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INT: Eli Roth

Aug. 29, 2003by: The Arrow

The Arrow interviews Eli Roth

"Cabin Fever" hype has been buzzing on the web for a while now with positive feedback all around. I finally saw the film and totally loved it and now the rest of ya'll will get to see it when it opens on September 12 via genre heroes Lions Gate. I got the chance to speak with writer/director/producer Eli Roth about the film and let me tell you, it was quite the conversation. The man is, without a doubt, a hardcore genre fan and it was so gnarly to speak about horror with a filmmaker that unapologetically loves it so much. WARNING: Get ready to read lots of FUCKS.

ARROW: Hey, Eli. 

ELI: What's up, man?

ARROW: I'm all good. First of all, allow me to thank you for Cabin Fever...I needed that.

ELI: Thanks man. It took a long fucking time to get it done...10 years in the making. I'm really glad you enjoyed it.

ARROW: Ten years! Wow!

ELI: Yeah, I wrote the story in 1993 and finished the script in 95, so from the time we finished the script till now...it's over 8 years.

ARROW: Damn!

ELI: And the script hasn't changed all that much since then.

ARROW: Did it start as a non-union shoot?

ELI: Yeah. While we were shooting it, it started as non-union project and then the union shut us down and extorted us.

ARROW: That must have taken a lot of dough off your budget.

ELI: Yeah, it was horrible. We had to shut down and we go back to LA with an unfinished film.

ARROW: How many minutes did you have in the can?

ELI: It's not so much minutes as it is scenes which was basically two thirds of the movie done. Basically, the last 20 minutes still needed to be shot. So we kind of shot it all in LA. Lots of it was set in the woods at night, so we didn't have to go back to North Carolina...we shot the rest in LA.

ARROW: You've got a great cast.

ELI: Thanks.

ARROW: How was the casting process?

ELI: Casting was a nightmare. Before we had the money, we held a casting session in February of 2001 and what we found is that a lot of people didn't want to be in a horror film. You said "horror" and they immediately thought straight-to-video or they thought it was just a piece of shit movie with no artistic value or merit. They didn't want to be in it. It was very difficult to find people appropriate for the roles. You put an acting breakdown for a 21 year old kid and people would come in and they'd be like 35. And the other thing, which was very difficult to find, were the girls. There was a whole thing with the nudity where these girls would come in and say I'm not going to do the nudity because its exploitation and you'd say what about the 7-page spread you had in STUFF magazine, with dental floss covering your nipples, like that's high art?

ARROW: (LAUGHS)

ELI: Where now we're talking a 30-second sex scene in a film where you show that you fuck with your clothes off so that the audience believes that you're actually a real couple, so when you get split up later they're would be some emotional impact to it! They didn't want to do it. What about getting ripped up by a dog? They were all fine with that. So it was weird how people were all fine with the blood and gore, but didn't want t

We were casting right down to the wire. I actually went to www.wireimage.com and looked at party photos. I found a picture of Serena Vincent, tracked her down and got her on tape. I saw everyone in Hollywood, but had to turn over every rock to find them. Once I finally had them, all together, it just felt great. Everybody that did this movie, did it because they wanted to, they didn't do it for the paycheck because everybody was working for well below their rate. A lot of people wound up not getting paid because the Union took all of our money.

ARROW: When you cast Ryder Strong...did you ever think for a second that his stint on "Boy Meets World" might play against the movie?

ELI: No. I thought, if anything, it would help. Nobody thinks of George Clooney or Kevin Bacon as TV actors, but that's where they started. With "Boy Meets World", I had never seen the show before, I'm 31 and a lots of people my age have never seen it. Now the girls that grew up on it, love him, they had a crush on Ryder Strong and the guys, I figured, they fucking hated him, they want to see him get tortured. And it's true! We had a screening in Texas and this guy was like "I fucking hated Boy Meets World and I fucking hated Ryder Strong, but after I saw what he did in your movie, I fucking love that guy!" When Ryder came in, he was the guy for the role. I think when you see the movie, the first 10 minutes you're like "Oh, that's the guy from Boy Meets World", but once you see him going crazy, covered in blood by the end of the film...nobody will be thinking of that anymore.

ARROW: I agree, that's exactly what happened to me. Once the shite hit the shan, Boy Meets World was thankfully a distant memory.

ELI: Yeah, you drop it very quickly. He's such a superb actor that he transcended it. "Boy Meets World" is not who he is, "Cabin Fever" is who that guy is, it's his type of movie. You know what he said to me, he said, "Thank God I did your movie. Now I can show something that I did to my friends that they would actually watch".

ARROW: That's pretty cool. Now in the film, they are a lot of kooky characters. Lynch-ish characters as I like to call them. Being that Lynch is one of the execs on the film...

ELI: David is not an exec on the film...

ARROW: He's not???

ELI: It's an internet rumor and I'm going to clarify it right now. When I was trying to cast the film, I couldn't get any actors to read the script. We couldn't get anyone because it was a horror movie. So I said, David, we need to put your name on the film as an exec producer just so I can get the movie going, and he did. Once he put his name on it as an exec producer, every actor and agent that had passed on it, were suddenly excited about it. You know making a film with no money is like a chess game: there are certain moves that you and your partners have to make to get the movie made. So once they read it, the same people that said it was a piece of shit said, see how Lynchish it is! This was October 2001, so we shoot the movie and then I told everybody that David has a right to take his name off the film if he wants to.

By the time David Lynch got to Cannes to be part of the Jury, every journalist was asking him about the new movie he directed called "Cabin Fever" and David came back, watched the movie and he fucking loved it. He was laughing his ass off and he said, "Eli, you don't need my name anymore, everybody is seeing my name on this and they think it's a David Lynch film". He was like, "This is you, this is an Eli Roth film. People still think that I directed "Boxing Helena", critics still think that I directed "Naja". You wrote this, produced it, directed it, it's your baby and I think that at this point, it's going to be detrimental to have my name on there" and I agreed with him. So we gave him a very "Special Thanks" instead. David never raised any money, I just needed his artistic credibility to open doors.

ARROW: Thanks for clearing that up.

ELI: No problem. Ironically, putting his name on the movie and taking his name off the movie were the two smartest things I could've done for the film. There is such an unbelievable bias against horror movies in the US. Everywhere in the world, they have festivals celebrating genre films. In Spain, they have them, in Montreal Canada they have Fantasia, they celebrate horror movies, they're an artistic form there and people love them. They love stuff like "Re-Animator" and they respect you for it. In the US, you do a horror movie and you're considered a moron, one step away from porn.

ARROW: Horror is the bastard genre...

ELI: Yeah, just watch how many horror films that come out that are called thrillers...they are not thrillers! "The Sixth Sense", they called it a supernatural thriller, that term did not exist before that movie, they made it up because "Silence of the Lambs" called their movie a thriller, even though it's not and it won every Oscar. Even "Misery" was called a thriller. They say it will play "wider" if they call it that-- that's bullshit. People want to be fucking scared! Now "28 Days Later" comes out and they call it a viral thriller.

ARROW: I never heard that one!

ELI: Danny Boyle will not call it a horror film, despite the fact that the last third of that movie is totally taken off "Day of the Dead". But I understand why because if they call it a horror film, people's first association is to a pieces of shit, like "Valentine", "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer", "Ghost Ship", "13 Ghosts", "Darkness Falls"-- these fucking awful movies that are not scary with horrible acting. They just suck! That's immediately what people think about when they hear horror. It's only going to change when directors come in and say, "I'm doing a fucking movie, it's there to scare you and fans come out to support it opening weekend in the theatres". The opening weekend gross makes or breaks a film.

People in Hollywood only want to do what's been made before and what's been successful. "Freddy vs Jason", for example...it's great. It made all that money, but it's going to get us more "versus movies". It's not going to get you the next "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". I know 50 other filmmakers out there in Hollywood with 50 original scripts ready to go, like original horror movies without stars, but with great actors. My whole pitch was, you don't need a star, you need great actors, if the actors don't look like their acting, they're going to love it. Look at "28 Days Later", it's made close to 50 million dollars, nobody cared that there was no stars in it, they cared that it was scary and that it had a great cast. I'm so fucking sick of these PG-13 pussy ass horror movies...they're non horror!

ARROW: You tell me, dude.

ELI: Another thing that bothers me are these filmmakers saying their making 70's like horror movies, but they're not!

ARROW: Yeah, I heard you hated "Wrong Turn".

ELI: I didn't hate "Wrong Turn", I hated the fact that they fucking called it 70's. I hated the fact that they said "look how 70's we are" and then they got a girl with fake tits. Now that's not 70's and they didn't even have her take her fucking clothes off! People fucking with their clothes on in an R-rated horror movie is 1997...it's not 70's! When you got three fucking hillbillies that are so inbred that they fuck each other, the middle guy is like "Am I going to fuck Gollum or am I going to fuck the big guy?" and then they have Eliza Dushku on a bed and they don't even rip her fucking clothes off. You are fucking kidding me! That is so NOT fucking 70's, "The Crazies", they're fucking naked every 5 minutes, "My Bloody Valentine", they're fucking naked every five minutes, if crazy Hillbillies get a hot girl...they fucking fuck her, that's what they do! Especially if they fuck each other.

Another thing that pisses me off is that when I go see a Stan Winston movie, I don't want to see CGI, I want fucking makeup! Don't tell me it's 70's, when you have fucking CGI! It's fucking insulting to me. And don't set up a movie with no fucking twists. I mean, come on...at least give me some twists or some tits or something. You guys gotta do better than that! I hate the fact that it was done by smart people that I know could do better. They fucking missed the mark, they pussied out with that movie. They pussied out by showing CGI gore and by hiring TV actors that won't show their fucking tits in a sex scene.

And that's the difference between Dusku and Katie Holmes. Katie Holmes gave us the boobs. When we saw "The Gift" and she was standing there without her shirt off...my fucking jaw was on the ground. And you know what, any time that girl is in an R-rated movie, I'll pay fucking money just to see it because I know that Katie Holmes is willing to do what is required of the role. She's not like "Look at me, I'm too good", she'll do what it takes. If there's a sex scene required, she'll fucking do it, she's got my nine bucks. These other fucking TV actresses that won't do nudity in sex scenes, I'll watch them on TV for free...I'm not paying for it.

ARROW: I see what you're saying, but you had to expect that. I sure did. "Wrong Turn" was a studio picture, they would never go full-on hardcore where "Cabin Fever" was done independently and then sold to a distributor. It's two different sports.

ELI: But that's the way you gotta do it! I believe that, in the end, it's totally up to the public. Horror fans love fucking bashing everything, you get on these websites and everyone is like "Cabin Fever" is going to suck, but they haven't even seen the movie yet. Going on a website and bashing a movie before it opens is wrong. I'm not saying it's wrong to be critical, everybody has a right to their opinion, but arbitrarily bashing a movie before it opens is not going to get you another "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". What we gotta do is that the fucking horror fans have to say: "You know what, if Cabin Fever is a fucking huge hit, it's going to get us 50 other fucking great horror movies. And before we judge it, let's give it a shot because this guy obviously loves horror movies and he spent 10 years fucking making it and went out to make the most fucking badass, disgusting, blood and guts, full on, old school, fucking tits horror movie he could...let's, at least, give him a shot".

Everybody loves horror! Horror are like the best date movies, you have a better chance of getting laid at "Cabin Fever" than at "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days". With "Cabin Fever", every fucking 2 minutes gives you an excuse to grab your date. If you don't hook up with your fucking date after Cabin Fever, you're fucking pathetic. She should be sitting in your lap by the end of the movie, she should be so fucking scared that she won't go home alone and you're like, "Well, come over to my place", she goes, you put on Willie Wonka and close the deal. Everybody wins!

ARROW: I actually saw "Cabin Fever" indoors-- I was sent a screener-- and I'm dead serious when I say this: I watched it with a girl and yes, I did get laid afterwards! So thanks a lot, Eli!

ELI: Dude! Thank you! Hey man, I got laid off Cabin Fever too! The girl was like "All this blood and guts got me really hot"...it works! When people are scared they want that physical contact, the adrenaline is pumping and they're freaked out! That's when you put on a safe movie to chill her out, she feels safe, and you close the deal. Hearing that makes me so happy. My dream for this movie is that you go see it in a theatre, you hear people yelling, see them jumping and then, when it come out on DVD, kids are like doing drinking games with it, like every time somebody says fuck, you drink or some shit like that. I want to see tons of people getting laid because of this movie.

ARROW: It's definitely that kind of movie. It's a party movie...a fun ride all around.

ELI: Dude, I'm so glad that you enjoyed it man. I really appreciate it

ARROW: No problem. This actually leads me to my next question: Dennis the Mullet kid...where the fuck did you come up with that shit?

ELI: I had already written some weird shit about the kid that bites and screams pancakes and then this fucking kid comes in to audition and he's like "Hello sir, my name is Matthew Helms and I'd like to play Dennis. I have a black belt in Karate". I'm like "Really?" He was like "Yes sir, I was on the Jay Leno show and on ESPN too". So I say, "First off, stop calling me sir" and then ask can I see? And he just goes WOOOA, fucking kicking his leg, flipping around, all of which wasn't in the script, all of which was in the movie.

I was rewriting the scene in my head as the kid was going at it, I was like "Oh my god, this kid is fucking insane!" So I asked him how long he had been doing karate. He said, "I've been doing it every day since I was two years old". I was like, "Don't you go to school?" He's like, "No, I'm home schooled, my mother teaches me". So I ask how much he practices? He says he practices six hours every day. So I was like, "You've been training your entire life to be Dennis. And he said, "Yes, sir". I remember showing his tape to Jordan Ladd and asking, is this too weird, and she said: "Nothing is too weird for this movie".

ARROW: That's why it worked so well. It was so fucking random! It had me on the floor.

ELI: It's funny because his dad now posts on every website. He's like, I hear this kid who plays Dennis is very very great and I'm very excited to see Matthew Helms as Dennis in Cabin Fever. It's so obvious too because his email address is something like dennisdad@aol.com. I'm like, "Oh my god!"

ARROW: That mullet was nuts...was he wearing a wig?

ELI: No, that's that kid, he actually kept the mullet after the shoot, so that he could be recognized. I really want kids to be Dennis for Halloween, that would be great. I'm going to put some of his Karate tapes on the DVD...the shit I'm going to put on that DVD is going to be amazing!

ARROW: Is there already talk of a "Cabin Fever" sequel?

ELI: Lion Gate Films are all over it already. I mean, "House of 1000 Corpses" already has a sequel in the works. It's funny because I've outlined the story for the sequel and the one thing is that it has to be fucking weird...like just really weird. The other thing is that the best horror sequels have 3 or 4 years between them. Look at "Evil Dead" and "Evil Dead 2"! Now I'm sure Lions Gate will want to rush into a sequel, but I'm in no rush. I'd rather wait and see what people really respond to in this movie. You know there are certain things in a movie that people respond to as an audience and I don't want to go off in production on a sequel with a subject matter that nobody is going to care about. I've tried to throw as much weird shit in there as I can, there's a Bunny Man, Deputy Winston...I actually would love to do a whole sequel with Deputy Winston.

ARROW: The Party Man...yeah, he rocked!

ELI: Giuseppe...that guy is fucking insane. You go to his website, I mean, he lives in a trailer in Ventura California and he makes these fucking DV movies for his crack addict trash neighbors and John Waters would throw up watching these films. They're crazy kind of Gummo-like movies.

ARROW: Groovy, I'll check out his site. Now you got tits in the movie, you got the word "fag", the word "nigga" and you got gore. How nice was the MPAA to your film?

ELI: They didn't give us a hassle about a damn thing...they were incredible. This is how we did it: my producer Lauren is very smart and instead of submitting the movie through Lions Gate, which the MPAA after "House of a 1000 Corpses", "Secretary", "Irreversible" and "Rules of Attraction", had all kinds problems with. Laurence came up to them as an independent producer saying "I just made a film, it's pretty bloody can you help me out please". They watched it, laughed and we got an R on the first pass. We didn't cut anything!

ARROW: Wow, that's unheard of, in my book.

ELI: The MPAA eases up, it all goes in waves. In the 80's, it was all about violence, but now it's more about sex and nudity.

ARROW: They're definitely NOT consistent.

ELI: It's funny because they were fine with the movie, but not the fucking website. They took out all the gore. They also controlled the fucking poster, you can't have a drop of blood on the poster. Like you'll never get another poster like "Jaws" again because you can't show a woman in danger on posters anymore.

ARROW: You're fucking with me, right?

ELI: Oh no, there's all this shit we can't do,  like we'll never get another poster like "Scanners", "Pieces or Maniac"-- that poster will never exist today. And the trailer, you can't have a fucking drop of blood in the trailer either and that's where we got fucked because our whole movie is tits, blood, swears and you can't show any of that in the trailer, so we had to cut a trailer like "28 Days Later" because there was nothing left to show. How do you get people in the theatres? We had to leak the gore out through another site, it's fucking crazy! So the MPAA made it very difficult for us to sell it.

ARROW: Well, there's a lot of hype about the film on the web, people do want to see it.

ELI: And I hope people feel that it lives up to the hype. I think, if people are prepared for this movie, they'll love it. If people expect to go see "Mulholland Drive", they'll hate it. You gotta understand, I love "Evil Dead", "Dead Alive" and the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and I tried to do one fucked up crazy film. If that's what they want, then that's what they'll be paying for. And I think there's a huge audience for that, I feel people want fucking gore in their horror and they don't want to see these pussy ass PG-13 movies where you don't see any good stuff anymore. 

ARROW: I agree with that statement and I'm sure most of my readers do as well. Thanks a lot for your time, Eli!

ELI: No problem John.

And there you have it guys. I had a blast chit-chatting with Eli Roth. The man doesn't have his tongue in his pocket, says what he wants to say and loves his horror. You gotta respect that! That attitude definitely resonated through his film "Cabin Fever".

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