Whole Lotta Skin

A flesh-eating virus makes for a bloody and gruesome vacation in 'Cabin Fever.'

Horror fans who didin't fulfill their quota for onscreen bloodletting with such recent releases as 28 Days Later and Freddy Vs. Jason should find their cup overflowing with Cabin Fever, a blessed throwback to films like The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Chock full of sick and twisted humor, gross-out moments and bloody gore, this one should have horror mavens screaming for joy while the more squeamish viewers scamper for the exits.

The film starts calmly enough, with a group of college students heading into the forest for a secluded cabin getaway. When a vagrant forest dweller afflicted with a mysterious flesh-eating virus crashes their party, the college crew isn't necessarily helpful, setting him on fire as he runs off helplessly into the woods. The vagrant goes for a post mortem swim in a nearby pond, infecting the cabin's water supply. One of the vacationers takes a very unfortunate drink, and the carnage ensues.

The film has much horrific fun with its premise. It hypothesizes how these characters would react to the threat of their skin falling off, something that would surely happen if they were to reach out with helping hands and assist their dying friends. Let's just say that none of them will be getting any hometown parades for selfless deeds when the vacation is over.

Refusing to cop out, writer-director Eli Roth lets this sickening scenario play out to an apocalyptic end. While he peppers his screenplay with good laughs, it's the kind of laughter that comes from being truly uncomfortable. This is old-school horror (well, the '70s through the '80s horror, anyway) and the film has a sickening, morose aura to it. The laughter comes as sweet relief.

Heading up the cast is Rider Strong as Paul, who only has eyes for Karen (Jordan Ladd, Cheryl's daughter). They share a sweet first kiss while sunning themselves at the lake. Later, they will share a not-so-nice moment when a hand job goes terribly awry. Some may wish to plug their ears or cover their eyes when Strong's hand goes beneath the sheets. It is not pretty. In fact, it is quite yucky.

Strong, best known for his role in the ABC sitcom Boy Meets World, makes for a good hero, perhaps too positive of a word for a character who commits horrid acts in order to save his own ass. His likeability as an actor earns sympathy for the character, no matter who he is hitting in the head with blunt objects. As Strong's ill-fated sweetheart, Ladd does a good job deteriorating before our very eyes. In the loose cannon role, James DeBello (Detroit Rock City) is funny as the guy who intends to spend the better part of his vacation shooting squirrels.

Cabin Fever had a successful world premiere at last year's Toronto International Film Festival. The resulting Internet buzz has given the film cult status before its theatrical release, a rare feat. This could, I suppose, result in a sort of backlash from too much pre-release hype. At the screening I attended, a bunch of stick-in-the-mud critics trashed the movie, even calling Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson an idiot for publicly declaring his admiration for the film. One walked out, declaring, "I'll wait for the DVD!" This made no sense, because that qualified as a commitment of sorts to watch the film again in the future.

I got a sick kick out of Cabin Fever, even though those around me would've rather been golfing. It's everything a horror film about a skin-devouring virus should be: It's disgusting, vulgar and proud of it. Cabin rentals will plummet; finger condom sales will skyrocket; and Eli Roth will be heralded as the next George Romero.

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