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Eli Roth

Writer/Director - "Cabin Fever", "Hostel", "Hostel: Part 2"
Interview by: 
Head Cheeze

Before you read this interview, let me first say that talking to Eli Roth about the movies is, well, pretty much like talking to one of your buddies about something he or she feels passionate about in that they can get excited, angry, and downright verbose! Eli's got a gift for gab that far exceeds my ability to transcribe, so, with that in mind, here's the most accurate version of the recent 45-minute conversation I had with Eli that my sausage-like fingers could pound out.

HV: Hey Eli, how are you!

ER: Hey man, thanks for the awesome review!

Oh, yeah, thanks. Sorry I put it up so early. I though the DVD was coming out earlier than it was.

Oh, no, man. I meant for the film. That's really cool that you got the DVD already. I didn't know that.

Yeah, I spent an entire weekend watching it with all of the commentaries! (Laughs)

Oh man, sorry about that!

No, no! Not at all! The commentary tracks were incredible. I had a blast with them.

I design those commentary tracks so that, even if you own the DVD for four years there's always something new, you know? I don't expect anyone to sit down and watch them all at once! (Laughs)

Back when I reviewed the Cabin Fever DVD you had e-mailed me to let me know that I'd made a mistake and only listed four commentaries when there were, in fact, five. I found out back then that your commentary tracks were well worth the time spent listening to them.

Well, yeah, I mean some people listen to them for certain reasons. Some people want to hear fun stories from the actors, other people are film students that want to be directors. I mean, I just want to offer as much information that I've learned to everybody, you know?

On the Hostel DVD we also get a great behind-the-scenes documentary. That was directed by your brother (Gabe), yes?

Yeah, thanks! We just watched…we had our Passover Seder and we showed it to my parents and we all watched it. I really, really loved what my brother Gabe did. We didn't want to do something that was boring or like a puff piece. I really wanted it to feel like, this is what it was like when we were there.

Yeah, it was really comprehensive. So many behind-the-scenes supplements are, like, ten minutes or so, and leave you wanting for more.

Yeah, we wanted something that would show you all of the different personalities in there, like those bubblegum kids. They didn't speak English, but they knew who Ali G was, so you had to talk to them like Ali G. It was just hilarious.

Back to the commentary tracks. Why only four this time out? I got five with Cabin Fever! Why the downgrade?!

With Cabin Fever we had five actors who all lived in Los Angeles, but I figured that putting someone like Quentin Tarantino on a commentary would make up for that (laughs). And a lot of the cast members are in the Czech Republic and don't speak English, so…(laughs). And what happened was that Jay (Hernandez) was off shooting Oliver Stone's Twin Towers movie and Derek Richardson is off shooting another movie, so…but I still wanted it to be fun and get different stories from other cast members, producers. But, with Cabin Fever, the behind-the-scenes was only, like, 25 minutes or so, and with this one it's over 50 minutes, plus other little things, so you actually get more stuff with Hostel.

I was obviously joking about there being one less commentary. I'm just amazed that you can somehow take what is usually my least favorite feature and turn it into something unique and entertaining; not just once, but four or five times. How do you do it?!

Well (laughs) I have a lot to say! That's actually probably one of the reasons there wasn't a fifth one because I ran out of stuff! You know, there's a lot that happens when you're making a film, and there was also a lot of stuff that happened between Cabin Fever and Hostel, and I look at commentaries like an educational film. And, when I was in film school, I devoured commentary. I listened to commentaries from Taxi Driver, Brazil, and Tootsie…You can get such amazing stories from directors about how they made it and why they made certain choices…I want to make commentaries for the average fan who want to hear, like, fun stories from Quentin, but there's also this wave of young filmmakers who shoot their own movies or want to make film. I get asked a lot of the same questions by people and if I can answer some of those and demystify the process...that's how you go from being a fan to being a filmmaker.

And one of the commentaries really achieves that; the one with you, Tarantino, Scott Spiegel, and Boaz Yakin. It's like a turnkey film school!

Oh, yeah. Those three are all old friends. I consider myself a hardcore film geek, but, when I'm with those guys I feel like I'm swimming in the deep end. We had, like, a movie night at Quentin's and the theme was “Made for Television Horror Movies of the 70's”, so we watched “KOLCHAK-THE NIGHT STALKER”, Quentin had, like, a bunch of real obscure videotapes of movies that aired on television only once and I mean, these guys are naming every actor, every episode of Green Acres he was on, I mean, I just couldn't even, I didn't even know what they were talking about. Every time there's a bad stunt they're like rewinding it and going over it…it's the same sort of stuff I did with my friends when I was 13 years old. That's what it's like hanging out with these guys. They're such old friends that the commentary has that sort of energy to it.

All of the commentaries have this really conversational nature to them, almost like a talk show with you serving as the host. But they're really inviting and entertaining, as opposed to the majority of tracks out there that sound like Henry Kissinger teaching chemistry class.

Yeah, thanks, man. I mean, back in '90 or '92, the only people making commentaries were these really super geeky directors, but now everyone expects them. I don't want to make commentaries that are full of inside jokes or stories like “Hey, remember that guy” or “Remember when that happened”. A lot of people don't make it relatable. I mean, if you want to tell a story like that you really have to explain why it's funny or interesting…

Well you obviously love the medium, so this is probably a stupid question, but how much thought goes into the DVD when you're actually making the film?

Everything. I mean, I think about it all the time. When we're shooting stuff I'll always think “Aw, this would be great to put on the DVD”, and it's also one of the great fallbacks as a filmmaker when you want to shoot extra violence. It used to be the studios would look at your dailies and say “We can't use this stuff, why are you wasting our time?”, but now it's like “Oh, this would be a great deleted scene for the DVD”, or “Oh, this would be great for the unrated DVD”. DVD gives you this great excuse to shoot all of this extra stuff. If the studio asks “Hey, what the hell are you doing?” you can always say “It's for the DVD!”

Well you did get away with a lot of the violence in Hostel, as well as ample amounts of nudity, probably because you kept them both apart from one another.

Yeah, that was the trick (laughs). If there was any violence during a sexual scene it would have been trouble but keeping the sex separate from the violence pretty much, you know…

Hostel, for me, is a very layered sort of film. There are elements of comedy, horror, suspense. There are so many little bits from different genres that I really find this film hard to categorize. And, the more I watch it, the more interesting little bits I find.

That's one of the great things about DVD is that people can watch it again and again and see all of the subtle things and messages. Like, I don't think people would walk out of a theater talking about things like the parallels between Amsterdam and Slovakia where both places specialize in the commoditization of human beings and how nothing's ever enough for people, they always want a little more. If you watch it a first time you see the chainsaws and the eye get cut out, but when you see it again and again you get to see these other layers.

And it helps that, like Cabin Fever, Hostel's just one of those inherently watchable movies like Halloween or Friday the 13th …

Oh, I'm the same way. I mean, I watch THE WICKER MAN over and over. Like NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, I watch that and obsess over the fact that when the guy sits on the toilet, someone took the time to write Stryper on the bathroom wall. You know what it is? Cable television has trained us to watch movies that way. Like HBO would show the same movie fifty times a week, and suddenly you're watching the movie for different things, like watching people in the background and watching what other people are doing, watching continuity mistakes. Like HAMBURGER: THE MOTION PICTURE? My brothers and me have probably seen that, like, a hundred and fifty times. And we had it on audio tape, so we could listen to it in our car. We can recite every line.

It's been well-documented that Hostel is something of an homage to Japanese horror cinema, specifically the films of Takashi Miike. Is there a specific film that made you stand up and say “Now these folks know how to make a horror movie”?

Yeah. Audition. And the thing I love about Audition is that it's not a straightforward horror movie; it's actually a dark drama/comment on society, but it's horrific. It's horrifying. Ichi the Killer is another one, and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was also a kind of a revelation when I saw that. With both Audition and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance I was thinking “Oh, they're not gonna go there, no way…oh my God!” It just gets darker and darker and darker and more fucked up and thinking that this was exactly what I've been waiting for.

So here you are paying tribute to these films, while the studios are going out of there way to acquire Japanese horror films and remake them for Western sensibilities. What are your thoughts on this?

It really all depends on the filmmaker. I mean, I don't think the studios understand why THE RING and THE GRUDGE worked and DARK WATER didn't. They don't know that the fans, the horror fans, have already seen Nakata's DARK WATER and they don't need to see that from Walter Salles. And the non-horror fans are like “Oh, this is another movie about a wet kid down in a well.” I think that, as long as the remake is done well and intelligently, I'm all for it. In all of these cases, though, I've preferred the original.

While we're on the subject of remakes, if you could remake any film, what would it be?

Well I was working on a remake of The Bad Seed and, actually, Hostel was my movie “in-between” while the script was being written. We had the writer of HARD CANDY writing it at the time. What happened was that Hostel just blew up, so now I'm going to be doing HOSTEL 2 and I don't know if I'll get to do that remake. I just don't have time. But if there was one film I was going to remake it would be either that or CADDYSHACK 2. With Caddyshack 2 they really missed the mark, and somehow made it a weird spin-off of THE JERK, with Jackie Mason's character from The Jerk, Henry Hartounian becoming Jack Hartounian because they couldn't get Rodney Dangerfield. For a film geek, that's really interesting. I can't believe they wasted Caddyshack 2 on that. I remember meeting this girl who told me Caddyshack 2 was her favorite movie, and that she thought the Dan Aykroyd character was so funny. When I asked her if she'd seen the original CADDYSHACK and she said no, I was like “this is over”(Laughs).

Yeah, I have the same problem with my wife and the Red Sox.

So what is this rumor about Hostel possibly being the last Raw Nerve production?I read this a little while back on AintitCool.com., and haven't seen any sort of clarification to this otherwise.

Yeah, I don't know why Moriarty wrote that. He wrote something like “yeah, that's too bad they won't be making movies anymore,” and I was like what are you talking about? That's Moriarty not having the information. The thing is, Raw Nerve has changed. We had a financier that we have split from, but Hostel was the first Raw Nerve movie, so now we have studios very interested in other projects we're developing. We're definitely continuing Raw Nerve. We don't have an office and an open submission like we had before, it's much more projects that we're developing, me and Scott and Boaz. For me it's just a question of my energy. There's only so much you can do in a day, and I really want to spend all of my energy directing. I mean, I produced Hostel, and if it's my friends movie, I'll produce it, but I just don't want to spend all my time producing.

So obviously you've got Hostel 2 coming up next. Anything on the slate after that?

Yeah, I'm doing the adaptation for Stephen King's Cell.

That sounds great! Definitely a lot to look forward to from you, then. So, do you have any parting shots for the Horrorview readers?

Yeah, I just want to say thanks for the support! It's the internet that helps movies like Hostel get out there, you know. We don't have a hundred million dollar ad budget like WAR OF THE WORLDS or MISSION :IMPOSSIBLE III, so it's really up to the horror fans to get the word out and come support these movies. And just thank you so much for that, and just know that because of the success of Hostel it's really enabled a lot of other violent horror movies to go into production, get made, and get released. It's a great time for horror. And also, they can find me on MySpace. I put up a page on MySpace, just under Eli Roth (myspace.com/EliRoth). I can't, like, write back to everyone because I'm in production, but I'm putting up updates about what's going on with the production and stuff, so they can come over and hit me up on MySpace!

Allright, Eli! Sounds great! Nice talking to ya'!

Great talking to you, too.