DIRECTOR ELI ROTH!
After a six-year hiatus from the director's chair, 2013 has marked a big year of return for horror bon-vivant Eli Roth. In addition to producing a number of horror projects (THE LAST EXORCISM II, AFTERSHOCK, THE SACRAMENT, CLOWN), Roth finally hopped back in the saddle and not only helmed the pilot episode of Netflix's original series "Hemlock Grove" (which he also shepherded into production), dude got back to feature film directing with the eco-cannibal flick THE GREEN INFERNO. The movie, which is garnering pretty good word of mouth so far, premiered in NYC early this month, then hit the AFI fest a week later. You know what that means, a wide release date should be coming down any day now. So in the meantime, what better way to anticipate Roth's newest joint than by reexamining his past projects?! Seems apt, right? Hell yeah it does. So pull out the lab-coat, goggles and scalple...we're about to give Eli a dose of his own medicine by dissecting the sick motherf*cker!
The polarity of its kitschy non-sequiturs aside (PANCAKES!!!), I'm riding with CABIN FEVER as Eli Roth's finest film achievement to date. I really am. The reason is, in addition to the pretty original premise about a rare-flesh-eating virus (a condition Roth reportedly suffered as a kid), is the way Eli successfully fused two distinctly different tones: horror and comedy. For the most part the movie is funny when it needs to be, and downright terrifying when it needs to be, but it's the common grey area in between those two genres that really glues the film together as a workable whole. A highly entertaining balance is struck, even when the film soars to absurd extremes, both comically and horrifically. Think of how ludicrous Winston the wacky ass cop is juxtaposed to how gnarly Cerina Vincent's leg-schaving scene is. Or how ridculous that "Pancakes!" sequnece is juxtaposed to the putrescence of Jordan Ladd's face decay (seen above). Commendable for sure, as it's always hard, especially for a first-time filmmaker, to maintain a tonal consistency throughout. A single tone, never-mind the weird duality echoed in CABIN FEVER.
Part of the appeal for me personally is anecdotal. I remember watching this shite for the first time with my sister and her roommate E.Gon - ripped, sipping spirits - ready for high (no pun) expectations to be met. Remember, CABIN FEVER stirred a massive bidding war that caused serious buzz (again, no pun ) for the film before it was even released. So by the time we got our hands on a copy, we were pumped with anticipation. And I wouldn't even say the movie met those expectations at the time, but the experience sure did. It was bizarre and campily over the top at times, it was gory and thrilling and genuinely hilarious others, but always vastly entertaining. I had a ball that night, and truly believe that had as much to do with me revisiting the flick over and over than anything mentioned in the paragraph above. So if CABIN FEVER really does straddle the love-hate divide, I'm proudly in the love it camp!
I don't think it's out of line to label HOSTEL PART II as Roth's weakest effort so far. Hell, dude took 6 years off from directing afterwards, perhaps a sly concession that he needed a break. No doubt, sequels are a difficult proposition to begin with, but HOSTEL II simply and almost cynically rehashed the template of HOSTEL with the only real difference being a gender reversal. So instead of victimized males, we get brutally victimized females...a cheap way to incite even deeper sympathy for the characters. Problem is, the script was so underdeveloped and so threadbare that even phenomenal actresses couldn't make it sing. So when you factor in the gross miscasting of Bijou Phillips and Heather Matarazzo - let's face it, B-actresses with nowhere near the chops needed for such demanding performances - the whole flick falls apart quite rapidly. More than that though, it just felt like a rushed and chintzy regurgitation of the original, meant more to capitalize on the success of the first one instead organically progressing the franchise.
Outside the terms "torture porn" or "gore-nography" he and his Splatter-Pack brethren have been credited with helping to propagate (illustrated above and below), Roth actually takes a very old-fashioned approach to his visceral filmmaking. That is, he isn't so interested in the rapid fire editing style and hand-held immediacy of something like a found-footage flick. No, Eli seems far more of a traditionalist when it comes to pacing, editing, framing, etc. Much like Hawks or Carpenter, Roth adopts the more-is-less axiom when it comes to the technical, tries to keep the camera as invisible as possible and really lets the story and characters drive the movie. The way it should be!
It's also pretty clear that Roth digs him some mirror action, especially in lieu of the aforementioned carnage he indulges in. CABIN FEVER, HOSTEL and HOSTEL PART 2 all feature elaborate set-pieces involving horrific mirror reflections. My guess is the trend ends with THE GREEN INFERNO though, being out in the jungle, unless of course a poor girl happens to get her head lopped off and eaten when fixing her lipstick via makeup compact. I'd pay to see that!
"White Meat. Dark Meat. All will be carved!"
Ah, what better way to celebrate turkey day than be reliving the glory of Eli Roth's THANKSGIVING!!! So deranged, so demented, so damn delicious! To be honest, some might argue that the infamous trailer (which we're still awaiting a full length adaptation of) is Roth's finest work to date, but since the dude has so few feature length directorial credits, it makes more sense to hang the hidden gem sign on it. After-all, it's not even a film short, but rather a faux-trailer cooked-up as an interstitial lark linking the films of Tarantino and Rodriguez in GRINDHOUSE. Even so, THANKSGIVING has ascended to an annual must-watch for most hardened horror fans, and a project I think more than a fair share of us would like to see Roth fulfill his promise and adapt into a narrative full-feature. Now that's something we'd be THANKFUL for!
Now there are a number of things to dig about THANKSGIVING, all of which to mind derive from the freedom and lack of censorship Roth was afforded. Starting with the grainy, 16mm visual aesthetic of the flick, so very redolent of 70s Euro-sleaze and Itlaian giallo pictures. Moving on to the brilliant, maniacally monotone voiceover Roth provided himself, to the simple yet eerie Carpenter-esque score and likewise hand-held POV shots of the killer. This is homage done at its most respective, which, when combined with the original premise, makes for an eminently watchable 2 minutes. Mix in the ghastly public decollation, the titillating Jordan Ladd stabbed in the cooch, and of course, that shockingly iconic Leatherface-like dinner scene at the end. Like the best of Thanksgiving dishes, shite's awfully difficult to digest!
Hopping back into the director's chair for the first time since HOSTEL Part II in 2007, Roth's unabashed love for the 1980 Italian flick CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST has never been more apparent than in his newest movie THE GREEN INFERNO. Nothing wrong with that, for, outside the unbearable animal cruelty, that flick utterly marauds your senses when first seen. Hopefully Roth's exotically located, modestly budgeted film will yield the same kind of primal terror Ruggero Deodato was able to back in the day. Or at least feature such a gorgeous score! Here's the official synopsis for THE GREEN INFERNO:
How far would you go for a cause you believe in? In horror master Eli Roth’s terrifying new film, a group of college students take their humanitarian protest from New York to the Amazon jungle, only to get kidnapped by the native tribe they came to save: a tribe that still practices the ancient rite of cannibalism, and has a healthy appetite for intruders.
Like we said, THE GREEN INFERNO is still making the festival rounds this month, which means it's likely to land a release date very soon. Outside of that and a hefty producorial slate, word has recently seeped that Roth may direct a horror script written by David O. Russell. Interesting, to say the least.
Eli Roth is perhaps the greatest modern-day ambassador of the horror film genre. It doesn't matter if he's making a new movie of his own, producing someone else's (often young filmmakers), doing a bit acting part - the dude's commitment to promoting and constantly raising awareness for the world of horror is second to none. Old horror, new horror...Eli truly cares about the history of the genre, and it's palpable no matter what he's working on. It's been over a decade since CABIN FEVER spread its infectious madness, with Roth steadily climbing the horror ranks via subsequent works like HOSTEL, HOSTEL PART II, THANKSGIVING, "Hemlock Grove," and now, hopefully he keeps the upward swing going with THE GREEN INFERNO. You think he can do it or what?