Saturday, October 21, 2017

Cabin Fever (2002) & Hostel (2005)

Do you like Eli Roth? I can't make up my mind. I kind of accidentally watched two of his films back-to-back the other night.

Both Cabin Fever and Hostel show us a group of friends way out of their element, far from home and under threat. Both are satisfyingly (and practically, effects speaking) gory and gross, and both were strong enough in premise and critical/audience reception to have spawned sequels and remakes. Let's take a little look at them...

Even though I've never considered myself an Eli Roth "fan" as such, I remember having an appreciation for his work. Sure, it's a little immature, but it comes from a love of the genre, right?

Hostel's Natalya (Barbara Nedeljakova)

To focus first on the women in these films (because that's where my representation interests lay most heavily), I have to give Roth his due; there's an evolution from the standard "helpless and topless" female characters. Natalya (above) is actually by far the most interesting character in Hostel: she's presented in more than one dimension and has something approaching a character arc! Natalya begins as a sexually liberated hook-up, and progresses through lure to full on traitor, with her appearance following the disintegration of her morality. More thought went into that than I remembered, to be honest.

Cabin Fever has another strong brunette in Marcy (Cerina Vincent). She is comfortable with her sexuality (which I guess in these films amounts to "is willing to get naked" but I'm not judging - women like sex!) and she's also brave and capable.

She's also the bum in this Texas Chainsaw Massacre homage shot!

Female representation is, surprisingly, not as poor as I recalled. There are still ample scenes of sex (centred on the male experience, of course) and boobs, but at least we have characters who are ultimately more than their body parts. They are somewhat multi-faceted personalities, not just a walking pair of tits.

Male characters... don't fare so well. Let's just say that the most striking thing on this rewatch was the reminder that early 2000's Roth sure did a fine line in absolute douchebags. From Bert (James DeBello, below left) in Cabin Fever to all three male leads in Hostel, if you ever feel an inexplicable need to hear characters call one another "fag" and "gay" repeatedly, then you're in luck, I guess?!

Cabin Fever's Jeff (Joey Kern, above right) experiences the best/worst reward for his selfish arseholeness, in another horror homage moment at the film's climax. Having saved himself from infection by abandoning his friends, he staggers out of his hiding place and back to the cabin. In a less shocking but still cool nod to hero Ben's fate in Night of the Living Dead, he's promptly shot and killed by police.

In terms of gore, I feel like it's kind of redundant to comment on at this point. Hostel shows us so much realistic violence that it was rolled into the whole "torture porn" debate. Cabin Fever too, is stomach-churningly gruesome (the shaving scene!) but comes under less fire due to the intent; sick shit is happening to these kids, but it's not directly at the hands of others gaining pleasure from it. In Hostel, people are deliberately captured, sold, sat down and tortured. It all looks very real.

To some this is too much, it's a step too far to show such extreme pain with no real message behind it. Personally, I use the "torture porn" label as a way to know what the movie is about, and gauge if I'm in the mood for it, but it's not a deal breaker by any means. Experiencing the pushing of boundaries is all part of being a horror fan, for me. And if the characters are set up the right way, well, I want to see those kills. Not everything has to have a message!

And if we're talking sick stuff, I'll take this opportunity to say that I've a real soft spot for films that use sexual arousal and infection as an interchangeable/confused notion. The scene with Paul (teen Jo crush Rider Strong) and Karen (Jordan Ladd) in bed, where he's trying to initiate something and moves his hand under the sheets, only to take it out a minute later covered in blood and goo...

Contracted plays with this too, when the main character passes on her virus to a lover and her putrefying pussy is mistaken for being wet from sexual arousal. It's so sick, it's a little questionable if you think about it too much... but I kind of love it.

Both of these are on US Netflix at time of writing, and worth revisiting if it's been a while since you've seen them and are happy to take them for what they are. Roth certainly knows what works for an uncomplicated and few-holds-barred horror movie, and he clearly loves being part of the genre. The cringey homophobic language is hard to stomach, and no one is going to fault you if that in itself means a hard pass to revisit them. Honestly though, they were not quite as "from a mind of a ten year old boy" as my memory had me believe. I'm not sure how comfortable I am admitting I was pleasantly surprised by how much I still enjoyed them.

It must be said though that the director cameo in Cabin Fever is one of the worst I've ever seen.

Edited to add: Ugh EVERYONE IS TRASH. So I checked rotten apples and even though nothing comes up there, this interview (the gross stuff is in number 3) is troubling. It's no real surprise, and that in itself is a shame.

*shrug* It's your call but there's probably as good or better shit to be watching without thinly-veiled homophobia, made by a sexist douchebag.

Last edit on Feb 1, 2019.

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