It isn’t often that an homage exceeds the quality of the thing to which it pays tribute, but Ti West’s ingenious retro-’80s horror film The House Of The Devil did just that, assuming the form of a third-rate Satanic thriller, only to treat the genre with the care of Rosemary’s Baby. In that sense, it’s the perfect nostalgia piece, because like all good nostalgia, it evokes the past as something better than it actually was. West was the ideal choice to direct a sequel to Cabin Fever, Eli Roth’s tongue-in-cheek nod to the horny-kids-in-the-woods strain of ’80s horror, but the movie he delivered wasn’t the one the studio wanted. Produced in 2007 and shelved until now, when it’s getting a quiet straight-to-DVD release, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever predates The House Of The Devil and was finished without West’s participation or endorsement. (He wanted his screen credit to be replaced by the pseudonym “Alan Smithee,” but didn’t have the Director’s Guild membership needed to do it.) How much of Cabin Fever 2 can be pinned on West is a matter of parsing out his original vision from the frantic butchery of the final cut.
That isn’t as easy as it sounds. Whatever its flaws—and boy howdy, are they many—say this for Cabin Fever 2: It isn’t some bland, anonymous piece of straight-to-DVD flotsam. West said he wanted to recreate the gross-out qualities of John Waters and Paul Bartel movies of the era, and at its best, the film plays like the cheapo horror-comedy version of Wet Hot American Summer, spinning jokes off the audience’s memories of an uncelebrated ’80s subgenre. Though it bears only a casual relationship to the first film—there’s no cabin, for one thing—Cabin Fever 2 does pick up where the last one left off, with infected bodies tainting the local water supply. As shipments of “Down Home Water” arrive at an area high school, the virus spreads throughout the student body in the days leading up to prom night, leading to an outbreak of decomposing teenagers.
Working from a script by Joshua Malkin, West runs with the metaphor of pubescent ooze: exploding whiteheads, pus-filled sores, ejaculate. Cabin Fever 2 is one of the grossest movies since, well, early John Waters, and the wellspring of bodily fluids leads to some inspired visual gags. (Prom-goers are hereby advised to pass on the punch.) But the discipline and rich atmospherics of The House Of The Devil aren’t remotely in evidence here, and the film’s ramshackle assortment of cameos (Michael Bowen, Larry Fessenden, Mark Borchardt, Judah Friedlander) and subplots eventually turns chaotic and unpleasant. A true director’s cut might have made a significant difference, but based on the evidence here, the amount of good footage seems finite.
Key features: A “Prom Blows Gore Reel” collects the film’s many disgusting moments in one five-minute montage, a brief “The Making Of Gore” featurette goes behind the scenes (with West conspicuously absent), and Lionsgate attaches a few red-band trailers for good measure.