the stunning success of his first feature film, CABIN FEVER, Eli
Roth could pretty much write his own ticket in
verbose filmmaker stopped by the Four Seasons in
Have you ever seen a man f*cked to death by a horse?
A man? No. Not a man f*cked to death by a horse. I’ve seen a girl f*cking a horse, I’ve seen two Japanese girls vomiting in each other’s mouths in a bathtub, but I have never seen a man f*cked to death by a horse.
Did you know you were gonna write this?
I knew I was gonna write it. It was one of those things, after Cabin Fever. Cabin Fever was this crazy ride, as most of you know. It was all totally built through internet and word of mouth, and we made it for a million and a half bucks, and it wound up doing like over 100 million dollars. Not that any of it went to me, mind you. About 4 dollars did, but that’s cool. After that I had all this opportunity and I didn’t know what I was going to do next. And I started writing this project here and got this set up with this studio, and I kind of started like 15 different things. You’re completely on the outside, and then all of a sudden every door is open, you wanna like start taking advantage of it.
But then I realized it was like those magnetic dogs when you put their noses together and they start spinning, like in 15 different directions. I didn’t know what to do. I was talking to Quentin (Tarantino) and Quentin loved Cabin Fever. After he saw it he invited me to his house to watch movies. We watched War of the Gargantuas, and Hell Night, and Blood and Black Lace, Zombi. He was like, “Man, you gotta check out this print of Zombi; it’s really cool.” We would just geek out watching movies. And I said to Quentin, “You know, I kind of just don’t know what to do now.” I said, “I’m at this weird place where I am being offered to direct studio movies, I have my own stuff that’s sort of developing,” and he’s like, “Well, what ideas are you working on?” I told him this and this and this…and I said, “Well, then there’s this other thing…” and I told him the idea for Hostel and he was like “Are you f*cking kidding me?
the sickest f*cking idea I have ever heard.” He told me “Eli,
you’ve got to do that. f*ck
it. Do it low budget.”
I have a horror company called Raw Nerve, and he was like,
“Do it with Raw Nerve, do it for like three million bucks or
something. Go to
Scotty wrote Evil Dead II and Boaz wrote and directed Fresh and Remember the Titans and they loved it. They had great ideas. I sat down and did another draft – this was all in the span of two weeks – and I showed it to Quentin, and he was like, “This is f*cking awesome. Let’s go through it.” And we went through the script. And he’s like, “You know what? We’re gonna do a bullshit pass. I’m gonna call bullshit where it feels like this could only happen in a movie. If this is movie convenience or it’s not something that you and I would do, then I am calling bullshit – “He can’t get out of the chair like this, cut his f*cking fingers off.” “Well, I wanna cut his hand, but then would he bleed to death?” “No, if you cut half his hand he could probably still wiggle out.” You know, that kind of stuff. So, we did like a whole pass, and he’s like, “Oh, man, what if he’s got a f*cking bolt cutter and he’s cutting off Yuki’s toes?” and I’m like, “Oh that’s awesome, let’s put that in.”
So we went through it and sort of did a reality pass on it, and it just sort of seemed natural. And he’s like, “You know, I’d love to be involved in this, and I’m like, “Yeah, it’d be so f*cking fun.” So he was just great. So we shot in Prague while he was doing a CSI episode, but he was really helpful in the editing room. He came in the editing room and he’s like… You know, George Folsey cut the movie with me. He was John Landis’s partner; he produced American Werewolf in London, Blue Brothers, Trading places, and he cut Animal House. He edited a lot of blaxploitation movies that Quentin loved…so Quentin had seen all his movies and Quentin came in the editing room and said, “Well, what do you think of this, maybe, you know I think you can cut this. You know, I think this is a good scare, but what if you add some this to that?” He helped us trim it down.
But honestly, it was his enthusiasm, his spark, that I was just like, “What do I do? Why am I waiting for the perfect movie.” You know, you get that fear of doing your second film, like, “Okay, the first one did really really well, and I want to make sure this one does well but I also want to do something that I’m proud of that feels like a step forward. It just felt like the right next movie.
Where did hear about the story?
I’ll tell you where it started. It started with a conversation with Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles. Harry and I were talking about sick stuff we’d seen on the Internet. And we’re talking about, like I’d seen that site that the guy in Texas set up where you could control a gun and hunt, like, lions and wild game, and rare animals, on the internet. And the FBI had shut this guy down. I think he claimed, his story was that, his legal defense was that he was making it so handicapped people could hunt too; it was like, so f*cked up.
But I thought, “Jesus. Why wouldn’t they just put a human being in a room?” and Harry said, “Well, actually I found something like that,” and he sent me a link to a site where you could go to Thailand and for ten thousand dollars, walk into a room and shoot somebody in the head. And the site claimed that the person you were killing had signed up for it, that part of the money would go to their family and they were so broke and they were gonna die anyways and they wanted to do this, they wanted to be killed for this purpose, and that it gives you the thrill of taking another human life. And we said, “Is this Bullshit? Is this real?” It looked real. And we thought, “How could this possibly be real?” But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Whether this place exists or not is not important. The point is that somebody built a website about it.
Somebody else thought up, realized, and conceptualized, that there’s some guy out there that’s so bored with money and drugs. Hookers don’t do it, strip clubs… they can’t get off from going to a hooker or strip club or doing drugs. They’re looking for that next level of thrill, and that, I said, was real. I know people like that. But that is very real, I know people like that. But that is very real to me. I can just see someone who’s so…money doesn’t mean anything, they’ve got all these things and they’re just numb. They want to walk into a room and just kill someone without any consequences. And I saw parallels between guys I knew who would go to Europe or even go to Vegas and go, “Yeah, we’re gonna go get hookers and do drugs,” or “We’re gonna go to Amsterdam,” and it’s kind of this American thing of going abroad and doing all these things you’re not supposed to do.
That’s why I made Amsterdam purposefully look like an x-rated Disneyland – the hookers, they’re a ride. It’s just another story. They’re not interacting with another human being, they’re just paying their money, they’re gonna go on…they’re on that path. But what happens after twenty years from now? They would wind up like these businessmen. The brothel in Amsterdam is kind of like this weird mirror image of this; the slaughterhouse is a horrible, hell version of that brothel. Josh walks up and down the hall; Jay gets dragged down the hall. I just saw parallels in exploitation and the value of life in other parts of the world and putting a price on someone else’s life, it’s like, “Ok, it’s 100 dollars an hour for this person’s life, and you’re 25,000 dollars to this person, and to this kid? You’re just a piece of bubble gum. That’s all you’re worth.”
Why did you choose Jay Hernandez?
Jay Hernandez, I think, is really underrated. Jay Hernandez is an amazing actor. His career really started with Crazy/Beautiful, jump started…the last few movies that Jay has done he’s been in a really good movie like, The Rookie, Ladder 49, Friday Night Lights, but he’s in an ensemble, wearing a uniform. And a lot of times he’s got a helmet or a hat on. So you kind of don’t distinguish him in those movies, even though he’s very good. In Ladder 49 he got cut down to nothing. He read the (Hostel) script and he really responded to it. I met him and I thought, “This guy would be incredible. I’d be lucky to get this guy.”
He was such a good actor that he feels like a regular guy. I didn’t want people who look like pretty boys or movie people. I wanted people who felt like guys I went to college with, that I grew up with, and that I know. The thing about Jay is like, he’s really like a real guy. He has that quality, that very natural style of acting. You don’t feel like he’s an actor, acting. He’s just somebody who throws himself in the role. And what I also felt about Jay was I really felt like he was willing to make himself vulnerable. You know, a lot of those guys want to be macho and tough all the time and they don’t want to sit there and be crying like a baby when they’re about to die in a movie and Jay was willing to do that and he did it really well in a way that you don’t go, “Oh, that pussy.” I mean, you genuinely feel sorry for him. You go, “f*ck yeah, I’d be doing the same thing.”
You were looking for that Miike feel. Do you think that you could have pushed it a little further?
Yeah...No, it’s not that I want to reach a broader audience. I was really looking at the story I was telling and who I was telling it for. I think that Miike makes the greatest Miike movies ever, and there’s one Miike and there’s no need to try to be Miike. I just want to be the best me, not the best Miike. Sorry, that was lame. If you’re really really looking at it, I mean, obviously it’s really heavily influenced by Audition, and The Vanishing. You know if Cabin fever was totally my response to missing American horror of the seventies and early eighties, which that film is.
With Cabin Fever I started going to the Sitges film festival, Brussels, and seeing Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Audition, and all of a sudden I’m seeing all the good stuff that of course never makes it into theaters over here. And that’s when I was like, “Holy Shit, South Korea, this is where it’s at.” Like what the f*ck is going on there, in Japan…they’re making these balls-out movies that are just so disturbing. But you know, I didn’t want to imitate shots like in Cabin Fever. I was like “This is my Texas Chainsaw Massacre shot” and “This is my shot from The Thing.” I said, “You know, it’s time for me to stand on my own. I can be influenced by these movies, but I am not going to watch movies and take shots. Just say, go with my gut instinct and if this is what’s in my head, and this is how I’m gnna shoot it. I can hear the music, this is the feel, and I just see it this way, and just kind of going with that.
I thought, you know, I don’t want to try to make it so violent just for the sake of that. I wanted people to come out and say yeah, that was sick and f*cked up, but it still has to be an R-rated film, to get released, and that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t feel like there was any need to try to make Ichi the Killer 2. That’s what Miike does, and let those guys do that. I kinda wanted to make something that felt influenced by that but was still an American movie.
How did you go about establishing the tone in the first half of the film? (Minor spoilers ahead)
I made a conscious decision not to make it a scary horror movie from minute one. We had the creepy title sequence, but I wanted the audience to go on a trip with the guys. I wanted them to be there in Amsterdam having fun. And then they get lured in and kind of seduced into going to Slovakia the way the guys do. And they kinda get lured in, lulled in. “Wow, this place is Valhalla. And then they f*cking pay the price for it. That’s what I love about Audition, that the guy is so sexist and is kind of unaware of it. You know these guys, the way they’re looking at women, the way they’re treating women ... I very deliberately made Jay Hernandez unlikable in that first half, the way he’s like, “Aww that bitch is a f*cking hog,” but he doesn’t even realize it.
Like, it’s kind of the moment where he goes back to rescue Kana that you actually start to like him…while he’s getting tortured you’re like, “Yeah, that f*cker, he kind of deserves it, he’s a dick!” and I wanted to make a movie that was like a slow burn kind of horror film. I love Audition, where there’s all the build up to the last ten minutes, and then it’s just horrifying. And I wanted to half that, like the first half...it starts out fun. I know that’s gonna throw people, but hopefully they’re interested enough in the story and like the characters enough to go along with the ride. And if they pay that money for the ticket then they probably will, and I think it’s certainly, hopefully, it gets people to feel like it delivers at the end. But I felt like, if you start off the movie with people’s fingers getting cut off and eyes getting cut out, then for 45 minutes into it, you’re changing the channel already; you’re just bored.
So I really wanted to have something that would keep people guessing, that would keep them off guard, where they would really not know where it was going. Cause everybody sees horror movies ten steps ahead now, everybody has seen everything, so I like a movie where it’s like, “Oh this wasn’t what I expected,” or “Oh, that’s weird,” or “Oh, what’s going on with this guy,” and the “Why, and what the f*ck’s this all about? This guy is like, touching the other guy…” I wanted to have it be, you know, it starts off colorful and light, with controlled camera work. Once Olli disappears, then the color starts to drain away, and by the end it’s like very rough, hand-held camera work and it’s basically black, ashen, and just...the color of blood.
did you find the babes?
The babes. We had casting sessions in Prague. For the two main girls, I’d say out of 400 girls who auditioned, nobody came close to Barbara (Nedeljakova), who played Natalya, the brunette. She walked in the room and she was like a young Monica Bellucci. That quality of Louise Schneider, one of those foreign girls that are from another era, that are just...that doesn’t look like the typical Los Angeles beauty. I didn’t want the fake tits. I wanted someone that had that look that looks like they are from another world. And when she read the scene she completely understood the scene and that scene where she’s manipulating Jay and kind of f*cking with him in the bar, you don’t know if she’s on drugs or if she doesn’t really understand, or … she’s just looking him in the eye and f*cking with him. She was really really terrifying. Nobody came close to her.
But that was one of the great things about getting to shoot in the Czech republic, was getting to work with these actors like Jan (Vlasak), who played the Dutch businessman, we called him Hannibal Czechtor, he was a fresh actor from the Czech Republic. He usually only does Shakespeare. He very rarely does film and he just decided to do this, and all of a sudden there’s this guy who seems like a nice guy who’s doing these terrible things and he’s got those piercing eyes. That was what was so fun about shooting there. You know, most people who shoot in Prague will shoot it for America. So they’ll have someone who will be waiter #3 and they’ll hire them and they’ll dub their voice, so it looks like America…I wrote something that could incorporate that where you could get actors acting at the top of their game and not trying to fake their accent or hide it.
about the Oli character?
Oli the Icelander. You know, I love Iceland. I lived there when I was 19. It’s funny, because Iceland inspired Cabin Fever, and I went there with Cabin Fever and met this guy Eythor, who was one of the funniest guys I had ever met. And we went out and he was like insane, and I had never met anyone like him, and I thought, “This guy has to be in a movie.” He does Iron Man competitions, he’s been on televisions, he has businesses, he’s just like, this fascinating character. I remember the first week I went to Iceland I was 19, I went to some horse show and everyone was drunk and everyone was going crazy, and I was just standing back, watching a bunch of drunken people going nuts and I was like, “These people are awesome!” And Icelanders aren’t in movies.
You don’t see an Icelandic character. So I figured, you know what? I can take 1100 years of Icelandic culture and f*cking flush it down the toilet in 90 minutes. Because I will make everybody think that everyone from Iceland is like this guy. Bjork is fine. She’s had a god run, but it’s time for her to step aside. I think Eythor should be the most famous person in the world from Iceland. I know Bjork is there – we saw her when we were there – and she’s perfectly nice, but she didn’t strike me as the people that I’ve met in Iceland as a typical Icelander. Whereas Eythor, that’s what they’re like. That’s what I found that they’re like.
you have any plans to get back to studio projects?
interesting. After Cabin Fever I had all these studio things that I
started setting up. But now I’m spoiled. I have done two movies in
a row that I got to write, produce, direct, completely control, and
was involved in the marketing of the movies and the poster ideas. It
depends what project it is. Obviously if someone came up to me and
said “We want you to
do Indiana Jones 4” or even Porky’s 4, I’d be like, “All
right, great.” I kinda feel like, if this movie does well, it kind
of reinforces my confidence that maybe I should just follow my own
ideas. And maybe, if I keep going on this path, I could eventually
wind up like Quentin or Robert Rodriguez, who get to make movies for
40-50 million dollars budget level, they’re completely controlled
and they do it their own way, and you know, make’em in your
backyard. That’s how I’d like to do it. So I truthfully don’t
know. But after this movie I am spoiled. It’s making me think
twice about how I want to do everything in the future.
Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.