Eli Roth's directorial feature debut was something of a surprise delight for many genre fans when it played theatrically last year.

The tabloid press inevitably compared it to THE EVIL DEAD, and word had it that this was one film that harked back to the halcyon days of the early 80s - plenty of unapologetic splatter, spiced up with the occasional T&A and completely bereft of the compromises that have dogged many latter-day 'studio' horror flicks.

The film's premise is painfully simple.

Five teens fresh out of college embark on a vacation to a log cabin in the middle of backwoods America. Along the way it's made very clear that our wet-behind-the-ears quintet are venturing into classic DELIVERANCE territory.

Once these moaning adolescents reach their destination, they indulge in a spot of fucking, smoking, boozing - the usual - until the fun is curtailed by the arrival of local hermit Henry (Arie Verveen), whose dog has infected him with a curious flesh-eating disease. One of the group manages to shoot him with their BB gun whilst out squirrel-hunting - always a bad move!

After rebuking Henry's pleas for help, the group of youths beat him severely as he pukes blood all over their car, and finally set him alight in a scene that recalls the opening gambit of THE BURNING.

But Henry flees the panicked teenagers and rests his corpse in a local reservoir. Unfortunately for the quintet, meanwhile, their car has broken down and unbeknownst to them the drinking water in their cabin is filtered directly from said (now contaminated) reservoir …!

The first to fall prey to the mysterious virus is likeable Karen (Jordan Ladd), just as Boy Meets World star Rider Strong is about to molest her while she sleeps …

The group throw the infected Karen into a nearby shed and keep her locked up there in darkness.

OK, so if the comparisons to THE EVIL DEAD hadn't jumped up and chomped a mouthful out of your throat yet - surely now it's beginning to register?! I mean, 5 teens in a cabin in the woods … each one of them equally susceptible to some unknown horror … the first contaminatee locked up and ostracized from the rest of the group …

But CABIN FEVER distances itself quite well. The sense of paranoia and growing mania within the group as they realize any of them may have the flesh-eating illness is more akin to the shiftiness and distrust that dogs the characters of Carpenter's THE THING.

And, if anything, the characters in CABIN FEVER are given more life and dimension than those in Raimi's celebrated gorefest. Not that that's saying much …! The second half of the film develops a little on the wafer-thin plot, in so far as it expands the scenario from merely five teens stuck in the middle of nowhere and introduces a tight-knit community (peripheral as they may be for the most part), suspicious and unwelcoming of visitors … I suspect this plot device is to add fresh kills to spice up the pacing, which at one point is at serious risk of waning irreparably?!

While the ending is unsatisfactory and fails to live up to a few of the film's better moments, it would be unfair to dismiss CABIN FEVER as an artistic failure.

On the contrary, it comes across as a labour of love in many respects. Director Roth also co-wrote and produced the film, and even shows his face in the cameo role of doped up Justin.

The performances are generally good (and Cerina Vincent as Marcy proves to be endlessly watchable - even when shoving her fingers up her boyfriend's arse!!). Even the revisited clichιs work, as you get the impression Roth is not laughing at the genre - he's sharing in-jokes as any true genre fan would.

And the use of songs from David Hess' soundtrack to THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT in the film's early scenes is inspired.

The FX (by KNB) in the film are deliciously gooey, and largely of the prosthetics/latex variety - CGI is kept to a minimum, which is a HUGE relief! You can look forward to rotting cadavers aplenty; gory gunshots wounds galore; numerous scenes of blood-vomiting - and so on!

The humour in the film is heavy-handed and suggests that this is terror-lite. It seems at loggerheads with some of the darker scenes of the film, and ultimately leaves the viewer thinking that perhaps the horror scenes are being played for laughs. Which is probably true - but a shame, seeing as this was touted as being a return to the hardcore horror of the 70s.

It's not - so don't go into it expecting such delights. But you should approach this with an open mind, as it's far more fun than your average 'mainstream' horror flick …

Visually, the film here looks a treat - better than it's R1 counterpart. Anamorphic 2.35:1 and really sharp and clear. Considering the low budget, this looks great.

The 5.1 sound is awesome too. But so it should be - this is a 2002 production, for God's sake!

The disc from Warner Brothers carries across all of the extras present on the R1 release, and offers a nice little addition for UK consumers …

First off, I'm glad to report that the five audio commentary tracks available on the US DVD are also present here. They're not advertised on the cover, but they ARE here.

Roth is present on all five commentaries and does a commendable job of keeping the flow of conversation going, with various members of cast and crew on each take. But - as informative as these tracks are - they're all pretty similar in factual content and it's hard to imagine ANYONE sitting through them all!!

There are three short animated features from Roth that apparently are hilarious - yet failed to raise a smile for this miserable reviewer! Sorry … (13 minutes in total length).

Beneath The Skin is a 30 minute featurette, introduced by a disembowelled Roth - and spoiler-ridden with it's many on-set FX shots! It's pretty fascinating, shot-on-video stuff - recorded at the time of the film's shoot - and should appeal to all aspiring zero budget filmmakers out there. A nice touch on this documentary is an impromptu piano performance by composer Angelo Badalamenti!

Finally, that exclusive extra … a 40 minute on-screen interview with Roth himself. Although he basically sits in one seat and talks to an off-screen interviewer, the director is engaging and interesting to listen to. His love of horror films quickly becomes apparent (within minutes he's mentioned CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, PIECES, Lucio Fulci, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT etc), and obviously knows his stuff when it comes to low budget film-making.

Much of the ensuing chat regarding the making of the film is covered in the commentaries, but it still proves to be a worthy addition to the UK disc.

This disc is Region 2 PAL encoded, dual layer format. The layer change is not noticeable and most probably occurs during a second-long fade-out midway through the film …

Interesting animated menus offer access to the excellent extra features, 20 chapter stops and optional subtitles in English, and English for the Hard of Hearing.

The disc is packaged in a clear Amaray keepcase - no booklet or chapter listing inside.

All in all, CABIN FEVER is a fairly solid debut from the guy that provided the twisted commentary track for Troma's release of BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. I only wish his film had been as committed to disgusting it's audience as much as that 70s grindhouse classic did!

Not bad at all, but dogged occasionally by heavy-handed humour and a sense that the filmmakers were holding back somewhat on the grue (though what you get is hardly anaemic!) …

The disc from WB is brilliant in terms of feature presentation and extras. They couldn't have been expected to do any more than this … if you even remotely like this film (and festival responses from a year or two back suggest a lot of genre fans DO!) then buy it now!

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Warner Brothers
Region 2 PAL
Rated 15
Extras : see main review