Eli Roth is a modern master of horror. Whatever you may think of the man who brought us Hostel 1 & 2 and Cabin Fever, his influence on the horror scene of today is undeniable. An accomplished producer and actor to boot (although I maintain his only good performance is as Justin in Cabin Fever and 2001 Maniacs) he's been a busy man lately. After producing The Last Exorcism Part 2 and disaster movie Aftershock (which he also co-wrote and stars in) he's returned to directing with his cannibal movie The Green Inferno. I was lucky enough to meet the man in person at a journalists' round table in London town, where we quizzed him on his recent activities. Doctor Mambo, sadly, was absent.
Bedecked in the sharpest of suits and sporting a funky Top Gun haircut (to quote collaborator Nicolas Lopez), Mister Roth kicks off the interview in exactly the manner you might expect from the frat boy of horror:
ELI ROTH: Go!
What's happened to Nell since The Last Exorcism?
ER: A lot has happened to Nell. The movie actually picks up right on the same night of the first one. And then, where Nell is found, we make the switch from the found footage docu-style into narrative – so it right away starts narrative, with the shot of the camcorder in the room. Nell is found, and she has no memory of what's happened to her. Then it cuts to six months later, she's brought to a halfway home for girls. She knows that someone perpetrated a fraud on her. This reverend was there, making this documentary, and all she knows is that it went very wrong and her family was killed in a fire. Slowly you realise that the film of the first movie exists in the second one as this viral video, which the other girls in the house discover. She's trying to move on with her life and integrate and convince herself that this was all just some terrible thing that happened to her. But slowly the reality of what it is starts to seep into all aspects of her life.
JOEL HARLEY: So what made you decide to do away with the found footage aspect?
ER: Well, we thought a lot about it. One of the nice things about doing a movie low budget was that we could be experimental. And as soon as the movie was the opening weekend number one film, everyone started asking, “let's do a sequel, let's do a sequel!” We were certainly open to it, but we didn't want to rush and just churn out a sequel. We're gonna take our time with it, and figure it, and find a story. And we kept thinking, in the docu-format, it was always another documentary, and none of us wanted to see a movie about that. We love Ashley Bell and we love that character Nell, and she's such an amazing actress with incredible range. The freaky exorcist shit – that's the stuff I love. I thought 'what if the first film exists as this viral video that she doesn't even know exists until she discovers it, and that was great – because then you could have people going, “hey you're that chick from the video. Do that thing with your fingers!” The other characters in the movie are in the position of the audience. The first one is a psychological drama about a girl who might be possessed or might be crazy. Now that we've answered that question, we can really have fun with it.
You produced this and the original film. How does this differ to your stance as director?
ER: I definitely wanted this to be Ed Gass-Donnelly's film. If I wanted it to be my film, I'd direct it. And I want the directors to know that. With Daniel (Stamm) I'm very involved in the script development and I'm watching all the dailies as they're coming in and making notes. Then I'll look at the cuts and if I think they need to do some work then I'll get there in the editing room. With Ed, I wanted him to take ownership. I wanted someone to be really excited to the movie. And I wasn't going to direct it, but I wanted it to be a good movie, so I wanted to find filmmaker out there that wanted to prove themselves and sink their teeth into it and make a great film. And whereas Daniel's favourite filmmaker is Lars von Trier – you can see The Idiots, all those films, that's what he was going for with the first film- Ed Gass-Donnelly loves Roman Polanski and would obsessively watch Rosemary's Baby and say “this is the tone, this is the mood, the kind of camerawork I want.” I thought that was great and fully supported him. While he was shooting the film, it was an intimate set, I don't want him to feel as though I was directing over his shoulder. I don't want the actors to feel like there's two directors. I just produced Ti West’s new film, The Sacrement and it was the same deal. This other film – Clown – I produced, I trust these guys so much. I'm very much there in the prep, overseeing the casting and the locations and how they're gonna do it. When it comes down to actually making the film, I'm pretty hands-off.
|Still from Aftershock
Click image to enlarge
Did you have any history with Ed?
ER: We saw his movie. We were just searching for films. We saw his film Small Town Murder Songs and thought it was really well done. He did it for no money. And that's what I was looking for – someone who could be smart and clever, on a low budget. We don't need someone who's going to need to spend a lot of money, because it's not that type of story, not that type of film. He comes from a theatre background. He's performance based, photography based and really knew how to make it look good. He has very high standards for everything. He didn't want anything to look cheap. I wanted someone obsessive for every detail and every shot, who's really proving his talent in the film, and that's what he did.
Does Part 2 continue with the slow build-up of the scares?
ER: We liked that pace. I don't think you can switch gears. In the first one, the first thirty minutes are so funny. We knew we couldn't do that again either. One of the things that Ed did really well is that the first twenty-five minutes are very creepy and effective, and fun. If the last one ended at that point, this is where we're going to end the second one.
Did you purposefully try to avoid any exorcism movie clichés?
ER: We had a big discussion about that, because Ed wanted levitation and I was very against it. But he had a really good idea and specific reason to do it and where to go, and how to do it. If he's got something in his head that he's one thousand per cent certain is going to work, I have to trust him. He did it and it was amazing, and it works so well in the story, that you think “yeah, The Exorcist was forty years ago. It's not really a cliché (any more). In the context of the story, it works great.
Could you see this turning into a franchise?
ER: I didn't see the first one turning into a sequel. Truthfully, we're only focused on this one. We're not thinking about a part three. I'm in a position now where I can make a lot of different films. I wouldn't do a three to have a third one exist. We'd really only do it if we had a story worth telling.
You might need a new title too. The Last Exorcism Part III?
ER: I know. The Lastest Exorcism. The Lasting Exorcism. I remember the day after it opened, I was like “we're gonna call the second one The Devil Inside!”
Can we expect more Eli Roth trademark nastiness?
ER: The nice thing about these movies is that they're a different type. Tonally it's a bit of a shift. You're sadly not seeing people being hacked apart by power tools. As much as I love that, it doesn't fit every story.
We're here to talk about Aftershock too. How's that going?
ER:Aftershock's amazing. I had the best time collaborating with Nicolas Lopez. I was saying to him, because I knew he loved genre movies - and Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino and James Cameron - “when are you doing an English language movie?” After Last Exorcism, I was in a position where I was able to help him cross over. We sat down and he started telling me about what happened in the earthquake in 2010. It was terrifying. He didn't have to make up anything. It's all stuff that really happened. A friend of Lorenza Izzo, our actress – the earthquake hit at 3:30 in the morning at the last weekend of summer. So everyone was out partying in the bars. Everyone was drunk. A friend of hers, the bar fell and chopped his hands off...
(Cue a sharp intake of breath from around the table).ER: And everyone was looking for the hands, but the building was shaking so people were running and trampling, kicking the hands. Then they got the hands, tied them off and took them out. Lorenza walked through a plate glass window and she was cut up. All phones were out so nobody knew where to go, and they couldn't call the fire brigade, they couldn't call the police, and then the tsunami sirens went off so everyone started freaking out and running up into the hills. Then they realised the prisons had collapsed and every criminal was out, so people were smashing and looting. There was one town where they called off the tsunami warning because people were panicking so much. Japan called and said “it doesn't look like it's going to hit.” Then two hours later, it came out of nowhere and took out two thousand people. We strung all these incidents together. What terrified me was the idea that here you are, at this table and everything's fine, and the next thing, you're looking for your hands. A friend of Nicolas's told me this story about a girl who was out on a first date with a guy, and the rocks fell and hit him on the head and he was paralysed from the neck down. She had to move him into the back seat and drive stick, down the road with the boulders. This was what everybody was going through. It's horrific. We realised that there hadn't been an earthquake movie since Earthquake, and anything that had been done recently had been done with CGI. So we wanted to go with old school and practical.
Is it tonally different to anything you've made before?
ER: It's a mixture of Nicolas's sensibilities and my sensibilities – the romcom beginning, where my character, I wrote it, was pretty much the opposite of the Bear Jew, not heroic. Recently divorced, he's trying to go and re-integrate – go out, meeting girls and realises he can't talk to any of them
How important was it to film on location?
ER: Well, we had to film on location. Firstly because of the budget. We scouted and there were so many places that were destroyed by the earthquake, like cemeteries – the tombs were broken open – you walk around cemeteries, and bones are sticking out. We shot a scene in Santiago general cemetery where all of the ground... It was incredible to be there. And even in the club where we filmed, where we dropped the ceiling and smashed it, they showed Nicolas the security footage and based it on that. The whole city's like a walking miracle, so filming there was awesome.
Had you always planned on acting in it?
ER: No, we wrote it and it just so happened in my schedule – I wanted to be there. We thought, as a producer we could save money. Perfect.
How do you balance acting, directing and producing? You haven't really directed since 2007.
ER: I just wrapped The Green Inferno. The nice thing was that I trust Nicolas. It's his film. I can be there as a creative producer and an actor. It was nice to be able to focus on the acting and not have to direct. It sucked at the end, when you're in character - every night I was covered head to toe in fake blood, dust, sweat. We called it MTV Dust Party. It's disgusting but it looked so good. It was nice to get back to directing, and that was on Hemlock Grove. Even though it's television, it was more like a feature. It was fun. And then I went off to do Green Inferno, which was just an incredible experience. I used the whole crew from Aftershock, everybody. And Lorenza Izzo is the girl who gets killed in Hemlock Grove. She was so good in the movie – beautiful, big expressive eyes. We needed a girl that would get eaten by a werewolf in the first episode who you'll really remember – don't want to see get eaten and killed. And that was her. I wrote The Green Inferno for her and cast her in the lead. She's like Naomi Watts in The Ring. She's amazing. So I'm editing now. Nicolas has been a great collaborator and partner. He certainly gets me off my ass.
|Still from The Green Inferno
Click image to enlarge
JH: What can we expect from The Green Inferno?
ER: The Green Inferno is a crazy experience. I wanted my return to directing to be a real statement. I wanted it to be worth the wait. I wanted it to be the film I'd be remembered for – that would obliterate the others. I found these locations in the Amazon that were unbelievable. I went further up the river than anyone had ever gone before, to shoot. We went past where Werner Herzog shot Aguirre: The Wrath of God. It was awesome. We found the last village on the river. I saw grass huts. I pulled up and there was a little girl washing clothes on the beach. We were like “can we shoot here? Can we get out? We have to explain to them what a movie is. They have no idea. They've never seen a movie. They've never seen a television. Conceptually, they won't know what we're talking about. We're gonna have to slowly educate them on a movie.” We went and looked around the village, and it was the real deal. It really looked like straight out of one of these cannibal movies. It's also beautiful, like a Werner Herzog movie, Terence Mallik film or even Apocalypto. We went full National Geographic. We brought a generator and television and we showed them Cannibal Holocaust. They're like five year old kids sitting here, watching Cannibal Holocaust. They've never seen a movie before. They all signed up to play cannibals – the whole village. It was amazing. To get there was five hours of travel every day. You'd have to drive an hour on a dirt road, to the boat, up the river, up the Amazon. We brought coolers and ice, and the kids had never seen ice. It was mind-blowing.
Are the kids in The Green Inferno anything like the ones in Hostel?
ER: They're amazing. We got them down to, whereas in Hostel, five was the youngest, we could have two and three year old kids. The kids were so funny. Kids are great in movies. Kids make it authentic. In this village there were pigs and chickens and bulls - stomping through the shot, shitting on set. The kids were so damn funny. Because they had never seen a camera before, none of them were self-conscious at all. It was 110 degrees heat, (they'd) never ask to go to the bathroom; you could have them eating guts, fingers... They were awesome. I miss those kids.
Would you go back and visit?
ER: Oh yeah. Have the movie premiere there or something.
Eli Roth, thank you!
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