Now that a couple weeks have gone by and we’ve all already forgotten that the terrible remake ever existed, now might be the best time to travel back all of fourteen years and revisit Eli Roth’s original Cabin Fever. If this year’s scene-for-scene experiment in sucking the life out of an idea has any benefit, it’s that it allows us to better appreciate those things that were appreciable in the first place about this film.
Unless you were one of the lucky few to catch it at 2002’s Toronto International Film Festival, your first chance to see Cabin Fever would have been in 2003, the year in which it would go on to be the 34th highest grossing R-rated movie in America, according to Box Office Mojo. Whenever you saw it, it’s highly unlikely that you thought, “Now, this is the herald of a new name in cinema!” Yet Roth used the middling cult success of the film as a stepstool to reach more notorious heights, namely with 2005’s Hostel, still his best work. As shaggy and undercooked as Cabin Fever is, though, hindsight allows us to see why it stood out. Namely, it’s because it has personality. Some of that shows up in its go-for-broke brutality but most of the movie’s personal identity can be ascribed to its comedy, which is commendably exuberant, even when it’s as dumb as a shovel. Roth thought to mix his body horror-as-slasher conceit with fratty stoner/drunk comedy and a twistedly gleeful enjoyment of geysers of blood being vomited by and on everyone.
Yet, even under the grotesque, broad humor, there is something more. Roth enlisted the great composer Angelo Badalamenti, longtime David Lynch collaborator, to contribute to the score alongside the idiosyncratic and underappreciated Nathan Barr (The Last Exorcism, FX’s The Americans). This is the clue that the movie is not some prankish lark for Roth; he displayed more than a little care. As familiar and slapdash as Cabin Fever may have seemed at the time, it was built to last. And so it has.