Eli Roth Interview – The Last Exorcism: Part II
It is, it appears, an exciting time to be Eli Roth. A player on the Hollywood scene for over a…
It is, it appears, an exciting time to be Eli Roth. A player on the Hollywood scene for over a decade, thanks to the runaway success of Cabin Fever, Roth was propelled to notoriety by the Hostel movies, and earned himself both commercial triumph and critical censure thanks to his seeming status as banner-waver for the so-called torture-porn subgenre that boomed in the Noughties.
Going into a new decade, the torture-porn phenomenon still seems to be going strong, as various film-makers continue to try and shock jaded audiences with ever more creatively-extreme shenanigans. Roth, however, seems set on diversifying his gruesome portfolio, with a spooky exorcism thriller sequel, a cannibal exploitation movie, and a horror TV show; he’s even got an evil clown movie on the horizon. Having attached his name to the well-received The Last Exorcism, it looks like Roth is set upon emphasising that he doesn’t need copious gore to hold an audience’s attention, with the sequel just hitting cinema screens. However, he still has plenty of time for blood, both producing and acting in violent disaster flick Aftershock, and returning to directing with cannibal movie The Green Inferno, a title that pays homage to the exploitation terrors of yesteryear. The man has every reason to be buoyant; when he wears a sharp suit to an interview, it’s doubtless a statement of intent.
First, our interview with Eli Roth and tomorrow we’ll publish our catch-up with Nicolas Lopez and Lorenza Izzo.
Eli Roth: Hi there!
(Chorus of hellos)
Q1: Um, OK I’ll start…so what’s happened to Nell since the events of the last film?
ER: Well, a lot has happened to Nell. The movie actually picks up right on the same night as the first one, and then kinda where Nell is found, and we make the switch from the found footage docu-style into narrative, so it right away starts narrative, with the shot of the camcorder on the ground. Um, and then it cuts to…Nell has absolutely, she’s found and she has absolutely no memory of what happened, she has no idea what happened to her. Then it cuts to sixth months later and she is brought to, kind of a halfway home for girls, or a few weeks later where she’s brought to a home for girls, for troubled girls, and she basically knows that, someone perpetrated a fraud on her, this reverend was there, making this documentary, and all she knows is it went very wrong, and her family was killed in a fire. So, slowly, you realise that what happens is the video, the film of the first one exists in the world of the second one as this viral video which the other girls in the house discover and of course they’re none too pleased to have her as a housemate…
(Chorus of chuckles)
ER: She’s possessed, and she’s trying to move on with her life and integrate and convince herself that this was all, y’know just some terrible thing that happened to her, but slowly the reality of what it is, it starts to seep into all aspects of her life and ruin it.
Q2: So what made you decide to do away with the found footage aspect?
ER: Well, we thought a lot about it, I mean one of the nice things about doing a movie low-budget was that we could be experimental, and as soon as the movie, opening weekend was the number one film everyone started asking, OK let’s do a sequel, let’s do a sequel. Um, and we thought…we were certainly open to it but we didn’t wanna rush, and just not, just churn out a sequel, we were gonna take our time and figure it and find the story, and we kept thinking in the docu-format, it was always another documentary crew going there to eyewitness, to find out what happened, and none of us really wanted to see a movie about that. And we were all, we love Ashley Bell, we love that character of Nell and she’s such an amazing actress, with such incredible range, we thought, we really…and all the scenes of her in the mirror, contorting her face, we were like the freaking Exorcist shit that’s the stuff I love, that’s what I wanna see!
So, what if we abandoned it, and we thought “Well how can we do that” and then there was the breakthrough of like, I thought OK let’s, 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 thing, do the thing with your fingers, do the bending!” which is, she’s basically y’know, the other characters in the movie are in the position of the audience, um, but the first film was very much about, whether or not, is this really a psychological drama about a girl who might be possessed or might be crazy from some sort of trauma that she’s experienced, and now that we’ve answered that question we could really have fun with it, with the possession.
Q3: So, going onto the more, sort of behind-the-camera details, you obviously produced this, and the original film, how is that different to, what sort of different stance do you take as director, obviously you’re an established horror director, do you take much of a different stance to producer, are you hands-off or is it still very much your film?
ER: No, I definitely want it to be Ed Gass-Donnelly’s film. Y’know, if I wanted it to be my film I’d direct it, and I want the directors to know that, y’know like with Daniel I’m very involved in the script development and I’m watching all the dailies as they’re coming in and making notes and then I’ll look at the cuts and then if I think there needs to be more work then I’ll really get in there in the editing room. But y’know like with Ed, I really wanted him to take ownership, I wanted someone to be really, really excited to do the movie, and I wasn’t going to direct it but I wanted it to be a good movie so we wanted to find a filmmaker out there, that really, really wanted to prove themselves and sink their teeth into it and make a great film, and whereas Daniel [Stamm]’s favourite filmmaker is Lars Von Trier, you can see The Idiots and 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 The Shining and say “This is the tone, this is the mood, this is the kind of camerawork I want, this is the framing, this is the pace, and I just thought that was great and I fully supported him, so while he was shooting the film, I wasn’t, I didn’t even, I wasn’t…it was kind of an intimate set, like the first one I didn’t go on set, because I don’t want him to feel like I’m directing over his shoulder or that I don’t trust him and I don’t want the actors to feel like there’s two directors. I just produced Ti West’s new movie The Sacrament, and it was the same deal, and this other film Clown that I produced where I trust these guys so much and I’m very much there in the prep and 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 because otherwise people feel like there’s two directors on set.
Q4: Did you have any history with Ed beforehand, how did he get involved in the project?
ER: We saw his movie, y’know we were just searching for films, and we saw this film Small Town Murder Songs and we thought it was really really well done and the acting was really good and I knew 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, and we don’t need someone that’s gonna need to spend a lot of money cos it’s not that type of story, it’s not that type of film, and he really really…he comes from a theatre background, he’s very very performance-based and photography-based and he really really knew how to make it look good how to make it look…he has very high standards for everything, he didn’t want anything to look cheap or weak, he wasn’t like “Eh, that’s gonna be…”I wanted someone who was gonna be obsessive about every detail and every shot, who’s really proving their talent with the film and that’s what he did.
Q5: Does Part 2 continue like the slow build-up of the scares, rather than jumping in and doing big, set-piece type…
ER: Well, we like that pace. I mean, we didn’t want it, I don’t think you can switch gears, but I also think the first one, that first thirty minutes are so funny, until she shows up the motel and you’re like “Oh my God what is this?” and we knew we couldn’t do that again either, so you wanted, I think the first, one of the things Ed did really well was that the first twenty, twenty-five minutes are very creepy and effective and fun, so this one pretty much, if the last ended at that point that’s where we wanted to start the second one and the tone of it scary and dark.
Q6: Did you purposefully avoid any clichés so it wasn’t compared to any other possession films?
ER: Y’know we had a big discussion about that, because Ed wanted levitation and I was very against it, and he’s like “No no no,” he’s like “don’t worry, I know they levitate in the Exorcist and I know…” but he had a really good idea and specific reason to do it and where to go, and how to do it, and I was like “OK. If he cares, he’s got something in his head, that he’s 1000% certain is gonna work, and if I don’t…I just have to trust him, and if it doesn’t work we can always cut it.” But he did it and it was amazing. And it worked so well in the story, that you’d think yeah, y’know what, The Exorcist was forty years ago it’s not really a cliché, I mean it’s kind of a cliché from that movie, but at that point you’re not even conscious of it in the way he uses it and the way he did it, in the context of the story, and it works great.
Q7 (Me): Do you see this turning into a franchise, or are you gonna wrap it up with this one?
ER: Y’know, I didn’t see the first one turning into a sequel and it really, truthfully we were only focussed on this one, we’re not thinking about a Part 3, and I think it’s again the kind of thing where, I’m in a position now where I can make a lot of different films, and I’m only gonna make it…I wouldn’t do a three just to have a third one exist, we’d really only do it if we had a story that we felt was worth telling.
Might need a new title as well, “Last Exorcism 3”… (Chuckles)
ER: We were gonna call this one Last Exorcism Part 4 but it just seemed silly so we went for Part 2, “The Lastest Exorcism”….
“The Lasting Exorcism”…
I actually wanted, I remember the day after it opened I was like “I got a great title, we’re gonna call the second one The Devil Inside!” (Laughter) And everyone was like, “On that’s a good title, what’s the story?” And I was like “I dunno let me think about it, let me get back to…oops alright that title’s gone.”
Q8: Can we expect more of the same, you mentioned, it’s weird, interestingly enough you brought up the finger-breaking scene, can we expect more Eli Roth trademark nastiness I think is the best way to describe it…
ER: Well…I mean it wouldn’t be a film with my name on it without that, so…I mean the nice thing about these movies is that they’re a different type, it’s sort of tonally a bit of a shift, I mean you’re not seeing people being…sadly not seeing people being hacked apart with power tools as much as I love that it doesn’t fit every story, but yeah those freaky, creepy disturbing scenes for sure.
Q9: We also overheard some talk about Aftershock…
Q9: How’s that going?
ER: Aftershock’s amazing, no no it’s been an incredible year, I had the best time collaborating with Nicolas Lopez. The whole story came about when he, we…I love his movie Promedio Rojo, it’s so funny, all his films are on Netflix, they’re hilarious, and Que Pena Tu Vida, Que Pena Tu Boda, and I was thinking when are you gonna…cos I know he loves genre movies and Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino and James Cameron, I was like “When are you doing an English-language movie?” And I thought, now after Last Exorcism I was in a position to help him cross over, and we sat down and we wrote, we thought “Let’s write a science fiction movie” and he started telling me about what happened in the earthquake in 2010 and it was terrifying, I mean he didn’t have to make up anything, it’s all stuff that really happened, our friend, actually Lorenza Izzo, our actress is…um, the earthquake hit at 3.30 in the morning on 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, and everyone was looking for the hands but the building was shaking, so people were like running and trampling and kicking the hands and they got the hands, they tied them off, they took them out and like, Lorenza walked through a plate glass window and she was cut up and there was no…all the phones were out so nobody knew where to go cos they didn’t have like, Google Maps on their phones and they started, and then they, you couldn’t call the fire, you couldn’t call the police, and then the tsunami sirens went off so everyone started freaking out, and went running up into the hills cos of the tsunami warning, and, then they realised the prisons had collapsed, and all the, every criminal was out. Prisons were levelled, so people were just smashing and looting, people were like in shock cos it was suddenly helicopters and martial law, and there was one town where they called off the tsunami warning because people were panicking so much and going crazy, and then Japan called and were like “No, it doesn’t look like it’s gonna hit.” And then two hours later (snaps fingers) the tsunami just like outta nowhere took out two thousand people.
So, we just strung all these incidents together and all these things that happened. We loved the idea that…it would terrify me is the idea that here we are, we’re all round this table and everything’s fine and the next thing you know you’re looking for your hands! And a friend of Nicolas, he told me this story about this girl who was out on a date, a first date with a guy, and the rocks fell and hit him on the head, and he was paralyzed, and like from the neck down. And she was sitting there, and she had to move him in the back seat and drive stick, down the road with the boulders like…this was what everybody was going through. It’s horrific! And we realised there hadn’t really been an earthquake movie since Earthquake, and anything that had been done recently had been done with CG, so we wanted to do something old-school, do it practical, and really break shit and drop things. Terrifying!
Q10: So is it tonally very different to your other work then, is it more serious in tone?
ER: Yeah I mean it’s certainly a mixture of Nicolas’ sensibilities and my own sensibilities, the rom-com beginning where I’m…my character, we wrote a guy whose pretty much the opposite of the Bear Jew, he’s not heroic, he’s a guy whose recently divorced, whose trying to go and re-integrate, go out and meeting girls and realizing he can’t talk to any of them, he’s obviously got no idea what to say, total dork, totally striking out, and then they meet these girls and they’re having fun and everything’s going great and then this earthquake hits, and suddenly, you’re with these people that were these strangers; you guys are depending on each other for your survival.
Q11: How important was it that you filmed actually on location instead of using sets?
ER: Well, we had to film on location, because, first of all, the budget but we, there were a lot of, we scouted and there so many places still destroyed from the earthquake, these cemeteries the tombs were broken open, you walk around the cemeteries there’s bones sticking out of the cracks. So, we shot a scene in the Santiago General Cemetery where I’m on the ground and I’m looking around and it’s like “Wow, the set dressing’s great with all these skulls!” and he’s like “Yeah, set dressing!”
So it was really, it was incredible to be there, and even in the club that we filmed, where we dropped the ceiling and smashed it and crushed my speakers [?] they showed Nicolas the security footage and he based it on that. People were killed in the club that night and he saw it, it’s crazy, even if you go on video, on Youtube, look at the videos of the Chilean earthquake, it’s horrific…
So, filming on location, certainly Valparaizo it’s one of the coolest, Valparaizo’s one of the graffiti capitals of the world, graffiti artists from all over the world go to Valparaizo to spraypaint. It’s amazing, the whole cities like a walking mural, so filming there was awesome.
Q12: Had you always intended on acting in that film when you were writing it?
ER: No, we wrote it, and it just so happened on my schedule that, I wanted to be there, and we thought as a producer “oh we could save money if we got…” (trails off into mumbling, people laugh) “save on an extra plane ticket…”
Q13: I mean, how do you balance that acting, directing and producing, cos you haven’t really directed since 2007, like a full feature…
ER: I just wrapped The Green Inferno…
Q13: Oh yeah well obviously, released yet since 2007.
ER: Yeah. Right. Yeah, It was um, well the nice thing was that I trust Nicolas, and it was his film, so I could be there as a creative producer and as an actor and talk about different stuff, and in the editing room, but it was nice to be able to focus on the acting and not actually direct, I mean it sucked at the end when you’re a character, I mean, every night I was covered head to toe in fake blood, and sweat and dust. We call it MTV Dust Party, we go in a tent it was like, get blasted head to toe with baby powder, and we’re all coughing and it’s all in our eyelashes, disgusting, but it looked so good. But it was nice to get back to directing and that was on Hemlock Grove, directing the pilot, even though it was television it was more like a feature, and Steven Poster who shot Donnie Darko shot the pilot with me which was really cool, David Cronenburg’s editor, Ron Sanders cut it with me, it was like fun, it was a really fun time. And then I went off to do Green Inferno which was an incredible experience and I used the whole crew from Aftershock, everybody. And Lorenza Izzo from Aftershock is the girl who gets killed in Hemlock Grove. She was so great in the movie, beautiful big expressive eyes, and just, we needed a girl that would get eaten by a werewolf in the first episode and really make you remember, that you don’t wanna see get eaten and killed, that was her. And then I cast her, I wrote the Green Inferno for her, I cast her as the lead, she was unbelievable, she was like Naomi Watts in The Ring, she’s amazing. So I’m editing now, I’ve…Nicolas has been a great, great creative collaborator and partner, it’s been a lot of fun, and he certainly gets me off my ass.
“Come on, you lazy American! Let’s go, another movie, another movie…”
Q14: What can we expect from The Green Inferno?
ER: The Green Inferno was a crazy experience, I mean I wanted to write, I wanted my return to directing to be a real statement, I wanted it to be worth the wait, and I wanted to do something that would be a film, that I would think would be the film that I’d be remembered for, that would obliterate the others. So, we went, I found these locations in the Amazon that were unbelievable, I went farther up the river than anyone had ever gone before to shoot, and we went past where Werner Herzog shot Aguirre, The Wrath Of God…
Quite cool in itself…
ER: Yeah it was awesome, it was the Pongo Aguirre and we went up, we were like Werner’s there right, we’re going…and we found the last village on the river, before like absolutely, we went for hours, and it was just like jungle and jungle, and on the way back we were like, “OK this is the last village,” and I saw grass huts and we pulled up and it was like a little girl, washing clothes on the beach, and we were like, “Can we shoot here, can we get out?” and like they kinda came out of the houses and we were like, they were like, well basically (whispers) “We have to explain to them what a movie is, they have no idea, they’ve never seen a movie,” and I was like “OK…” and then they were like, “They’ve never seen a television, conceptually they won’t even know what we’re talking about, we’re going to have to slowly educate them on a movie.” And so we went, and we looked around the village, and it was like the real deal, it really looked like, straight out of another time like out of one of those cannibal movies, but it’s also beautiful like a Werner Herzog movie, Terrence Malick film or even Apocalypto, and so we went full National Geographic with these natives, and we brought a generator and a television and we showed them Cannibal Holocaust! I thought the producers were going to show them E.T. or Wizard Of Oz, they were like “Yeah we showed them Cannibal Holocaust…” “WHAT!”
ER: So I had pictures of like, they were like five-year-olds sitting here, watching Cannibal Holocaust, they’ve never seen a movie before…
Someone else: That’s their first movie… (Laughs)
ER: That’s their first, that’s their only frame of reference for what a movie is, so, and they all signed up to play cannibals, the whole village, we had dressed up…
ER: It was amazing, we were…to get there was like five hours travel every day, you’d have to drive an hour on a dirt road, past the, to the boat, up the river, up the Amazon, I mean we were, it was…and then we brought ice, we brought coolers of Gator and ice, and the kids had never seen ice, they were like (awed whisper) “Woooooooooah!” It was mind-blowing to be in a village of people that were like, and the old people were like…they’d never left the village, so they’d never seen it before it was like, it was a trip.
Q15: Did you introduce them to Coca Cola?
ER: They went crazy for Coca Cola. (Laughter) We actually had to hide our soda, because they went so crazy for Coca Cola, and the kids wanted ice cream, but by the end, with the fake heads, the kids were all like, playing around with them, it was, it was amazing. (Laughter) The weirdest, the craziest thing was at the end, they all knew how to use the iPads and iPhones. (Laughter) They would all take our phones and shoot pictures and shoot videos, we totally tampered with the social ecosystem of this village, but we put, we housed, we roofed all the houses, we put metal on all the houses. They all live in straw huts, and they were like “What do you want?” We could pay you money but they have no way to go into town and spend it, so we were like just, we put metal on everyone’s house in the whole village, and they were like, “That’s gonna change our lives.” It was crazy.
ER: Yeah it was great.
Q16: Are the kids in The Green Inferno like you had in Hostel? They were a group of…yeah.
ER: Yeah there was. They were amazing. But whereas in Hostel we got it down to like, whereas Hostel like five was the youngest, we could have like two and three year old kids. It was amazing, the kids were so funny. And what I realised, that then you have…first kids are great in movies because kids make it authentic, like we have kids (mumbles), and in this village with pigs and chickens and bulls, we had a bull like (makes animal noise), like stomping through the shot, it’s like “Sorry!” Shitting on set…The kids were so, the kids were so damn funny, and because they had never seen a camera before, none of them were self-conscious at all, whether you were filming or not or anything, they would just do it again, these extras with like 110 degree heat in the sun, never asked to go to the bathroom, they would do it again, you just have them like eating guts and fingers…
ER: So happy to…they were awesome. I miss those kids. But by the end like, we were there a month so by the end I knew everyone in the village, I was on a first-name basis with all of them, and everyone was crying when we left, (chuckles) really sad.
Q17: Would you go back and visit?
ER: I…Oh yeah. Of course. Gonna have to do a premiere there.
The Last Exorcism: Part II is in UK cinemas now.