A man is walking in the woods and comes upon a dog that he believes to be sleeping. After poking it a few times, he pulls the dog up and notices that the dog's flesh is rotted, spurting blood on him in the process.
Meanwhile, five college friends, Jeff, Marcy, Paul, Karen, and Bert are driving in a van through rural Alabama on their way to the woods for they have rented a cabin in the woods. Along the way, they stop at a local convenience store for food where a young retarded boy outside the store bites Paul on the hand. The locals standing nearby look at the outsiders in their town with suspicion and scorn.
When they arrive at the cabin, Jeff and Marcy immediately retire to their bedroom and have sex. Paul and Karen go for a swim in the lake while Bert goes hunting for squirrels in the woods. He accidentally shoots the man who discovered the rotting dog in the beginning of the film while hunting whom he mistook for a squirrel. By this time, the man's face has become badly rotted. Scared, Bert shoots at him again in order to repel him and runs back to the cabin.
That evening, the five kids build a bonfire and share ghost stories with each other. They soon encounter a local college kid named Grimm who approaches them with his dog, Dr. Mambo. Though he acts a little eccentric, they allow him to join in when he offers them marijuana. However, once it starts raining, he leaves to take care of his camping equipment and the group retreats into the house.
Later on that night, they hear a knocking at the door and discover it's the diseased man that Bert shot before. Desperate for help, the hermit comes after the group. He tries to drive away in their car, but vomits blood all over the windscreen and the seats of the car. After the man exits the car, Paul sets-light to the infected man and he runs aflame back into the woods where he dies in the lake.
In the morning, a young deputy, Winston Olsen, shows up at the cabin and promises Paul he'll call a tow truck. Jeff and Bert walk off down the lake shore when they come to a woman's house to ask for a ride into town. They soon discover that the woman was related to the hermit they killed so they leave quickly. During this time, Karen drinks a glass of water from the lake contaminated by the infected man and begins to feel ill. She goes to bed to rest. Paul later discovers rotten boils on her thighs. Karen is then quarantined in the tool shed outside.
Fearing that they will soon also become infected with whatever is ailing Karen as well as the man the night before, the others begin to argue with one another over what they should do about their situation.
The next day, they discover Karen's condition is deteriorating fast. Bert also realizes that he himself is infected with the virus. Bert drives off to find a doctor. When Paul and Marcy insist on helping Karen, Jeff runs off into the forest with the remaining beer (the only reliable drinking source). Marcy yells at him as he flees, upset that he has abandoned her.
Meanwhile, Bert drives to the convenience store that the group visited earlier pleading for a doctor. He shows increasing signs of infection. The young retarded redneck boy on the bench then runs over and bites Bert again, thereby infecting himself. His father comes outside and, rather than helping Bert, tries to kill him. Bert speeds off and the father grabs two of his redneck friends who arm themselves with rifles to go after Bert to kill him.
Now alone in the cabin, Paul finds Marcy sitting despondently on her bed. He tries to reassure her, but she reiterates that they are all doomed to get sick, to the point where "all you want to do is grab the person next to you and to have sex with because you know you're gonna be dead soon, anyway." She seduces Paul and they begin having wild sex. Paul expresses concern that they aren't using a condom. Marcy brushes him off without heed by saying "Don't worry, I'm healthy!" and continues riding him.
After they finish having sex, Paul worries about whether Marcy has the disease or not. He goes into the bathroom and attempts to disinfect his penis by pouring Listerine over it. While washing her face, Marcy discovers, with worry, some red marks on her back where Paul grabbed her in the heat of their sexual encounter.
A little later, Paul tells Marcy that he's going to bring back Jeff so that they can all walk back to civilization. Marcy urges him to stay, but Paul seems uncomfortable around her after sleeping with her and insists that he "has to get out of" the cabin. Now completely alone, Marcy has a bath and weeps. The marks Paul made on her back are shown to be developing into gruesome wounds like Karen's.
Paul heads over to the local reservoir, and notices a body floating in the lake. He climbs down the ladder and moves the body with a stick. He sees that it is the infected hermit. The dock's ladder rots and gives way, causing Paul to fall into the infected water, ensuring that he is definitely infected by this point.
Back at the cabin, Marcy is shown shaving her legs in the bathtub and notices they are beginning to deteriorate as the skin begins gorily peeling off. She runs outside, upset, and is attacked by a now infected Dr. Mambo. Paul returns to find Marcy's body ripped to pieces and Dr. Mambo eating a motionless Karen's face. The dog attempts to attack him too. However, Paul kills him with Bert's rifle. Now alone, Paul goes to check on Karen whose skin has now almost fully rotted off; she is barely alive. To end her suffering, he clubs and impales her with a shovel and then runs for help.
Just then, Bert struggles back to the cabin with the rednecks in pursuit. When Bert's pursuers open the door, Bert tries to shoot one of the men but is killed by a shotgun round. Paul comes and successfully kills the store owner and his friends. After fleeing the cabin, Paul decides to look for Jeff. He checks a cave, thinking Jeff is inside, but only finds Grimm's dead body.
Paul then runs back to Bert's pursuers' car and drives into town. Along the way he slams head-on into a deer, damaging the windshield and the car. He continues on foot until he sees a roadside party thrown by local teens with Winston in attendance. Winston asks Paul about the tow truck just as a police officer gets on the radio warning Winston about Paul and his group whom are infected with a strange disease and that they are to be shot on sight. After all of the party attendees leave, Paul knocks Winston out with a stick. Paul is picked-up by a passing trucker and brought to the hospital.
The sheriff and doctors interrogate him while he is lying in a hospital bed, trying to discover the source of the infection, but Paul is slightly dazed and unable to answer all their questions. When he is left alone, Paul pulls up his hospital gown to reveal the tell-tale marks of the disease on his belly. The doctors determine they are not equipped to handle the situation and that he should be transported to a larger, nearby regional hospital. His driver turns out to be Winston. Paul tries to warn him about the water in the reservoir but he can't speak well and only says "water". Winston says he will take him to get water.
The next morning, Jeff comes out of the woods where he was hiding and makes his way back to the cabin. As he looks around, horrified that his friends are dead, he is suddenly shot to death by the redneck police. The murderous sheriff and his men take Jeff's dead body and pile it on top of the others, which are burned in a fire pit.
While unconscious, Paul is dumped into a stream by Winston and left to die. Paul's body infects the water in the stream. Further down are two kids collecting water for their lemonade stand. They sell some lemonade to the sheriff, his deputies and more locals at the store. A natural spring water truck leaves the store with bottles of infected water in the truck... thus beginning the start of a possible epidemic infection.
- The Students
- Rider Strong as Paul, who grew up with Karen and has a crush on her, although they have never been in a relationship. He contracts the disease fourth, by having unprotected sex with Marcy who was already infected. Paul returns briefly in Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever.
- James DeBello as Burt, a vulgar practical joker. He contracts the disease third, by drinking a glass of infected water, though he is the second student to show symptoms.
- Jordan Ladd as Karen, a young woman who has known Paul for many years. She is the first student to contract the disease and is quarantined in the tool shed for much of the movie.
- Cerina Vincent as Marcy, a young woman who is in a relationship with Jeff at the beginning of the film. She contracts the disease second, from a cup of tea. She later has a sexual affair with Paul, unwittingly infecting him in the process.
- Joey Kern as Jeff, a self-centered young man who is Marcy's boyfriend. He avoids getting the disease thanks to a bet he made with Burt to only drink beer for the whole vacation and is consequently the only student not to get infected.
- Secondary characters
- Arie Verveen as Henry "The Hermit", the first human shown catching the disease (which he catches from his dead dog) and patient zero in the outbreak. He infects the local water supply by falling in the reservoir.
- Giuseppe Andrews as Deputy Winston Olsen, a deputy for the local sheriff's office. Winston appears as a lead character in the sequel.
- Matthew Helms as Dennis, a mentally-disabled boy who bites strangers without provocation. He contracts the disease when he bites (infected) Bert and is last seen in a critical condition in hospital.
- Eli Roth as Justin "Grimm", a fellow camper in the woods.
- Hal Courtney as Tommy, Dennis's father.
- Other characters
- Robert Harris as Old Man Cadwell, who mans the counter at the nearby market.
- Richard Boone and Tim Parati as Fenster and Andy, Tommy's friends.
- Brandon Johnson as Ray Shawn
Eli Roth originally got the idea for this movie while working in Iceland on a horse farm. He got such a bad skin infection from the rotting hay in the barn that his face broke out in sores, bled and peeled off when he shaved. co-wrote Cabin Fever with friend and former NYU roommate Randy Pearlstein in 1995 while Roth was working as a production assistant for Howard Stern's Private Parts. Early attempts to sell the script were unsuccessful because studios felt that the horror genre had become unprofitable. In 1996, the film Scream was released to great success, leading studios to once again become interested in horror properties. However, Roth still could not sell his script, as studios told him that it should be more like Scream. Many potential financiers also found the film's content to be unsettling, including not only the gore, but the use of the word "nigger" early in the film. The script was not produced until the fall of 2001, when Roth and Lauren Moews raised $50,000 to begin production with producers Evan Astrowsky and Sam Froelich. The rest of the money was raised during the shooting.
The film was shot on a small budget of $1.5 million. The original killer dog was so old and tired that all of its scenes had to be re-shot with a new dog. With no time or money to find a replacement, the producers cast a real police attack dog that was so vicious and unpredictable that no actors could appear with it on camera.
Composer Angelo Badalamenti agreed to compose some musical themes for the film out of enthusiasm for the material. However, the bulk of the film's score was composed by Nathan Barr who has gone on to score both of Eli's Hostel films. Actor Michael Rosenbaum was originally cast to play Justin aka Grim, but when Rosenbaum wasn't able to commit to the shoot due to another production, Smallville, that was taking off, the role was filled by the director himself.
Joey Kern sustained numerous unrelated injuries to his eye during filming, each one requiring a trip to hospital. His injuries disrupted the filming schedule and many scenes that were to be shot later were rescheduled at the last minute, so that minimal shooting time would be lost while Kern recovered. This resulted in numerous supposedly daytime scenes (mainly ones inside the cabin) being shot in the middle of the night.
During her sex scene with Rider Strong, Eli Roth wanted Cerina Vincent to be completely naked. But Vincent, who had previously played a student who never wore clothes in Not Another Teen Movie, was concerned that over-exposing herself would lead to her being typecast as a 'nude scene chick', and refused to bare her rear in Cabin Fever. The standoff between the director and actress became so intense that Vincent informed Roth that if he truly wanted a naked ass in the scene, he would have to get another actress to play the role of Marcy. Eventually the two hammered out a compromise - Vincent would show one inch of her ass on film, no more, no less. When the scene was set to be filmed, Roth bought along a ruler and literally measured one inch of Vincent's butt crack. Bedsheets were then taped to Vincent's ass at the designated level before the sex scene was shot. Ironically, Vincent later volunteered to bare her breasts in a scene that didn't call for them. During the bathroom scene where she discovers the rashes on her back, the script had her wearing a robe, which she lowered when she turned her back to the mirror. But Vincent thought this scenario was too unrealistic and volunteered to do it topless.
The audition scene the producers chose for actresses who wanted to play Marcy was her notorious "It's like being on a plane..." scene, in which Marcy compares her dire situation to being on a plane doomed to crash. This was an unfortunate choice, on the part of the producers, as was the scheduled date for the auditions; September 11, 2001. The producers made efforts to call off the auditions, but due to the general chaos gripping the US that day, they found it impossible to contact many of the actresses before their scheduled audition times. Consequently, the auditions went ahead as planned. Cerina Vincent's portrayal of this scene won her the role of Marcy.
At one point, during a break in filming, Strong went exploring alone in the forest. He had been filming one of his more gruesome scenes and his face was covered in bloody make-up. He stumbled upon a group of schoolgirls on a field trip. The girls were initially horrified by Strong's appearance (not realizing it was make up), but then someone recognized him as the actor from Boy Meets World, and Strong soon found himself trying to escape from a mob of starstruck girls. When he eventually found his way back to the film site, he vowed never to wander off between takes again.
Priddy's General Store, built in the 1890s in Stokes County, North Carolina, was used for a scene. Rebecca Clark of the Piedmont Triad Film Commission showed the store to Roth, who said, "This is perfect." Years later, the movie's fans still visit the store.
Grossing $33,553,394 at the box office worldwide, the film was marked #3 and the highest grossing film released by Lions Gate Home Entertainment in 2003. Critical response to the film was mixed to positive, with a rave review from the New York Times and Film Comment magazine. Rotten Tomatoes, which compiles reviews from a wide range of critics, gives the film a score of 63%, with the consensus "More gory than scary, Cabin Fever is satisfied with paying homage to genre conventions rather than reinventing them."
Peter Jackson loved the film, and gave a quote to use in the advertising. Quentin Tarantino cited Cabin Fever as the best new American film in his Premiere magazine interview for Kill Bill Vol. 2, and called Eli Roth "The Future of Horror." The film was also #28 on Bravo TV's "30 Even Scarier Movie Moments"
Roger Ebert, however, scorned the film, stating "The movie adds up to a few good ideas and a lot of bad ones, wandering around in search of an organizing principle." The film received a "Two Thumbs Down" rating on the television show Ebert & Roeper. Richard Roeper called it an "ugly gorefest" and said "Cabin Fever is a particularly disgusting and brainless version of this all-too-familiar horror film". Ebert said "Director Eli Roth is trying do about four things at once, to make a horror film, a comedy, a satire and a political parable about infectious diseases and none of them work", summing up the movie as "a mess". He ended the review with Roeper suggesting to viewers "don't bring snacks, if you insist on going to this movie, don't bring any food into the theater because you'll be losing it on your way out."
Cabin Fever over time has grown to be a cult classic, and Roth was nominated for several Saturn Awards, and an Empire Award for Best Newcomer. It was voted Best Horror Film by readers of the website Bloody Disgusting in 2004.
Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever is directed by Ti West (The Roost, The House of the Devil) from a screenplay by Joshua Malkin, story by Randy Pearlstein and Ti West. Rider Strong briefly reprised his role as Paul and Giuseppe Andrews reprised his role as Deputy Winston. Larry Fessenden and Alexi Wasser also star.
Producer Lauren Moews has expressed interest in producing a Cabin Fever 3. She says if she finds the right director that she feels is worthy of filming it, then it will be green lit for production. No dates are known at this moment. The third movie, which will be released in 2013, is titled Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, which is about the virus spreading on a cruise ship in the Caribbean Sea, and a fourth film, which will be released in 2014, is titled Cabin Fever: Outbreak. The fourth film will be about a family who travels to a Caribbean island and has to deal with the same virus. No director has been been hired for either and both are being shot back-to-back by the companies Indomina and Hypotenuse Pictures.
- Cabin Fever at the Internet Movie Database
- Cabin Fever at AllMovie
- Cabin Fever at Rotten Tomatoes
- Cabin Fever (film) at Wikipedia
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