Friday, 26 March 2010

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Break (2009)

Gives new meaning to the term "shoe tree"

Although I'm not as hard on Eli Roth as a lot of people, I wasn't hugely impressed with his directorial debut Cabin Fever. I didn't hate it, but I don't remember much about it except that the characters were unlikeable and incredibly annoying. Luckily he doesn't have anything to do with the sequel Cabin Fever 2: Spring Break. The only reason I picked it up was because of the involvement of Ti West, director of the 80s horror throwback House of the Devil that has the internet popping huge boners and still hasn't come out here in Australia. He directed this film (or about 95% of it) and after continued studio interference he eventually disowned it, forcing massive re-edits and a couple of years of the shelf followed by a Direct-to-DVD burial. Apparently West tried to use the pseudonym Alan Smithee, a name that directors use when disowning their own work. I find this whole Alan Smithee thing fascinating. I mean, can you use it in other professions? Could doctors avoid malpractice suits by performing drunken surgery under the pseudonym Dr. Smithee? Hm.

If you remember the end of Cabin Fever, which I sure didn't, you'll know that it ended with Paul (Rider Strong) succumbing to a flesh-eating virus and collapsing into a lake, a bottled water company unknowingly sucking up the filthy water to distribute nationwide as Down Home Spring Water. Well, this film opens with the apparently-not-quite-dead Paul waking up, stumbling into the road and getting splattered by a passing schoolbus (the film title is placed over a freeze-frame of the body exploding like a water balloon, which is a nice touch). Deputy Winston Olsen (Giuseppe Andrews), the only other returning character from the original film, dismisses the pile of entrails as belonging to a deer (what about his clothes?) and sends the busdriver on his way, to a high school that just so happens to be the recipient of the first shipment of bottled water.

The bottled water doesn't really play a huge role in the film, the real source of the outbreak is the prom-night punch getting spiked by the infected urine of an angry janitor, but before we get there the film spends a fair bit of time building up the characters. This is generally a good thing, but... well... stop me if you've heard this one. John (Noah Segan) is a nerdy nice guy who has spent the last couple of years pining for Cassie (Alexi Wasser) a hot girl he has known since childhood. Unfortunately she is dating a popular, asshole rich-kid named Marc (Marc Senter). John also has a fat, sex-obsessed buddy named Alex (Rusty Kelley) and with prom only a few days away... oh, so you have heard this one before? Not surprising, since it's the plot of every movie set in a high school since the beginning of time, and probably earlier. There is a nice "Fuck yeah!" moment where John calls Cassie on her bullshit and asks her why she is dating such an asshole. I thought they were going to do something interesting, like maybe she was pregnant or feared for her life, but no, she just breaks down and starts crying. Strong female characters, y'all!

I mean, pretty much every character is a stereotype from an 80s high school movie. The principal (Bowen Brown!) is an asshole with a statue of Napoleon in his office (and is also gay for some reason). The evil rich kid practices martial arts on a wooden dummy in front of a huge Japanese flag like that kid in Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4. Some of the stereotypes are weirdly anachronistic too, like the science teacher with a bee-hive hair-do and a scarred lip. These kinds of 80s influences/anachronisms, like the reel-to-reel projectors used in classrooms, corded phones, wood-panelled decor and etceteras, are where Ti West's direction is felt most of all. There are direct references to films like Rock'n'Roll High School and Carrie and they even use the Paul Zaza song Prom Night a couple of times. He brings an old-school filmmaking sensibility too. No fancy digital editing tricks, just well-chosen camera angles and moody coloured lighting. I liked this.

Unfortunately the editing didn't fare as well, no doubt due to the studio-mandated changes, so structurally it's a total mess. I expected the prom itself to be the climax of the film, a massive showcase of gory death, but instead it's rushed through in a couple of minutes with a half hour to go. That's important too, because the film barely scrapes over 85 minutes, including the crudely animated intro and outro and a fucking awful epilogue at a strip club (not directed by West) that is stapled onto the end of the film with no respect to tone or pacing. There's also a weirdly disconnected subplot that follows Deputy Olsen as he realises the source of the infection and tries to escape town, dodging the CCD soldiers that lock down the school and shoot anybody who they suspect of having the disease. This subplot includes a role for Marc Borchardt (American Movie) and a cameo by Judah Friedlander, who gets a great line: "She said she was 18; I always believe what children say" but it's ultimately pointless. The film feels unfinished.

The gore effects are pretty great and sometimes manage to outdo the original. There's a prosthetic cock discharging blood and pus. There's a hand amputation with a circular saw and cauterisation by blow-touch. There's a Irreversible-esque scene of a skull being busted open with a fire extinguisher. And of course there is lots and lots of vomiting blood. If you've come for the gore then you probably won't be disappointed. Or maybe you will, I've become so desensitised to this shit I can't even tell anymore. It certainly wasn't enough to save the film for me, especially since the goriest deaths usually happen to people you couldn't give two shits about. That asshole Mark dies from a relatively tame nail through the skull.

I remember this one getting a lot of buzz when it came out, but I didn't think it was great. Sorry internet. I see where Ti West was going and I'd definitely be interested in seeing a Director's Cut, but in it's current form it's a dog's breakfast; I don't blame West for dumping it in the trashcan like a newborn at prom. Also, I have no fucking idea why it's called Spring Break, unless it was an attempt to convince the audience that it contains a lot of titties. Which it doesn't.

Reviewed by Alan Smithee

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