Cabin Fever is what ”28 Days Later” would have looked like had it been made without style, subtlety, grunge-of-night video photography, or fashionable apocalyptic pretensions. The zombies in ”Cabin Fever” vomit up blood and skulk around like ravaged denizens of a homeless shelter. They also spread their disease on contact, so that it doesn’t take long for the victims to devolve (if not dissolve) into the enemy. In this case, however, the poor screaming schmucks who are stuck in a remote cabin as they try to evade infection are variations on the same callow, sexed-up sorority-and-frat pack who’ve been running away in hysteria from relentless backwoods monsters ever since ”The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Directed and cowritten by Eli Roth, ”Cabin Fever” is a big, dumb, crude, noisy, goose-the-audience bash and proud of it. It’s not nearly as unsettling as ”28 Days Later,” but then, there are a lot of people who prefer meatloaf to steak tartare. If you’re going to whip up a frenzied thriller about an icky flesh-eating virus, there’s a good argument to be made that you should leave the Art out of it.
”Cabin Fever” would make a decent midnight movie, but I wish there were something in it that felt original. Even non-horror buffs have seen these creepy redneck omens (the weird racist guy at the general store!) once too often, and by the time the zombie fever begins to spread, it’s disappointing to learn that the nightmare disease, which eats away people’s skin until there’s virtually nothing left but blood and bones, is supposed to be an actual, documented malady, like leprosy. The movie doesn’t even stay true to its own medical premise: Just because your best friend’s flesh is falling off doesn’t mean that he’s coming after you.
There’s one funny performance: Giuseppe Andrews plays a party-hearty police deputy with just enough knowing goofiness to feed the paranoia – the feeling of city slickers trapped in a world of righteous simpletons. The rest of the characters are ciphers; they have nothing to lose but their flesh. ”Cabin Fever” is being marketed as a terror-ific sleeper, but a zombie movie that’s this full of clichés really is a kind of meatloaf. It’s the fright-flick equivalent of comfort food.