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Behind the Scenes of "Cabin Fever" With Writer/Director Eli Roth
by Rebecca Murray

Eli Roth and Arie Verveen on the set of "Cabin Fever."
©2003 Lions Gate Films - All Rights Reserved

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Eli Roth's Preferred “Cabin Fever” Tagline: “If you can't get laid after seeing this movie, you're pathetic” vs. Lions Gate Films' Preferred Tagline: "Catch It." Which one grabs you? Roth's, of course. While Lions Gate Films made the smart move of snatching up this hot property, it's writer/director Roth's vision and artistry that sells this film - catchy tagline or not. Roth knows his audience, and this genre, as proven by the fact that his low-budget horror movie “Cabin Fever” is generating the kind of buzz overly hyped, mega-budgeted, star-studded studio fare can only dream about.

We can only hope that as Eli Roth hits it big, he doesn't become enamored with CGI and special effects, and that he sticks to making films that feel real - like “Cabin Fever.” Blood, guts, gore, and nudity - those qualities, plus a great script and actors who play their roles authentically, help create one of the best horror movies in years. “Cabin Fever's” got that whole 70s vibe going on, and for fans of gruesome scary movies, it's about time some filmmaker went back to the basics and served up something with a bite to it.

Just a warning: Eli Roth's a very blunt speaker who mixes his opinions with more than a handful of obscenities. If you're easily offended, don't read this interview.

I've got to start this off with the one question I personally want answered, what's the significance of the guy in the rabbit suit?
He's the Bunny Man.

But why a bunny suit?
I'm afraid the secrets of the Bunny Man can't be revealed.

So you'll never name him?
The Bunny Man? The Bunny Man should never be named. The Bunny Man is a very, very mysterious and evil creature.

I see, so he's an evil bunny…
Let's put it this way, I won't say much about the Bunny Man, but if you see the Bunny Man, chances are you won't be seeing much more. Chances are your days are numbered, your time's up.

Is this going to be the basis of another one of your movies?
The Bunny Man is the basis of all movies that I do, Rebecca. Actually the Bunny Man was very influenced by “The Shining.” There's a scene in “The Shining” where Shelley Duvall's running around the hotel and she sees these creepy things. There's a guy in a bear suit who is just really, really, really weird. It always stuck with me as a kid so it's kind of my little nod to “The Shining.”

But that was a bear, and this is a bunny. Why the change to a bunny?
We just couldn't find a bear suit. I think that there's something very evil about a bunny suit. There are a few filmmakers that do. It's funny because I went to see “Donnie Darko” while I was editing “Cabin Fever.” I mean, Randy Pearlstein and I wrote this in 1995 so the Bunny Man has been in there for about eight years now. I couldn't believe that there was creepy guy in a bunny suit and then in “Donnie Darko,” they go to see “Evil Dead.” And I met Rich Kelly, the director, and we've become very friendly and we're now collaborating. He saw “Cabin Fever” and loved it, and asked me if I wanted to write a movie with him, which we are now writing together - which he's going to produce and I'm going to direct. And I said, “You know, it's perfect because your movie is 99% Bunny Man and 1% 'Evil Dead.' And my movie is 99% 'Evil Dead' and 1% Bunny Man.” So it's like the whole “You put your chocolate in my peanut butter” thing.

That'll be an interesting collaboration. “Donnie Darko” is one of my favorite movies.
Me too. I love it. Rich is incredible. The way I feel about “Donnie Darko” is how Rich feels about “Cabin Fever.”

What movie are you going to do together?
We're writing a movie called “The Box” and it's going to be an adaptation of a Richard Matheson story. It's going to be much more a psychological horror film. The goal is to really make the darkest, scariest, most disturbing, f**ked up movie the two of us can.

When are you going to start working on it?
Well we're writing it now. Then when we both have time, when we're both free, we're going to shoot it. Rich is going to produce it with his partner Sean [McKittrick], and I'm going to direct it.

Back to “Cabin Fever,” what's the story behind the kid who plays Dennis?
Well Dennis likes pancakes, and when he sees Bert [James DeBello], he's hungry for some pancakes. I was auditioning kids in North Carolina, and they were just going, “Pancakes, pancakes…” That's all that they would say. I wanted a weird kid and so this kid shows up. From his photo, I thought he was a girl. He has long, white/blonde hair.

That wasn't a wig?
Oh no. Oh no. He shows up and I'm like, “Oh my God.” The guy is like, “Hello, sir. My name's Matthew Helms, sir, and I'd like to audition for Dennis, sir.” I was like, “Well…” He said, “And I'm a black belt in karate.” I was like, “Okay, can I see?” He goes into this crazy “Matrix” routine, scissor-kicking over his head, running across the room, flipping… Literally none of which is in the script and all of which is in the movie. I sat there re-writing the scene as I watched him; I was rewriting the scene in my head. I'm like, “This is f**king weirdest thing I've ever seen.” And he's got this crazy hair. We gave him that Betty Page mullet. He still has that hair cut. It's awesome. He was so great. I was like, “How long have you been doing karate.” He said, “I've been doing karate every day since I was two years old. I practice for five hours a day.” I'm like, “Don't you go to school?” “No sir, I'm homeschooled. My mom teaches me.” I'm like, “So essentially you spent your entire life preparing to be Dennis.” He said, “Yes.” He was great. He was really cool. He totally got it.

I remember showing the casting tapes to Jordan Ladd. I asked, “Should I cast this kid? Is this too weird?” Jordan's like, “Eli, there's no such thing as too weird in this movie.” So yeah, so there it was. It's like in real life, you try to think up a weird kid and then someone comes in… This kid could kick anyone's ass, you can't f**k with him. But he's a really, really nice kid.

The whole karate thing comes out of nowhere.
It was real. This kid shows up and that's what he does. That's literally what he does all day. And that's his hair. This kid really exists.


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