realistic. Genuine horror and genuine humor have a hard time coexisting, and Roth constantly undercuts good ideas with a misguided lowbrow whimsy. A scene where the kids lock the first victim, bloodied and shivering, into a barn is chilling, until she retorts in her best Britney Spears valley girl voice, as if she's reprimanding them for breaking her cell phone: "Fuck you guys." Another scene where the hottest girl shaves her legs and consequently rips the sickly skin right off her flesh goes on too long to be funny, but is too intentionally pointless to be scary.

Ultimately, Cabin Fever asks a very important question: Is it possible to mock a horrible virus (based on a real-life phenomenon, for all you hiking freaks) AND take it seriously as a scary concept? It also provides the answer: No.