The Arrow interviews Eli Roth
JoBlo and I were lucky enough to chit-chat with writer/director and all around kool kat Eli Roth at the latest Fangoria Weekend of Horrors Convention. Eli made quite a splash on the horror scene with the incredibly fun "Cabin Fever" and we prodded the man hardcore about the upcoming Cabin Fever DVD released on January 20th and his future horror (and non genre) projects. Ladies and gentlemen...I give you the swell chap, the madman, the Kaufbird in the flesh...I give you The Roth!
INTERVIEW WITH ELI ROTH - PART I (SATURDAY, JANUARY 10, 2004)
JoBlo and I walked into Eli's Hotel room and started chit-chatting about horror from the get-go. My kind of bla-bla session! Here we go!
ELI: You get some good shit today?
ARROW: You mean in terms of content?
ELI: In terms of toys and stuff like that.
ARROW: Actually, I’m looking for PERFECT BLUE and I can’t find it. Ever heard of it?
ELI: PERFECT BLUE?
ARROW: Yeah, it’s kind of David Lynch-ish. It’s a manga.
ELI: I don’t know it.
ARROW: You should definitely check it out. I heard that it’s the shit. I’m also looking for THE CARD DEALER, Argento’s latest.
ELI: It just opened in Rome today. I actually heard that it was awful. Someone literally emailed from Rome today and said “I’m going to see it in one hour.”
ARROW: Oh yeah? I’m looking forward to seeing it though, I’m a big Argento fan.
ELI: Yeah, as am I. Fulci
is actually my favorite.
ARROW: I’m still a cherry on Fulci. I saw GATES OF HELL, ZOMBIE…I started dabbling.
ELI: You gotta see THE BEYOND, NEW YORK RIPPER… I mean, they’re a certain type of movie. Lots of zooms, lots of elbow patches, lots of beards…
From here on out, the official interview began and a lot of what Eli shared with us was “stream of consciousness” type stuff, so we’ve excised our lame comments and left only the man’s many thoughts for your reading pleasure.
”I’M GONNA MAKE A FULCI MOVIE!”
I’m gonna make a Fulci movie. A Fulci style movie. I’m gonna shoot it will all-Italian actors and maybe get a soap star to play the lead, dub everybody’s voices, shoot the exteriors in New York and shoot interiors in Rome. That’s how they did it. They would shoot all of the interiors in Rome and then do a week of exteriors in New York. Like in INFERNO, that building in Manhattan was like (gestures “huge”) and I’m like “What kind of fuckin’ universe is that?”
IS THE MOVIE WORLD NOW YOUR OYSTER?
It’s weird because I’ve got “carte blanche”, but within reason. If I wanted to make a million and a half, two million dollar horror movie, I would go nuts and make it as weird as I want. Really fucked up, which is great. But I don’t have “carte blanche” with the studio movies yet. Like the movie that I’m writing with Rich Kelly (DONNIE DARKO) called THE BOX, that’s a film over which we’ve got total control. We have a budget, it has to be rated R and it has to be an hour and fifty minutes or under two hours, a certain limit. So as long as I’m within those parameters, I can go nuts. But the more expensive your movie gets, like a studio movie, the less shit you can put in it and the less control you have. So I’m not at the point like a Peter Jackson. I’m at a point where I’m getting sent a lot of movies that are $10-15 million dollars studio horror movies, and most of the scripts are so bad that I don’t even make it past page 10. But if I wanted to have “carte blanche”, anything that’s $5 million dollars and under, I probably could.
IF YOU LOST IT ALL?
Everything I’ve always done, I’ve always written it, raised the money, shot it myself, cut it, I mean…I learned production, so I know how to make a movie, unlike some other directors who are dependent on other people to do it. I now have investors—I mean, worse case scenario, I can always go back to my investors. Raising money is no longer a problem, in that case. Nowadays, I even have a company through which I can do that, RAW NERVE, if I wanted to make a RAW NERVE movie.
TARANTINO, OTHERS’ ADVICE ABOUT ROTH’S FUTURE
Here’s what it is. I’ve talked to a lot of horror directors about this, like Tobe Hooper, Don Coscarelli, everybody, even Tarantino and asked them “What do you do?” I mean, do you just sign up to a bunch of movies and they’re like, it’s a tough balance because you want to strike while the iron’s hot, and you want to have a lot of things going, but you don’t want to have too many things going. When people think you’re attached to everything, they don’t take anything seriously. Kimberly Peirce did BOYS DON’T CRY and it was such a huge success, but she hasn’t made a movie since then. So, you don’t want to end up like that. Or you look at someone like Jim Gillespie, who did I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, but then rushed into D-TOX, which at the time, was a $60 million movie with Imagine Entertainment (Ron Howard/Brian Grazer’s company) producing. He didn’t know that eventually they were gonna pull their names off it, Stallone was gonna re-cut it and it get released as EYE SEE YOU, straight to video. He’s in what’s called “director jam”, where you can’t get a job.
BALLS-OUT NC-17 ULTRA-VIOLENT HORROR MOVIES!
So what I’ve done is I’ve found an array of projects that I want to be involved in, like there’s RAW NERVE stuff so that I could keep producing balls-out NC-17 ultra-violent horror movies. That way, if I want to direct one, fine, but otherwise, at least I’m helping my friends get their movies made and I’m helping veteran directors get their movies made with control that the studios will no longer give them.
MORE PROJECTS: THE JERSEY DEVIL AND DRAWN
I just sold a project to Dark Horse Comics. I’m gonna write graphic novel, which I’ve always wanted to do. It’s gonna be about the Jersey Devil called “The Jersey Devil”, which we’d also like to turn into a film. Then there’s this movie DRAWN. Certain movies take a long time. DRAWN has to be one of the scariest things that I’ve ever read. I didn’t write it, Rand Ravich wrote it. It’s the scariest, most disturbing…it’s like THE EXORCIST and THE SHINING, that level of fucked up. He wrote and directed THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE. That’s a film that sort of got taken away by the studio. Rand is a really, really good writer, but there’s not any work out there that’s truly representative of his writing pallet. He either got fucked by the studio, or the movie got made but got screwed up by the director, got the wrong person in it and turned out to be something other than what he wrote.
DID ELI ROTH ALMOST DIRECT DAWN OF THE DEAD?
I want to do another horror movie but…I love CABIN FEVER type, weird, fucked-up, funny and scary, but I don’t want to keep repeating myself. I want to try other stuff and experiment with more straight-down-the-middle scary and I’m also doing a teen comedy for Universal. So you can’t really get involved with too many projects, but you want to have a lot of balls in the air. And you never know which one is gonna go. Everyone always says that it’s the thing that you’re not planning, that comes out of left field. For the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, it was down to me and Zack Snyder and they went with Zack Snyder. And Zack is great, I mean, I hear that it’s awesome. But there are a lot of situations like that. Actually, that was before CABIN FEVER came out, where now it’s generally between me and 2-3 other guys. It’s really with who the studio is most comfortable with going, who they think is going to be the best. There are certain movies where I’m like, “Oh my God, I would kill to be on that movie”, and you kind of put your name in the hat and others where you just sort of go with it.
WHAT’S UP WITH YOU AND DONNIE DARKO’S RICHARD KELLY?
In regards to the thing with Rich Kelly, the money is there. We have total control…we just have to finish the script. Off DONNIE DARKO, every A-list director wants Rich to write for them. He just wrote one for Jonathan Mostow, a horror movie, scary as fuck, called HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET. He wrote one for Darren Aronofsky that Leonardo DiCaprio is going to star in. He’s writing movies for Tony Scott and they’re like “We want that guy!” And I’ve been doing press all over the world. So we’re just trying to find the time to finish that. So it’ll be either that one or DRAWN, either one of which can go this summer, but it will also depend on casting, other stuff. The script that I read for DRAWN is like THE SHINING, THE EXORCIST…a real dark, fucked-up movie about the apocalypse. I was like “This is awesome.” I never thought that I would ever direct someone else’s script, I thought I have so many ideas of my own and I want to do them all, but then you read something and somehow it just resonates with you. You totally fuckin’ get it and are on the same wavelength. So that’s how I felt with this.
ELI ROTH DOES PORKY’S!?!?
And then there’s SCAVENGER HUNT (the aforementioned Universal teen comedy) which is my first “studio movie”, like a PORKY’S, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN, balls-out teen comedy. I mean, I wanna pack as much nudity and fucked up shit in there. I love JOYSTICKS, anytime ZAPPED is on, I watch it. I love 80s telekinesis movies with monkeys. I love dumb 80s comedies, I think they’re great. THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN is probably my favorite. I’m writing that one, in fact, I just turned in my first draft, got some notes and just handed in my second draft. They want to make that this year. My goal is to do either that one or DRAWN…either of those two films. I’ll also write THE JERSEY DEVIL, but I think it takes up to 6-8 months just to get the artwork in and get the graphic novel made, so I can turn in a draft for that in April. And then, the movie won’t be out for another year.
WHO WANTS A R-RATED HORROR MOVIE?
We made CABIN FEVER for about $1.5 million dollars and now it’s closing in on about $30 million worldwide, and it hasn’t even opened in France or Germany, so it’s showing a lot of filmmakers that a $1.5 million dollar horror movie is still a valuable product. Don Mancini called me (the creator of the CHILD’S PLAY series) after our $8 million+ opening weekend, because everyone saw how we made 7 times our budget on the opening weekend alone. He said that Universal called him regarding SEED OF CHUCKY and was like, “Let’s go, let’s get into production in four months and let’s start shooting.” He was like, first it was FREDDY VS JASON, then it was JEEPERS CREEPERS 2, but then CABIN FEVER especially, because there were no stars in that movie. Lions Gate took a big chance, but it wound up being their #1 and #2 movie, along with HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES. 28 DAYS LATER was the other big one, of course. But before those movies, they were all like “Who wants a R-rated horror movie?”, but this has been the year for R-rated horror movies. Now they’re all starving for R-rated horror, which is just great because for so long it was, “No, it’s gotta be PG-13, it’s gotta be PG-13. The lead actor has to live until the end because we need them for the sequel. No nudity. No tits and ass.”
ROTH LIKES ASSRAPE?
I remember meeting Stan Winston at this “Masters of Horror” thing, to which I was invited along with Rob Zombie, where we were like “masters of horror”, although we felt more “apprentices” obviously. But I was like, “Dude, what happened with WRONG TURN?” and he goes “In the original script, they take the kids, they kill them and they sodomize the corpses.” And I’m like, “Why was that not in the movie? Why was there no corpse-raping? I want to see those corpses get ass-raped!” And he goes, “You and me both, but the studio would absolutely not allow it.” He said that everything that I was talking about was in the original script and that’s what they wanted to do, but the studio wouldn’t do it. I was like, “Dude, you should have made it for a million and a half, not fifteen million, and you should’ve just fuckin’ gone for it.” They had all that money, but they were handcuffed.
HORROR MOVIES = PORN?
People really think that horror is one step away from pornography. That if you make a horror film, it’s like making a porn movie. And it’s not art, there’s nothing artistic about it. It’s such bullshit. If you look at the budget-per-gross, CABIN FEVER is the most profitable horror movie since THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and the most profit turning independent film this year. LOST IN TRANSLATION made 9-10 times its money back, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM made about 11 times and we’re like at about 14-15 times our money back. And people are like, “But that’s not an independent film” and I’m like, “I made that movie by borrowing money and putting it on credit cards and then sold it to a distributor and just because it got a wide release, just because it’s horror, it doesn’t count?”
THE EXORCIST = THEOLOGICAL THRILLER?
Everybody like horror movies. In the 70s, in the United States, it was like that. You had Spielberg, William Friedkin, Ridley Scott, Philip Kaufman…they were all making horror movies. Stanley Kubrick. DePalma. It was like “this thing”…everybody was making horror movies. It was the thing to do. Nowadays, they don’t even call it “horror movies” anymore, they call them “psychological thrillers”. Did you know that a New Line press release went out that said that you are not allowed to call THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE a “horror movie”? It’s a thriller. “Psychological thriller” is the one that they made up for THE SIXTH SENSE. And for 28 DAYS LATER, Fox called it a “viral thriller”. I mean, if THE EXORCIST came out today, it would be called a “theological thriller”.
The stereotype is that if it’s a smart movie, it’s a thriller. If it’s dumb…it’s a horror movie. Like HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, they would say, “That’s a dumb horror movie.” And I’ve been in rooms with these executives, like with DRAWN and they’re like, “We don’t understand, it’s a horror movie, but it’s so well-written?” and I’m like, “Yeaaaaaaaaah?” And actors are like, “We don’t want to be in a horror movie!” Ever since the slasher movies from the 80s, it’s been like that. The only way that it’s gonna change is with directors like Guillermo del Toro, directors that are psyched to be in the horror section, that are honored to do it and are proud to say that they direct horror movies. The thing that’s happened is that a lot of these guys like Carpenter, Romero, people will say “Oh, they’re just horror directors, they don’t get other movies.”
ONLINE COMMUNITY: GOOD OR BAD?
The thing about the online community that’s so great is that it gives a voice to the people, the independent filmmaker and levels the playing field. If you’re making DAWN OF THE DEAD, you want fans to support you, but they’re going to spend $25 million advertising that movie anyway. But if you don’t have any money, you barely have enough money to put your photos up on the IMDB page, how do you compete? How do you get attention, recognition, other people psyched to see your film?
HOW ONLINE HELPED ME SELL CABIN FEVER
I remember when we were at the Toronto Film Festival, there were 343 movies and we were dead last. It’s a 12-day festival, but a lot of people leave after day 7, the buyers. So I was worried about how we were going to get people to stay and spoke to Harry from AICN, and he wrote this thing where he said, “You know what, I haven’t seen this movie, I’ve only spoken to this guy on the phone and he clearly knows his shit, and Howard Berger wrote this letter and vouched for him and I’m just going on a hunch here, but I think the film that many people will be talking about at the festival will be CABIN FEVER and if you’re there to buy movies, change your flight and stay for CABIN FEVER”.
And because he wrote that, and because distributors are on the Internet, they’re on AICN, they’re on JoBlo, they read all of it…they go to see what movies you guys are talking about, because if you guys support it, it means that you’ll go see it and it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy, and makes them feel more comfortable putting more money into it. Because many of them need to justify their jobs. Which is why so many sequels and remakes get made. Because if it fails, they can always say, “Well, what do you want? The first one did well. How could you know? How could you know that TOMB RAIDER 2 would be bad?” (sarcastic) So because of Harry talking about it, it got the sale and it got everybody talking. Which is why I think it’s so important to support each other. And not fuckin’ bash shit before it opens. I mean, it’s fine to hate a movie. Everybody can hate CABIN FEVER all they want. But don’t fuckin’ trash shit before you even see it…I mean, give it a chance. It’s somebody’s work. Especially horror movies, I mean…we have it tough enough.
MPAA = DEVIL INCARNATE?
MPAA. We can’t fuckin’ put shit in a trailer anymore. You make a horror movie, you can’t put anything in it. You can’t have blood, you can’t have swearing, you can’t have nudity…nothing. It has to be able to play with FINDING NEMO. No red-band trailers. So where’s the only place for them? The Internet. Theaters will no longer accept the red-band trailer. The trailer with the head blowing up in SCANNERS, it would never happen today. They rate your fuckin’ poster. They rate your website now. So we need to go to places like JoBlo and leak it through them, then the MPAA can’t go after us. They’ll revoke your rating. It’s so stupid, such weird censorship.
CABIN FEVER MIS-MARKETED?
I felt like CABIN FEVER was mis-marketed. I understand why they sold it as a “scary movie”, but I wish they had told people that is was funny as well. I wish they had said that it’s fuckin’ scary and funny like EVIL DEAD 2. But they didn’t, they said it was 28 DAYS LATER. And a lot of people went in expecting 28 DAYS LATER and it’s not. They cut it like 28 DAYS LATER. I understand why they did that, but at the same time, you gotta tell people it’s funny too otherwise they’re gonna be confused. So a lot of people went in there going, “What’s this ass-fingering and gay stuff…” and other people who were open to it, that had heard that it was weird and fucked up were like, “Yeaaah”, screaming and cheering, like a rollercoaster.
“YOUR SITES ARE FUN, I GOT ADDICTED. I’LL SURF JOBLO OR THE ARROW…ALL THAT SHIT”
For the Internet, at least I can get my voice out there. I can do interviews on your site and be like, you know what, “It’s a fuckin’ crazy rollercoaster ride, you go to get laid, bring your girlfriend and she gets scared…” It’s also a great place for guys like me to build a fanbase. To connect with fans on a personal level where you’re like one-on-one. You can’t depend on one magazine article, because they might not read that. Where if you do something on a specific website, it just get linked to all the other websites. As soon as something’s up on Creature Corner or JoBlo, it’s on Dark Horizons, it’s here and there. I love the Internet. I go on the sites all the time. Your sites are fun, I got addicted. I’ll surf JoBlo or the Arrow…all that shit. And then Creature Corner, Dark Horizons, Ain’t it Cool…I like that stuff, it’s fun. I read shit about me in there and I’m like, “I didn’t know that I was doing that?”
CABIN FEVER SEQUEL?
Contractually, when we sold the movie, I told them that I would write a treatment and I have the first right to do it, if I want. So I wrote and turned in the treatment. Now, Lions Gate Films just bought Artisan, so there’s this whole change-over going on, all kinds of shit going on, so they basically have to read it and say if they want to do it or not. And it’s really fuckin’ weird. I feel like if people want to see CABIN FEVER 2, they’re going because they want the weirdness. I’d want it to be all about Deputy Winston and the various creatures that are in his head. I’d love to bring Ryder Strong back as well. Ryder’s so fuckin’ cool. He’s a cool, easy-going dude. They just have to trust me that it would work. It’s really fucked up, but I also have a great way to tie everything up and bring people back and make it fucked up, but not cheesy. But it’s a long way away. I don’t want to make CABIN FEVER 2 my next film.
I’ve been living the first one forever. I wrote it when I was about 22 or 23, and I’d write a different kind of movie now. Here’s the thing; they’ll probably want to make it soon, but I want to wait. I think that Raimi went away from EVIL DEAD, then came back with EVIL DEAD 2. I want to let it sink in, think about it for a while, see what people respond to, see what catches on. There are certain phrases for certain movies that have leaked into popular culture. You can’t predict it. Certain things from OFFICE SPACE, for example, everybody loves the “Yeaaaaaah” or CADDYSHACK with “I want a hamburger…you’ll get nothing and like it!!” I don’t think that they thought that would be the marquee line. So you kind of want to see what sticks and then build on that.
Find the KaufBird on the Cabin Fever DVD and have a blast!
I pissed my pants laughing, changed to another pair, watched the bird again and ruined that pair too!
And there you have it! I'd like to thank Eli for his time, for his easy-going demeanor and for the freakin' ride that was "Cabin Fever". I'm happy that this guy is on our side and personally, an inspiration in terms of him being a horror fanboy who graduated to making his own films in the big leagues. In my opinion, he is one of today's newest filmmakers with the most potential in terms of what he could bring to the "good fight" i.e. respecting the genre and putting out "real" horror flicks. Keep it up, Soldier Rothman! Your tour of duty isn't up yet!