On March 1st, CBS Films will release THE LAST EXORCISM PART II; from producers Eli Roth and Strike Entertainment, the film continues where the first film left off, with Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) is found terrified and alone in rural Louisiana. Nell realizes that she can't remember entire portions of the previous months only that she is the last surviving member of her family. Just as Nell begins the difficult process of starting a new life, the evil force that once possessed her is back.
When I spoke to Eli Roth recently, he was in the editing room cutting THE GREEN INFERNO, his first film as director since 2007's HOSTEL PART TWO. And though I wanted to delve into that tale of cannibalistic terror in the Amazon (as well as Roth's many other projects), THE LAST EXORCISM PART II was the topic at hand. The sequel to 2010's extremely profitable found footage film will take us into the next chapter of Nell Sweetzer's (Ashley Bell) life, and Roth has been instrumental in bringing both movies to realization. Our talk touched on Roth's contributions to the film, the freedom of not having to please everybody, and that controversial way the first film ended.
Of course, there was still enough time to chat some about THE GREEN INFERNO, which naturally sounds utterly insane.
Hey Eli, what's going on?
Roth: Nothing much, man. I'm in the editing room.
Are you editing THE GREEN INFERNO? Describe in detail the scene you're cutting right now.
Roth: (Laughs) I dunno, it might upset your readers if I describe the scene I'm looking at right now.
Not at all, we'd love to hear about it!
Roth: It looks incredible, we filmed deeper into the Amazon than anyone has ever shot before. No running water, the people in the village had never seen a movie before, so we showed them CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. We had all the villagers playing these natives; it looks real and it just incredible.
That's awesome. We'll probably get back to that in a sec, but talking about THE LAST EXORCISM PART II, I was wondering how long a sequel has been in the cards; were you always picturing a follow-up?
Roth: No, obviously we wouldn't have called it THE LAST EXORCISM. (Laughs) Although the original title was COTTON, but it was changed to THE LAST EXORCISM. But it made $20 million opening weekend, so everybody started asking us about a sequel. And we thought that we'd love to do a sequel, but we didn't want to do it unless we had a really great story, so the financiers said, "whenever you guys are ready, just let us know." So we thought of all kinds of storylines and thought, what if we did it as a straight narrative, not docu-style, but the first film exists in the world of the second movie as a viral video? That way people would pass by Nell in the street and say, "you're that creepy girl in the video and you did that thing with your back! Can I take a photo with you?!" She's like a Youtube star. But all she knows is some prank was done on her and her family died in a fire. So she's in a home for troubled girls and she's trying to put her life back together, she's trying to reintegrate into society. We really tried to write a story that would allow us to do all sorts of possession and exorcism things, but also something that showcases Ashley Bell's talent, she's such an amazing actress. She literally bends over backward for us. For the second film's poster, she bent over backwards and needed physical therapy afterward.
Can you talk a little bit about the transition from the first film's director, Daniel Stamm, to Ed Gass-Donnelly? Did you want Daniel to come back for part two?
Roth: Of course, we love Daniel, he's an amazing guy and a superb talent. Right after the first one, everyone started signing him up. So we had to think about other directors. We needed someone else like Daniel, not someone who is necessarily a horror movie director, but someone who knows about performance and tension. Then we watched Ed's film, SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS, and it was so well done, very elegant and smart. Ed loves Roman Polanski and said he'd want to shoot this like ROSEMARY'S BABY, with beautiful camerawork that wouldn't be intrusive, just let the tension hold in the frame and make it a classic horror film. He did a terrific job, it's great to get some new blood, some fresh energy and creativity.
Did you ever consider bringing back the mockumentary format? Were the producers like, how will anyone know it's a true sequel if it doesn't look the same?
Roth: It was never an issue, everyone trusts us as filmmakers. We said if we're going to continue this, we just want to have a great story, and if it's docu-style, then it's docu-style, and if it's narrative, it's narrative.
The ending of the first film had a "what the f*ck?" factor for some people; how did you handle that criticism and does the new film address those final moments?
Roth: It's hard addressing criticism, I mean, that's the way we wanted to end the movie, and if people love it or hate it, that's their right. When you make a movie for $1.5 million and not $100 million, you don't have to please everybody, you get to take risks. In some movies' endings, it's not exactly clear what happened, and you just have to look back and analyze it and sometimes you come up with a theory about it. That's the kind of movie we wanted to make, the kind of movie that left you talking about it and asking questions. The first one was very much about, is she crazy or is she possessed? Has she suffered a trauma or is there a being inside of her? Once we answered that, we wanted to go further: "Now this thing is in love with you and it's following you and won't let you go. What would happen if you started to embrace it and realized you were better off with it?" I've never seen that before, and it opens up all sorts of great possibilities.
How do you balance producing a film like this with everything else you've got going on? Are you around throughout production?
Roth: It's hard, because people know me as a director, so if I go on set, it's almost like there are two directors on set. I don't want the actors to feel that way. I'm very involved in the script development and when the director is shooting I watch all the dailies, but I'm not there on set. It's so important to have the actors trust the director, and I know that if I go on set, the actors are going to be looking at me after a take, and I don't want to put the director in that awful position. I got really involved in the post-production and came up with some ideas of ways to make it scarier, freaky things we can add. So I'm very involved at the beginning, and during production when I'm watching dailies, I'm talking to the director every day.
This is probably too early to say, but you know how this business is: Are you guys already looking ahead to THE LAST EXORCISM PART III, or is it always a wait-and-see kind of thing?
Roth: Yeah, we can't think about that. I always do it one movie at a time. I've found that you get in trouble when I start thinking about the next one and you're not focusing on what you're making right now. Only if we have a really great idea will we continue, is the reality.
Going back to THE GREAT INFERNO, how is it shaping up? Did you get everything you wanted to get when you were out on the Amazon?
Roth: It was incredible. The area where we shot, no one had ever taken a camera there before. I'm so happy with the film. We wrapped literally the day before Christmas, so I spent a lot of January recovering and starting editing, but I'm really excited. It's going to have more scares and be more spectacular than anything else I've ever done. Everything else I've done in my career was a warm-up for this movie.
Is there a lot of B-roll, will there be a BURDEN OF DREAMS featurette to go along with it?
Roth: The stories are so crazy. The first day we were shooting, we had all these cannibals and heads on spikes, and these Christian missionaries showed up! This is literally the last village in the Amazon before you go into total isolation, the last village. So these missionaries show up, and there are heads on spikes and blood and guts and bodies tied to poles, it looked unbelievable. These people freaked out, they went crazy, they thought the devil had showed up. Then they found out it was me; they were American and knew who I was. (Laughs) Then they threatened to like, shoot us, and basically all the Peruvians had to come out and tell them to go away. I was like, sorry, we got here first! But it was incredible, it was like another planet, I had never experienced anything like it.
Before I let you go, I have to ask about your Netflix series "Hemlock Grove."
Roth:So excited for it, it's so much fun. I think people are really going to enjoy it; it's dark, violent and fun. It's a whole new monster show.
Do you think the web is the future of movies and episodic shows?
Roth:I don't see it as on the web. There's no difference between the way I watch of "Game of Thrones" and the way I'll watch "Hemlock Grove." I DVR them and I watch them all at once on my television. People will watch it on their TV or on their iPad, so there's literally no difference to how you'll watch it.
Sounds very cool. Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat.
Roth: Thanks man, appreciate it!