[1 August 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
There’s a good reason why the prequel is considered one of the worst movie moves, no matter the genre or franchise. Indeed, the original film is supposed to set things up, provide the necessary narrative foundation and origin impetus for us to become invested in any continuing saga. Going back to rewrite that is not only disingenuous, but antithetical to what you accomplished the first time around. However, in some very rare cases, going back to before the beginning is a necessity, especially when no one really successfully explained what was going on in the first place.
Such is the case with Eli Roth’s overrated “hardcore gorefest” Cabin Fever. For some reason, fright fans flocked to this 2002 splatter throwback, giving it and its maker a ‘macabre maestro’ tag in return. Granted, in a cyclical genre the awash in PG-13 J-Horror, the ample arterial on display was a wet juicy raspberry in the creepshow’s commercial face. But that doesn’t mean the movie is a masterpiece. In fact, it fails on so many levels that its barely worth the bloodshed.
Still, Roth has bankrolled said startup into a more or less mainstream career, with a string of equally successful scare-a-thons, including the horrific Hostel titles (well, at least, Parts One and Two) and the upcoming Goona-Goona retread Green Inferno. He’s also added to his fame as a collaborator and co-star, working with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s groovy Grindhouse experiment as well as playing Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz in the former’s fantastic Inglourious Basterds.
Of course, Roth is nowhere to be found for Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (sometimes referred to as Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero), probably because he no longer holds the rights to the series. Or perhaps wisely, he no longer claims the end results. Instead, we get a direct-to-DVD level effort centering on how the skin-eating virus at the center of all the storylines came into being. We learn than a man named Porter (Sean Astin) is the title “patient zero,” immune to the disgusting disease and held prisoner by a doctor (Currie Graham) desperate to use his blood for a cure.
When a group of bachelor party participants (Jillian Murray, Ryan Donowho, Brandon Eaton, and Mitch Ryan) end up on the same isolated island as our secret science lab, a nice pool of potent victim fodder is found. Before you know it, bros are breaking out in pustules while pus oozes from our lovely lady’s open sores. And then they’re all infected by the actual “Fever.”
Unless you count a last act catfight between two babes that are basically disintegrating into pools of genetic stew right before our very eyes, there’s not much to recommend Cabin Fever: Patient Zero. Not the somewhat effective acting of Samwise Gamgee. Not the exotic locales and beachfront backdrops. Not the obvious homages to Fulci and Lenzi. Not even the moments of finely honed gore F/X. Instead, the movie is really nothing more than a make-up reel, a resume highlight from and for someone clearly more talented than most of the current crop on Syfy’s fascinating Face Off.
According to his bio, director Kaare Andrews writes and draws “world famous characters like Spider-Man, X-Men, Wolverine and The Hulk” for Marvel. He should stick to the pen and ink. He has no real eye for suspense or dread, telegraphing his jump scares in obvious amateurish set-ups. Someone is backing up to a dimly lit doorway? Guess where the quasi-victim-zombie is going to come lumbering out of? Our suffering heroes run through a dark jungle trying to avoid being ambushed. Guess which overgrown part of the brush contains are baddie with a rifle? Since we know that the disease will eventually get off the island (can’t have Roth’s Cabin Fever without it, remember?) there’s no feeling of urgency or anxiety. Instead, Andrews puts his character’s through the script’s simplistic motions and prays that the grue will get him through this.
It doesn’t quite work out that way. Yes, the splatter is effective. Yes, it’s applied in ways both novel and nasty. No, it doesn’t really add much to the drama or narrative drive. Still, watching a skin-failing security guard fire his weapon, only to have his hand break off during the discharge and lodge in the middle of his own face definitely falls into the category of something you don’t see every day, and the aforementioned girl-on-girl beatdown has a laughable ludicrousness that eventually wins us over (extra points for the use of a sex toy to the soften skull of an angry opponent).
But that’s all Cabin Fever: Patient Zero has - blood. There are no real characters, our partygoers are the typical collections of jocks, jerks, and jezebels. You can tell how much Andrews cared about the gender politics of his film. One of our more “buxom” lab assistants starts out shirted, but by the time of the third act, her uniforms become far more low cut and revealing. And then she has a moment of detoxification where she’s in nothing but her undies. Huh? Is that REALLY how things go down in a remote secret medical facility? Naturally, it’s beyond silly to suggest that Cabin Fever: Patient Zero be realistic. A bit less chauvinistic, on the other hand…
If all you really care about are buckets upon buckets of vein juice, this movie will more or less deliver on your squalid stage bloodlust. Looking for another reason to give Cabin Fever: Patient Zero a try? Sorry, but there’s really no other rationale for it to exist outside a cash grab and/or tax write-off. Maybe if Roth had participated somehow it wouldn’t feel so wholly unnecessary. As it stands, this prequel is fairly pathetic. Then again, as we said before, you’re never going to win trying to explain the popularity of your original idea, so why bother trying? Cabin Fever: Patient Zero confirms this theory in glum, gory spades.