Monday, July 9, 2012

So You Won't Have To: Cabin Fever 2 - Spring Fever

 Despite the title in question, I didn't actually approach Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever with the intention of tearing it a new one. It is true that I haven't heard a kind word about what could at best be called a "really unnecessary sequel," but the film was directed by Ti West, who made two films I really enjoyed (The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers) and one I'm still looking forward to watching (The Roost). The version of Spring Fever released on DVD may not represent West's vision for the film (more on that in a bit), but I thought that there might be enough of his style left in Cabin Fever 2 that it could overcome the negative buzz.

 Boy howdy does it not. Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever just sucks. I'm not saying that Eli Roth's Cabin Fever is some kind of classic, but it's uneven tone is helped by some impressive gore and mounting tension in the mid-section. Cabin Fever 2, on the other hand, takes all of the offbeat comedic moments, removes all of the tension, and replaces disturbing makeup effects for an onslaught of gore and projectile blood vomit. It's a movie trying really hard to be funny and gross at the same time and feels like it desperately wants to be a throwback to 80s splatter flicks. That would be fine, but there's this fidelity to the first film (in particular, the goofy parts of Cabin Fever that don't work) that leaves the film a jumbled mess.

 Top billed Rider Strong (returning from the first film) is smashed by a bus before the opening credits roll, for reasons unknown. It turns out that the fact he sort-of survived the end of Cabin Fever and is hit by a school bus heading away from the middle of nowhere, North Carolina* to Springfield, where Spring Fever is set. His infected blood and guts being spilled all over the front of the bus is irrelevant because the water source his body was floating in at the end of Cabin Fever was the source for Down Home Water, a bottling company that delivers tainted product to the same school in question.

 We learn all of this in an animated section during the opening credits, just in case audiences a) didn't see Cabin Fever or b) weren't paying attention to the beginning of Cabin Fever 2. Seriously, while Deputy Winston (Giuseppe Andrews, also returning) is being a goofball and insisting the bus driver killed a deer (one wearing a watch and shoes), the Down Home Water truck drives by right before the animated sequence starts, and then flashes back to the same scene just in case we didn't get it the first two times. Later in the film, Deputy Winston watches the truck driver (Larry Fessenden) start spewing blood and there's a flashback to the first Cabin Fever so that we're clear that Winston went through all of this in the first movie. That's 30 minutes into Spring Fever, by the way.

 Anyway, so we've moved away from the discomfort in juxtaposing city college students against dubious hillbillies (something Roth toyed with in Cabin Fever) and to generic "small town USA" with a high school prom, some outcasts, a jerk, his ex-girlfriend, and a few caricatures disguised as school faculty (no, seriously: the biology teacher [Angela Oberer] has a harelip and yells all of her lines). Now, Cabin Fever certainly had its share of stereotypical characters, but at least Roth played around a little bit with our expectations. Not only are the characters in Spring Fever barely more than "types" but they aren't the least bit interesting. It's hard to care about someone, let alone feel invested in their living or dying, when there's no one interesting on screen. Every opportunity to do something fun with them is squandered repeatedly.

 For example, there's an 80s styled montage of high school students going to a Disco-themed Prom that continues setting up that the villainous ex-boyfriend (Marc Senter) has a black belt by having him practice in his make-shift dojo (shades of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4). So we should expect some kung fu action right? It's set up not once but twice that he's into the martial arts, but instead he just beats one guy to death with a fire extinguisher and smashes his ex-girlfriend Cassie (Aliexi Wasser) in the head with a hammer. His idea of "fighting" the protagonist, John (Noah Segan), is to shove him around. Total waste of setup there, gang.

 In deference to West, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever was taken away from him by the producers and Lionsgate and was subject to reshoots and re-editing without his involvement. He asked to have his named removed from the film (in order to make Spring Fever an "Alan Smithee" joint), but since West wasn't in the DGA, his request was denied. How much of Spring Fever is West's and how much is the producers' is up for debate, but there are certainly chunks of the film that look like The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers.

 Okay, so I'll give him a bit of a pass for not being involved in the final product, but I'm not seeing much of the movie that worked in the first place either. Even the West-ian tracking shots happen during scenes where characters aren't doing anything engaging, and there's zero tension in the film. This is coming from a director who excels at setting up tension. Instead there's non-stop gross out moments: a janitor pees blood into the punchbowl, the sidekick Alex (Rusty Kelly) gets a blowjob from a girl with braces and mouth sores and then later squeezes bloody pus out of his dick, and the aforementioned girl with sores is also a stripper with boils all over her breasts. By the time a biohazard team swoops in, The Crazies-style, to lock everyone in the school, I didn't care that the prom turned into a bloody vomit spewing chaos. That's supposed to be the major set piece of the film, I think.

 There are two moments in Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever that surprised me, and I don't know they it can be attributed to West or not, but they are the rare moments were the goofy tone helped instead of hurt. After Deputy Winston gets Toby (Judah Friedlander), the night guard at Down Home Water, killed, he decides he no longer wants to be a cop and runs away with his cousin Herman (American Movie's Mark Borchardt). While nothing that Winston does in the movie makes any sense, there is a moment where Herman is trying to bribe a police officer into letting them drive through a restricted area. He drops some money on the ground, and as the cop bends down to get it, Herman drops the silliest looking elbow drop you're likely to see and knocks the officer out. I will admit that it was so out of left field that I laughed.

 The other moment comes from something that doesn't serve any purpose in the story but is weird enough to mention: so it's set up in biology class that Frederica (Amanda Jelks), the "fat" girl, has a crush on presumptive Prom King Rick (Thomas Blake Jr.). Rick seems to be making fun of her in class, so when he invites her to come skinny dipping with her in the pool, we expect some high school humiliation of the "fat" girl by the "popular" kids. Nope; it turns out that Rick does want to have sex with her but then the flesh eating disease starts doing its thing on her and he's killed when he accidentally falls into the pool trying to fish her out. It doesn't have any bearing on the narrative (unless you count a quick moment when Cassie sees Frederica's corpse in the pool later) but was unexpected.

 Still, two moments do not a watchable movie make. Ti West fans are best of avoiding Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, as are fans of Cabin Fever and, well, most horror fans. DTV horror aficionados are going to have more fun with the Wrong Turn sequels than this, and its reputation as a forgettable unnecessary sequel is deserved. There's nothing you're going to get from watching this movie, and in all likelihood we'll never get the third film a superfluous animated epilogue promises (during Mardi Gras, no less). West moved on to better films, and Eli Roth has the satisfaction of knowing that for all of its faults, his Cabin Fever could be much, much worse. The proof is in the sequel.

 P.S. It's worth mentioning that Rider Strong (Cabin Fever), Larry Fessenden (I Sell the Dead), and Judah Friedlander (Feast) have a combined screen time of seven minutes in an 86 minute movie. Giuseppe Andrews is in and out of the narrative, Mark Borchardt has a slightly extended cameo, and Michael Bowen (Lost, Walking Tall) has a pointless role as the "gay for no good reason" Principal who also yells all of his lines. Don't let their names fool you in the opening credits.

 * I'm not positive it's ever made clear in Cabin Fever that the film takes place in North Carolina, or that I just know that it was filmed here. Cabin Fever 2 was also filmed in NC, but on the opposite side of the state in Wilmington.

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