-By Doris Toumarkine

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The horror flick Cabin Fever, which marks the feature directorial debut of NYU Film School grad Eli Roth, pushes no envelopes nor marks new breakthroughs. Rather, slavishly adhering to a timeworn but proven formula, Roth and team deliver an uninspired but engaging romp through familiar horror film territory.

No Blair Witch gimmickry here in the straightforward story of five college kids who embark on a week's break in their jeep to frolic in and around a cabin in the woods. Little do they know--until the blood hits the fan--that they are staying near an abandoned reservoir where a skin-devouring virus has been simmering and carried by flies to the unfortunate locals.

All five collegians could be easily plucked from any big college directory or from the cast of characters of lesser indie horror or comedy efforts. Jeff (Grind's Joey Kern) and Marcy (Cerina Vincent) are the hot and sexy couple who dive into bed as soon as they arrive at the cabin. Paul (Rider Strong) is the nice, reserved guy just about anyone can bond with. Also a red-blooded guy, he has the hots for longtime gal-pal Karen (Jordan Ladd), a goody-goody, slightly seductive blonde who may or may not have similar feelings towards Paul. And, of course, there's the odd man out, cut-up Bert (James DeBello), immature, trouble-prone, macho in a frat-boy kind of way and good for fun but little more.

Bert, in fact, is the perfect agent provocateur for the downward-spiraling events: When he typically overreacts, here with a B-B rifle, to a flesh-stricken woodsman, the man menaces the cabin dwellers, gets sick all over their jeep and ends up fried after the collegians set up a fire. Ominous signs quickly pile up and the kids become so much dead meat. Early on, there's the woodman's eviscerated dog, and the friends hear a spooky campfire tale portending the tragedies to follow. More bodies emerge, awful sores appear, etc. This is not spring break in Cancun.

One by one, the quintet of collegians is dispatched, as the flesh-eating virus or mad dogs or bullet rounds hit their targets. Blood runs plentifully and convincingly, whether vomited up or filling tubs or staining clothes or just plain oozing.

Besides the inchoate Paul/Karen romance, Roth and co-writer Randy Pearlstein weave several other subplots into their gore-fest, including a mysterious ecological disaster and the shenanigans of menacing locals like the redneck owners of the nearby general store and the party-obsessed Deputy Winston (Giuseppe Andrews).

Acting and makeup are fine, but it is the sound design--both aural effects and Nathan Barr and Angelo Badalamenti's superbly creepy music--that is outstanding. Also, the wide screen is ably composed.

An example of competent work in a routine genre, Cabin Fever does at least boast one particular virtue, if you can call it that, which is to get its main characters bumped off convincingly and within a tight story that holds interest. There are the few requisite scares, but the many graphic renderings remind that--as Psycho and Rosemary's Baby so brilliantly proved--less (shown) is more.

-Doris Toumarkine

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