Fifteen years ago, Cabin Fever reinvigorated the modern horror movie scene by going back to the past. Written and directed by Eli Roth, the 1980s-style horror throwback followed a familiar genre trope—a group of college students make their way to a cabin in the woods—then turned it on its head. One sequel, one prequel, and one reboot later, the original film remains one of the best horror films of the past 20 years and has turned Roth into a modern master of horror. Here are 14 things you might not have known about Cabin Fever.
1. ELI ROTH GOT THE IDEA FOR CABIN FEVER WHEN HE DEVELOPED A SERIOUS SKIN INFECTION.
It wasn’t quite as gory as in the movie, but the idea for Cabin Fever came from an experience writer/director Eli Roth had in his late teens. “The initial idea for Cabin Fever came while I was working on a horse farm in Iceland when I was 19 years old,” Roth told Cinema.com. “I had been cleaning out a barn and got a skin infection on my face. I woke up in the middle of the night scratching my cheek, thinking I had a mosquito bite. I looked down at my hand and saw chunks of skin. The next morning I attempted to shave and literally, shaved half my face off. The strangest part was not only did it not hurt—it actually satisfied some strange itch underneath my skin. I went to see a dermatologist, who, judging by the horrified and puzzled look on her face, had never seen anything like it before.”
2. ROTH WROTE THE SCRIPT WHILE HOWARD STERN WAS SLEEPING.
Roth found the time to write the bulk of the script for Cabin Fever when he was hired as a nighttime production assistant to Howard Stern on Private Parts, where his job mostly required waking Stern up in the morning. “They built Howard an apartment in Silvercup Studios and I stayed outside all night, and wrote Cabin Fever,” Roth told Deadline.
3. IT TOOK EIGHT YEARS TO MAKE THE FILM.
Though Roth was often cited as an overnight sensation, the process of getting Cabin Fever made was far from quick. “I wrote Cabin Fever in 1995 so it was an eight-year process for me,” Roth told Dread Central. “It took six years just to raise the money. So many people told me that I was crazy because horror was a dead genre when I was working on trying to make Cabin Fever happen. But I knew I had to keep persevering to make the movie become a reality.”
4. THE FILM SHUT DOWN AFTER ONE DAY OF FILMING.
Boy Meets World star Rider Strong landed a starring role in Cabin Fever. Though he hoped it would be an opportunity for him to break away from Shawn Hunter, the character he played on the beloved teen sitcom, Strong admitted in an interview with Reno News & Review that, “We didn’t think this movie was going to get made. The first day of shooting, our independent investors pulled out because of the anthrax scare.” (The film began shooting just a month after 9/11.)
"It was insane working on the film," Strong's co-star, Jordan Ladd, told Media Mikes. "We shut down, we got up and running, and then we shut down again. We just hoped to finish the movie and hoped people would really understand and appreciate it. We had a blast doing it, even the tougher stuff. I'd rather work that way than on a big-budget fancy thing where you are completely separate from the process."
5. THE FILM—AND ROTH—PROVIDED JORDAN LADD WITH A CRASH COURSE IN HORROR MOVIES.
Ladd wasn’t much of a horror movie buff before Cabin Fever came around. “The genre kind of found me,” Ladd told Wicked Horror. “I hadn’t really defined myself as a horror fan at that point. But once we did Cabin Fever and Eli was so great with recommending references, older classics in the genre, I got a real education on that way of storytelling. So it kind of turned me into a fan and I started seeing great horror films that I really hadn’t seen before.”
6. THE SAME STUDIOS THAT PASSED ON PRODUCING THE FILM ENGAGED IN A BIDDING WAR FOR THE FINISHED PRODUCT.
Though Roth’s original plan for the film was to sell the script and have a studio produce it, no one was interested in buying it (hence the aforementioned eight-year process of getting it made). But a successful showing at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival changed all that: the film sparked a bidding war, with Lionsgate ultimately emerging victorious. Roth was paid $3.5 million for the film, and promised $12 million in prints and advertising. Of the many studios competing to acquire Cabin Fever, most had already passed on producing it.
7. THE FILM TURNED A HEALTHY PROFIT.
Lionsgate’s investment in Roth turned out to be a smart one. The film, which cost $1.5 million to make, ended up grossing more than $30.5 million worldwide.
8. PETER JACKSON WAS A FAN.
After hearing about Cabin Fever from several of his The Lord of the Rings collaborators, Peter Jackson requested that a print be sent to him in New Zealand, where he was filming The Return of the King. Impressed by what he was seeing, Jackson shut down production on his own film—twice!—to screen Cabin Fever for his cast and crew. Eventually, Jackson invited Roth to The Lord of the Rings set, where he offered to supply Roth with a quote about the film for his production materials. It read: "Brilliant! Fantastic! Horror fans have been waiting years for a movie like Cabin Fever. I loved it!”
9. QUENTIN TARANTINO DECLARED ROTH “THE FUTURE OF HORROR.”
In a 2004 interview with Premiere, Quentin Tarantino talked at length about his admiration for Cabin Fever, and called Roth “the future of horror.” The admiration was mutual. Tarantino and Roth would go on to become good friends and regular collaborators. In addition to directing Thanksgiving, one of the fake trailers in the middle of Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, and playing Dov in the film, Roth had a major role as Sergeant Donny Donowitz in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009).
10. THE SUCCESS OF INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS LED TO THE RELEASE OF A DIRECTOR’S CUT OF CABIN FEVER.
Another reason why it pays to be friends with Quentin Tarantino: exposure! In a 2010 interview with Shock Till You Drop, about a then-brand-new Director’s Cut of Cabin Fever being released on Blu-ray, Roth shared that, “This is something I’ve been pushing for since the movie was first cut by the studio … Then after Basterds came out, suddenly my fan base grew and the people at Lionsgate were able to push it through ... It looks and sounds spectacular.”
11. THE PROPS LOOKED A LITTLE TOO REAL.
Robert Jones, who had been hired as a truck driver for the production, found out just how realistic the props looked when he decided to take one home as a souvenir. “So, I was riding through downtown Thomasville about 11 at night with this headless corpse sitting in the back seat,” Jones recalled. “Next thing I know the Thomasville Police Department is pulling me over.” An officer, weapon drawn, commanded Jones to get out of his car. “We all had a good laugh when they realized I wasn't some serial killer,” said Jones. “But man, that was scarier than anything in the movie.”
12. IT LAUNCHED A FULL-ON FRANCHISE.
In addition to spawning a sequel, Ti West’s Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009), there has also been a prequel—Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (2014)—and a remake, released in 2016.
13. ROTH HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SEQUEL.
Though the original plan was for Roth to be at the helm of a Cabin Fever sequel, it didn’t shake out that way. “When we sold the original Cabin Fever, the first thing we discussed was that I had to do a treatment for a sequel as part of my deal,” Roth told Dread Central. “My idea for the sequel was a Song of the South horror movie filled with corpses and sex. The studio wasn’t on board with that so I wished them the best of luck and moved on.
“When I met [The House of the Devil director] Ti West, I really liked him and I liked his work. I told the producers to hire Ti and told him to go nuts and make the sequel completely his own vision. So he took it in a totally new direction.”
14. ROTH DID PRODUCE THE REMAKE.
In 2016, a remake of Cabin Fever—using Roth’s original script—was released to mixed reviews. But Roth was totally on board with the project. "They came to me exactly a year ago and said, ‘We want to remake Cabin Fever using your original script,’” Roth told Dread Central in 2015.
“You’ve got to realize that from an egotistical point of view, I wrote Cabin Fever when I was 22 years old. Right out of university. And for six years everyone told me, ‘This is an un-makeable piece of sh*t.’ So the fact that the same script would get made twice and that 20 years later, 20 years after I originally wrote it, it got sent around Hollywood and people were reading the same dialogue. I looked at it as like staging a play—as an experiment I just wanted to see how it would turn out. So I came on as one of the executive producers … I saw the cut and thought that what [director] Travis [Zariwny] did was so smart—he kept the original script, but he changed the deaths so all the kills are different … I’m happily surprised at how it’s turned out.”