DID YOU READ

On “Cabin Fever 2” and where the hell horror film is headed next.

On “Cabin Fever 2” and where the hell horror film is headed next. (photo)

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Horror is in a strange place right now. In a genre currently steeped in remakes, “Paranormal Activity” has become the first original nail-biter to break through to the masses since “Saw,” whose sixth installment showed its (and torture porn in general’s) age by coming in second to “Activity” (in its third week) at the box office this weekend. Likewise, the film “Activity” has been most compared to, “The Blair Witch Project,” recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, reminding everyone what a rare phenomenon it is to get spooked in a new way.

These were the things I was thinking about when I sat down to watch Ti West’s “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever” at Los Angeles’ Screamfest over the weekend, coincidentally the genre festival that premiered “Activity” in 2007. A sequel to the 2003 splatter flick that launched Eli Roth’s career, “Cabin Fever 2” was supposed to do the same for West, a young director who’s shown a knack for squeezing scares out of low-budget, highly inventive films like “Triggerman” and “The Roost,” but who’d get his shot at a bigger budget with the Lionsgate-backed sequel. West got the money, but not final cut — he’s since disowned the final product, which is set to go direct to DVD in February 2010.

Still, there’s enough promise in the compromised “Cabin Fever 2,” when paired with his first true masterwork “House of the Devil,” to believe West might be horror’s next great hope. (And, full disclosure, he does have a web series called “Dead and Lonely” premiering on IFC.com today.) What’s clear from both films is that West’s creativity and screenwriting ability should make him interesting even to non-genre movie fans — and horror is in dire need of more crossover hits.

Of course, true horror fans will get an extra kick out of “Cabin Fever 2” appearances from “The Last Winter”‘s Larry Fessenden, “American Movie”‘s Mark Borchardt and Judah Friedlander (sans trademark hat), but while there’s a fair amount of gore, the film takes a threadbare plot (conveyed in an animated opening credits sequence) of a town whose water supply has been contaminated by the flesh-eating virus from the first film and turns it into the kind of fun that West determinedly depicts as not happening at the high school prom that becomes ground zero. Thanks to the tainted water, never has the stir of a punch bowl been so ominous.

West’s gripes about the finished film have been that the producers amped up the gross-out moments for the sake of a laugh — oral sex from a girl with braces and a suspicious pustule on her lip, an overweight girl’s burgeoning leprosy being mistaken for loss of virginity in a pool, and a male character’s ejaculation of something other than semen — and while he isn’t wrong, the scenarios are inherently terrifying.

Editing may have changed West’s intentions, but they don’t mask his devotion to dialogue and building multidimensional characters, so when there’s a payoff, it doesn’t feel like a cheap thrill. Like his brilliant use of The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another” in “House of the Devil,” West dusts off Patrick Hernandez’s “Born to Be Alive” and tells all you need to know about the teens at the soon-to-be infected high school in a montage of their preparation for prom.

“Cabin Fever 2” ends with a noticeably tacked-on ending — first, a live-action coda featuring two of the film’s producers making cameos as strip club patrons, and then an animated bookend, which prompted one Screamfest audience member to ask producer Lauren Moews why there were different animators for the opening and closing sequences. Moews tellingly responded that opening credits animator Lawson Deming wasn’t available when “we wanted to figure out what to do for the end.” Presumably, West wasn’t around either by that point. Moews added that original “Fever” director Roth had only seen a finished cut of the film a couple weeks ago, with his main comment being “Man, I want that soundtrack.”

Although West’s name came up sparingly during the Q&A, lead actor Noah Segan remarked that his first discussions with the director revolved around “Heathers” as far as influences were concerned, but also veered towards Sam Peckinpah — “We wanted to make something matter today using something traditional.” And regardless of what happened with his first attempt at studio work, West appears to be well on his way to a fruitful career of doing just that. We just hope he has final cut for his next film, “The Haunting in Georgia,” another sequel to a Lionsgate hit.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.