Blu-ray Review: ‘Cabin Fever: Director’s Cut’

Now on high-def Blu-ray everywhere is Eli Roth’s breakthrough indie genre pic, Cabin Fever, which is presented as a “Director’s Cut” featuring footage only seen at the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival years ago. In the film a group of five college graduates rent a cabin in the woods and begin to fall victim to a horrifying flesh-eating virus, which attracts the unwanted attention of the homicidal locals.The Film
8 out of 10

Not unlike Rob Zombie, writer/director, Eli Roth is another one of those filmmakers I find myself constantly having to defend. At first, I must admit to pigeonholing this extremely confident (the word still feels like an understatement when linked to Mr. Roth) filmmaker and his debut feature, Cabin Fever as mere overhype. In the past, genre fans have been too quick to label every other horror film as the next Evil Dead or Dead Alive (aka Braindead). Of course, this was simply blasphemous to my ears so I stubbornly stayed locked on skeptic mode. I eventually warmed up to Eli Roth’s trademark blend of horror and dark comedy. While this juggling act is not uncommon in genre cinema, Roth boldly juxtapositions these elements from one scene to the next, quite abruptly. It’s can be a turn off to some viewers desiring their horror straight up. In my opinion, it’s what makes Roth’s work so memorable.

Cabin Fever is a prime example. It’s both wickedly funny and unnerving to watch. Roth could have simply served up made a straightforward survival horror picture examining the disintegration of friendship. It certainly works on that level. Roth seems equally as interested in entertaining the crap out of an audience with his twisted sense of humor and gross out gags. Eli can’t be trusted in playing a by-the-numbers game. These attributes make Cabin Fever so compulsively watchable. It can be enjoyed on many different levels.

Blu-Ray users are in for a treat with the exclusive Cabin Fever: Director’s Cut. It’s actually the first cut which was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival before Lionsgate picked it up. The running time has only been extended by six minutes of fresh character moments. These nuances somehow manage to enhance the film. The characters are fleshed out and the tone feels more decisive. There are also some slight moments of additional gore which definitely doesn’t hurt. The director’s cut subtle additions make the final product flow all the better. The definitive version of this killer debut feature.

Video
8 out of 10

Cabin Fever’s MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer is another winner from Lionsgate. This clean 2.40:1 presentation contains a nice level of detail. One can definitely appreciate KNB’s make-up effects all the more now. There are though some occasions where the image can get a little soft though. The colors are the most noticeable improvement from the previous DVD release. The outdoor environments are beautifully vibrant throughout. Black levels are consistently deep. Grain is present but nowhere near as noticeable as it one might expect. Scott Kevan’s gorgeous cinematography really shines on this release.

Audio
8 out of 10

Never in a million years would I expect Cabin Fever’s 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio to wow me as much as it did. For the most part, the sound design sticks to the front three speakers. The sound effects hit the mark and the dialogue is consistently audible. On occasion, the sound reaches the rear channels especially the effective echo in the cave sequence. What makes this mix a standout though, is Nathan Barr and Angelo Badalmenti’s haunting score. I was lucky to catch the film’s first screening at TIFF and while it was effective, it never engulfed me like it does on this blu-ray. The music is relentlessly immersive. The score and sound design during the opening credits is especially chilling. It all makes for one intense experience.

Supplements
7 out of 10

Accompanying the director’s cut is a brand new audio commentary with Eli Roth and cast members, Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, Cerina Vincent and Joey Kern. If you trooped through all five commentaries from the DVD release, you probably got all the info you can possibly get about the making of Cabin Fever. There aren’t a whole lot of new insights that could possibly be said about the film. The commentary still manages to be worth the listen. First off, the previous tracks were recorded before Cabin Fever was released to the masses. So for the most part, the participants reflect on the film’s success as well as, its criticisms. There’s of course, the typical patting of each other’s backs that you get on most group commentaries. Roth gets into the differences between the two cuts. It’s worth noting there is an abrupt moment of silence early on (that never happens in an Eli Roth commentary) which sounds like a piece of their conversation was edited out. Very interesting, indeed. Overall, it’s a lively, often humorous track.

Aside from two additional shorts of The Rotten Fruit, Postcards from Bunyon County photo gallery (2:32), and the Theatrical Trailer (1:29), most of the features have been ported over from the DVD. It includes, the short but funny, Family-Friendly Version (1:13); five episodes of the delightfully twisted, Director’s Shorts: The Rotten Fruit (18:26); Pancakes! (1:46), Matthew Helms aka creepy, young Dennis’ martial arts demonstration; Beneath the Skin: The Making of Cabin Fever (28:57), an above-average featurette which includes the hilarious segment on their issues with their dog cast member.

The only disappointment is Lionsgate’s failure to carry-over the theatrical cut and all five commentaries. Oh, as well as, the brilliant Chick-Vision feature! Travesty, I tell ya!

Final Thoughts
8 out of 10

Cabin Fever devotees shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this Blu-Ray. It sports the finest A/V presentation of the film to date, accompanied by another engaging commentary track by Eli Roth and the principal cast. While the additional six minutes of new footage in the director’s cut won’t sway haters, it’ll no doubt delight fans who want even more of Roth’s offbeat humor and creepy factor. The new footage subtly enhances Cabin Fever to even greater heights of twisted pleasure.