Feb 29, 2012

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever

On a recommendation, from my mom of all people, I put aside the negative hype and decided to check out Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, the sequel to Eli Roth's masterful debut, helmed but disavowed by indie-horror darling Ti West (House of the Devil, The Innkeepers). While I've only recently been compelled to investigate what precisely went wrong with the production, from the word go West seemed an odd choice to turn out a sequel to Cabin Fever. Cabin Fever played as a particularly well-done homage to the grindhouse films of old, mixing in humor at appropriate intervals and featuring a fairly strong cast, the best being Soiled Sinema posterboy Giuseppe Andrews as the horndog, party hearty Officer Winston. Evil Dead setting, Cronenbergian body horror, soundtrack featuring re-recordings of David Hess' songs from Last House on the Left, all served up with Roth's expert touch; Tarantino with far more subtlety and less obnoxious dialogue wouldn't be far off. Ti West on the other hand couldn't be further from the fanboy former Gorezone-subscriber. At his best (House of the Devil, The Innkeepers), West works with the kind of restraint that drives most teenage death metal fans up the wall, using a slow, slow burn effect that unnerves subtly. He still manages to pay homage to influences (note the aesthetic in the eighties-set House of the Devil), but stylistically, there couldn't be someone further from Eli Roth. Contrast their beginnings- Roth wrote Cabin Fever while working on Howard Stern's Private Parts, whereas West began his career under the guiding hand of subtle-horror stalwart Larry Fesserden. What the producers saw in a film like Trigger Man that made them think West would be a perfect fit for a Cabin Fever sequel is beyond me, but what makes it on-screen (West shot the majority of the film but left during the editing process when asked to do re-shoots) is surprisingly good, goofy, GORY fun that proves that West can do big, dumb horror with the best of 'em. This could have been one of the best gonzo eighties-style horror flicks in years, right up there with the original and Piranha 3D in terms of pure horror geek nirvana, but unfortunately the director bailing definitely shows up on-screen, with tacky flash animation book-ending the action and a rushed denouement and tacked-on "sting in the tail" that effectively undercuts all of the goodwill that has accumulated throughout. That said, the footage directed by West looks great, it features another stellar comedic turn from Giuseppe Andrews, and has wall-to-wall honest-to-goodness PROSTHETIC gore to spare.


As the film opens, Paul, the sole survivor of the original film, a bloated, unrecognizable mess from the water-born pathogens that killed his friends, escapes from the forest only to be mowed down by a school bus. Deputy Winston in first on the scene, dismissing the remains as those of a moose, but in time through a series of incidents (including West mentor Fesserden going to goop in a diner) realizes what is really going on- a local bottled water company has packaged the pathogen and shipped it out, the first stop being the local high school, which is gearing up for prom. John (Deadgirl's Noah Segan) is our protagonist, hopelessly in love with the pretty, smart girl with the douchey boyfriend, Cassie (Alexi Wasser) and best buds with some fat comic relief, Alex (Rusty Kelley), who manages to be a lot less annoying that most characters of his ilk. The plot sets up some decent rivalries, red herrings, and makes room for some fun cameos (Mike Borchardt is always a welcome sight, especially in something with a budget over $20), but then midway through the prom, which should be the centerpiece of the film, everything speeds up and feels incredibly rushed. The shadowy disease control agents from the first film show up, put the town and school under lockdown, and it effectively feels as if we've teleported from act one to act three. 


That said, what keeps the film from completely derailing is the marvelous effects work and absolute pandering to its demographic. Nary a five-minute stretch goes by without vomit, soggy, distended organs sloughing off, bountiful, bouncing breasts, liberated fingernails, table-saw amputation (definite nod to Evil Dead 2, and thus, a nod to the first Cabin Fever), heads being smashed open a la Irreversible, more vomit (only bloodier), and one of the most cringe-worthy shots of penis-discomfort this side of Antichrist (seriously, if you've ever had gonorrhea, the scene in question will be particularly impossible not to squint through)(which isn't to say that I'VE suffered through gonorrhea, female readers, and if I ever had had it, antibiotics cleared it up, so fuck off). It is gloriously offensive, well-lit, and whenever Officer Winston appears for breaks from the main action, uproarious. I hope that if the proposed further sequels ever get off the ground that they manage to snag Andrews- not only is he the perfect, skeezy mascot for an imperfect, skeezy series, but the payout would enable him to make about fifteen more of his own films. Whether rhapsodizing about pussy, nodding to the first film over a plate of pancakes or sending a clueless Judah Friedlander out to meet his doom via disease control firing squad, Andrews exudes a Southern slimeball charm that betrays his Florida birthplace and adds just the right amount of continuity to tie Spring Fever in with the original (also keep an eye out for the giant bunny Paul sees in the hospital in CF, here acting as the mascot for the high school). In fact, the whole cast is pretty able, the aforementioned Rusty Kelley surprisingly likable as a porcine pussyhound and Noah Segan proving his versatility in playing a goody-two-shoes character who is a complete 180 degree turn from his sociopathic sex fiend in Deadgirl and coming across just as likable. The supporting cast plays it pretty broad, but it works, creating an eighties John Waters vibe (no surprise as long-time Waters editor Janice Hampton took over the reins upon West's exit) that makes it all the more charming.

But alas, all is not well, and saving the worst for last, no review of Spring Fever should pass without mentioning the abysmally animated opening and closing scene, which are about as well-animated as an e-card and serve no purpose aside from making a decent-budgeted flick look considerably tackier than it really is. West apparently wanted to open and end the film this way (perhaps a tribute to Creepshow 2?), but these eyesores definitely reflect some post-production half-assery. Even worse is the "sting in the tail" just prior to the ending animation, featuring an infected stripper high school girl passing on the disease, which is horrendously shot and acted and has none of the manic drive of the West-shot footage. This five minute scene seriously felt longer than the film that preceded it, especially when the ending, as in the ACTUAL ending, with the major players meeting their makers, is so rushed and nigh-incomprehensible that we aren't granted the knowledge of what actually happens to our male lead (whereas the female leads "rescue" makes no sense whatsoever given the priorities of her "rescuers"). The suggestion is there, but alas, this isn't the Ti West of House of the Devil, and not right for this type of loud-and-proud TRASH in ALL CAPS. As it stands, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever still manages to be an excellent time-waster, and proves that West is a pretty versatile guy, capable of yuks and yucks but opting for a more "high brow" approach, which is great- he's one of the better young horror directors out there today. One can only hope that series producer Lauren Moews will find another energetic up-and-comer for the proposed third and fourth installment; perhaps one who won't feel sullied by having made something completely unlike his other work?

-Jon-Christian Yates


Alex Jowski said...

I would love to see the version of this movie that Ti West wanted. Great review!

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The American film industry produces horror movies of this high quality with such consumate ease, er...theres a country just off the coast of Europe that couldn`t produce a horror film of this quality (or a film from any genre for that matter) if their bloody lives depended on it. Just another reminder lads, always steer well clear of British films.