The woods are lovely, dark and deep

Eli Roth’s directorial debut pursues an atavistic kind of horror.

Tom Horgen

Cabin Fever” is a beautifully shot, sometimes funny, sometimes scary horror film. As a relentless homage to late 1970s/early 1980s horror, it positions itself as a throwback, a return to films like “The Evil Dead” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

The film’s 31-year-old director, Eli Roth, is obviously enthralled with the gore and T&A of the period. We get plenty of both when a group of college students plan a weekend of drunken sex at a remote cabin. Their debauchery is predictably interrupted by a flesh-eating virus that turns the pre-yuppies against each other. However, Roth is also interested in an aspect of horror sometimes overlooked by the masses.

“Good horror movies have always reflected what was going on at the time,” Roth said. “And you never saw that more so than in the 1970s. ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is a reaction to the fact that malls were going up all over and we were just cannibalizing ourselves. The country was disappearing. And look what happened – what George Romero predicted 25 years ago has come true.”

Film critic Ed Gonzalez of slantmagazine.com took this notion of a deeper horror film to task and uncovered an AIDS parable in “Cabin Fever.” He saw the kids’ delirious response to the killer virus as symbolic of the way the Reagan administration tried, however erroneously, to contain the AIDS virus in the early 80s. Roth was excited to hear of such a provocative take on his film.

“For me the movie is definitely based on my fears of disease, of getting sick,” he said. “There’s no question that this movie is about anytime there’s an illness and people don’t know what it is and want to lock it away, keep it quiet and make sure no one else gets it.”

In his review, Gonzalez pointed to the numerous times “Cabin Fever” uses the word “gay” as further indication of the film’s AIDS parable. Unfortunately, the repetitive use of the word is meant for comedic purposes in the film; Roth’s frat boy characters are co-opting “gay,” as is often done, to convey their revulsion. These instances, coupled with a misguided attempt at using the “n”-word in a running gag, put into question the film’s validity as a smarter-than-expected horror film.

Is Roth portraying frat boys and their frat boy jive, or is he conforming to a genre notorious for mishandling the African American image and denigrating homosexuality?

It’s hard not to lean toward the latter interpretation.