Eli Roth's original film exploited a game that kids know very well. It's "What's Grosser Than Gross?" Sexually stimulating the rotting flesh of a girl's thigh is gross. Shaving the flesh off your legs might be grosser than gross (or maybe it's the other way around?). It's mostly this one-upmanship of "ewwww" that links this sequel to the original. Other than that and the virus-infected-water plot, the films go their separate ways. Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever has no cabin in it and is influenced by several different streams of late '70s/early '80s cinema. This time the setting is high school and the genre is the teen sex comedy, but think less John Hughes and more The Last American Virgin. The film's primary content boils down to jokes and scares based around bodily fluids. This is the film's debt to the subversive cinema of John Waters. Saliva, blood, pus, semen, urine, and bottled water. Bottled water is the film's hook as we see the only "survivor" of the original film, the infected Paul (Rider Strong), stumbling around in streams that feed right into the local bottled water plant. It takes no time for these tainted bottles of water to spread throughout the town and wind up mixed in the punch at the high school prom. The authorities quarantine the prom, so the cast is locked inside the school as the virus expands into a vomitous bloodbath. There is quite a bit of material presented with the full intent to shock middle-class sensibilities. This includes full frontal nudity and sex with a rather overweight young woman, the spiking of a punch bowl with bloody urine, and a young man pulling out his penis to discover it in the late stages of pus-filled flesh rot. I'll leave it up to you to decide which is grosser than gross.
The characters are the usual archetypes we find in these films. Nice guy John (Noah Segan), who pines for girl next door Cassie (Alexi Wasser) at the risk of being beaten up by her boyfriend, the rich jerk Marc (Marc Senter), all the while trying his best to help his obnoxious, blue-balled buddy Alex (Rusty Kelly) get laid. I have no clue if we're supposed to like these guys, but they're all pretty abstract and irritating. The only likable characters occupy a filler subplot featuring the unique Giuseppe Andrews from the original film as "Deputy Winston" and a cameo by Mark Borchardt, the director of the unforgettable Coven and "star" of American Movie. These actors bring their own quirkiness and charisma to their sketchy roles, something that leaves the younger cast members struggling.
Stylistically, much of Spring Fever is a lovingly recreated tip of the hat to Roger Corman's New World Pictures in general and to the work of former trailer editors Joe Dante and Allan Arkush in particular. There is a definite Rock and Roll High School vibe all over the film, from the slyly conceived wipes and Ramones tunes to the often quick and dirty staging of action in empty hallways or on the dance floor. Michael Bowen as the school principal and Angela Oberer as the almost vampiric Mrs. Hawker are clearly standing in for the late Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov (still very much alive and fine as ever in Ti West's The House of the Devil). One shot of a flesh-rotted head bobbing up from a swimming pool is a direct quote of Dante's Piranha, the tinsel-and-disco-balled high school prom is right out of De Palma's Carrie, and they even use Paul Zaza's Prom Night theme song to set up the big night. For cinephiles who enjoy this kind of thing, there's a lot to like. An early scene involving a school bus of kids and human roadkill also seemed to be a wink at David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, including some very Angelo Badalamenti music on the soundtrack. Any reference to Twin Peaks gets you extra points in my book.
You may have noticed that I did not ONCE mention the director of Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever. The man credited is Ti West, who made last year's best horror film, The House of the Devil. He actually shot this film several years ago, but in a very familiar story, it was subjected to reshoots and re-edits against his wishes. It's clear that most of the film contains footage shot by West. The grainy drive-in aesthetic, wipes, and opening and closing animated title sequences all seem to betray his hand. He was involved in the writing and casting as well. So, some of it is still his. The trouble is that it's no longer possible to separate the good from the bad from the gross in order to figure out who did what. The film's final cut is the work of an army of producers who hired John Waters' editor Janice Hampton to give it some shape. With so many cooks in the kitchen, it's no surprise that the film is such a mess tonally and structurally. What we have is a movie made by committee. The film is a direct-to-DVD release, and as such it's a pretty bare bones affair. It's presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and Dolby Digital 5.1. Image and sound are decent but nothing special. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
Along with the usual Lionsgate trailers, the DVD comes with two extras. A behind-the-scenes featurette has one great moment with actor Michael Bowen, who seems completely embarrassed by the content of the film and cannot believe he's signed up for it. The end credits of the film mention that none other than indie auteur Joe Swanberg shot the behind-the-scenes footage. I am sure this was intended to be a more significant "making of" documentary that was nixed following the split between the producers and director West. This is unfortunate, as a real chronicle of a low-budget horror film's day-by-day production would've made this DVD worth purchasing in and of itself.
The other extra is the "Gore Reel," and it's aptly titled. Five minutes of extended shots of all the major gore FX in the movie. Watching it made me think that the producers may have wanted this as the final product. A film without characterization and plot that just delivers the gory goods.
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