While scrolling through Netflix recently for a late-night horror fix I discovered the Cabin Fever (2016) remake – a film that flew completely under my radar. Rather than watching the remake first I decided to pull out my copy of the original Cabin Fever (2002), which had the depressing effect of reminding me how old I am now. It’s been sixteen years since Eli Roth emerged on the horror scene with his tale of five college students ravaged by a flesh-eating virus while vacationing in a remote cabin. No one would ever mistake the original Cabin Fever for a classic of horror filmmaking, but I always remembered it as the perfect midnight film. How well would a re-imagining of Roth’s B-movie bloodfest fare when held up to the original?
Cabin Fever (2002)
The original Cabin Fever was a divisive film among critics and horror fans; it is certainly by no means a classic genre film. Yet Eli Roth’s debut film had some idiosyncratic charms that separated from other films being released at the time. Roth, like Quentin Tarantino and Rob Zombie, has always shown a fondness for the grindhouse cinema of the 1970s, and he infuses Cabin Fever with the same B-film aesthetics. Much of what makes Cabin Fever work for some viewers are its idiosyncratic ticks in storytelling and characters. The film’s party-loving Deputy Wilson or Dennis, the porch-dwelling, mullet-haired boy who randomly screams “pancakes” before inexplicably performing a series of kung fu moves in slow motion are the kinds of seemingly random bits that make watching the experience of watching Cabin Fever feel different. You may love or hate these quirks in film-making, but you can’t accuse Roth of being boring or nondescript.
Perhaps best known for his contributions to the “torture porn” horror subgenre, Roth uses the flesh-eating virus narrative to maximum effect, assaulting the audience with several scenes of gut-wrenching, squeamish violence. You’ll never look at shaving the same way again after the original Cabin Fever. However, Roth films the violence in Cabin Fever in a tongue-in-cheek manner that winks knowingly at the audience and never feels cruel or mean-spirited. There is a dark sense of humor permeating the film that separates it from other low-budget horror efforts. While the performances in the film are nothing special, they’re better than what you can often expect to see in these types of films. The characters may feel generic but that’s largely in part to Roth poking a little fun at exhausted horror film tropes. Cabin Fever is a minor horror entry but it still makes for fun late-night viewing.
Cabin Fever (2016)
Directed by someone who is credited onscreen as ‘Travis Z” and starring no one you will recognize, the Cabin Fever remake accomplishes the phenomenal task of being worse than the original in every imaginable aspect of film-making; it accomplishes this feat while following the exact same script. This is a carbon copy remake. In fact the remake so closely follows the original that one wonders why the filmmakers even bothered.
It would probably be easier to identify what the remake does right, but there just wouldn’t be much to write about … the production values are adequate and the camerawork is sort of competent. Everything else is a boring mess. The acting is wooden and devoid of charisma – you will miss Rider Strong. While the characters in the original may not have been likable, they were at least memorable enough that you could distinguish one from another. Even minor characters from the original film – Deputy Winston and Dennis – are stripped of any of the quirks that made them stand out. Pacing, tension, and suspense – not in this film. I still don’t understand how they made the exact same film, almost scene for scene, but it made it feel longer and duller. I paused the remake a few times just to check how much time was left.
Even the gore effects feel cheap and underwhelming in this pointless go-around. If you are going to re-make a film about a flesh-eating virus that had its feet firmly planted in the 1970s splatter exploitation subgenre you need to deliver on the over-the-top practical effects. What’s really missing from the remake is Roth’s dark humor – you can argue it doesn’t always work in the original but Roth dumps his buckets of blood onto the screen with a devilish grin. Travis Z delivers the flesh-eating gore in the remake with a straight face and the overall effect is flat.
There wasn’t much to deliberate on when comparing the two versions. The 2016 remake of Cabin Fever is the definition of a pointless remake. It has no redeeming qualities of which to speak. If you’re a fan of B-horror films and have a particular love for 1970s splatter films, stick with Eli Roth’s original vision.