INTERVIEW: Eli Roth and Daniel Stamm for The Last Exorcism

THE LAST EXORCISM is a chiller revolving around a sham preacher who expects to perform just another routine "exorcism" on a disturbed individual while a film crew tags along. Naturally, things don't go exactly as planned, and soon, all involved have their faith and sanity put to the test. The film, the product of the minds of writers Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, was produced by HOSTEL director Eli Roth and helmed by Daniel Stamm, a relative newcomer who made a splash a few years ago with the faux-documentary A NECESSARY DEATH.

I got the chance to talk with Roth and Stamm while they were doing the promo rounds for THE LAST EXORCISM; the guys told me how the project came about, what comparisons we can expect to other handheld films like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, and why it doesn't need to be rated R... Roth also spilled a bit on his future and the status of HOSTEL III. Read on!

How did each of you get involved with THE LAST EXORCISM?

Roth: Producer Eric Newman had brought the project to me. I know Eric very well, he produced this with Mark Abraham - they made Zack Snyder's DAWN OF THE DEAD and CHILDREN OF MEN - and we have very similar movie tastes. Eric had told me this was sort of his conception, to make this pseudo-documentary about an exorcism that goes terribly wrong, and Studio Canal said that they would finance it if I got involved, so he brought it to me, and I thought it was one of the best, smartest, scariest, most interesting and really compelling scripts I had ever read, horror or otherwise.

The writers, Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, were set to direct it, and they had made one of my favorite unseen films, a dark comedy called MAIL ORDER WIFE that people should definitely track down. I thought, "I have to be involved with this film." It's such an interesting spin on the exorcism sub-genre and really did a great job of subverting expectations and keeping the audience guessing. And then I was in Berlin on INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and we were about to start shooting, but their [Botko and Gurland] movie THE VIRGINITY HIT got greenlit by Sony and contractually they were obligated to do that. It would up being one of these wonderful happy accidents, where had that not happened, we wouldn't have gotten Daniel Stamm who I think is the only person who could have made this film this way; he's an incredible new talent. He made this terrific film A NECESSARY DEATH that we saw and loved, and he really got this movie and dove in and found this incredible cast and made the film what it is today.

Obviously, there are a lot of "POV" movies going around today, such as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, CLOVERFIELD, etc. What would you say sets THE LAST EXORCISM apart from those films?

Stamm: Well I think that's the style, but all these movies are very different - BLAIR WITCH and PARANORMAL and [REC] and all that. THE LAST EXORCISM is very focused on the acting and the story. You know, PARANORMAL, which I loved, is a brilliant exercise in timing and anticipation and all that, but it's very technical. THE LAST EXORCISM to me is a very organic and very complex, multi-layerd narrative.

Roth: I think the other thing is, there is a subtle different between a found footage movie and a documentary film. If you think of something like GREY GARDENS or BROTHER'S KEEPER, or even KING OF KONG or AMERICAN MOVIE, they're beautifully photographed movies with a tripod and handheld, but they're edited and scored. Whereas CLOVERFIELD, which I love and is a very effective film, is truly a found footage movie. I mean, even CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST splits it between going into the found footage and going into the narrative. So what was interesting to me was that style being applied to a possession story. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is basically an incredibly smart spin on the haunted house movie, CLOVERFIELD is a Godzilla movie, all these movies are smart and original and are using this format to make you feel like you are there. I mean, [REC] is basically a zombie movie that's shot that way. Also with television shows like "The Office", and with everybody having high-def on their iPhone, it's something that audiences are really used to in a way they never have been before. But I think the format only goes as far as the story you're telling; I don't think people are going to see a movie for that format. It's that format paired with this particular script that makes it terrifying.

There's always going to be a little bit of bitching on the part of horror fans when something is rated PG-13; what would you say to people, especially the horror geeks, to reassure them there's nothing to worry about with THE LAST EXORCISM?

Roth: Well, every story has its own level of gore that's appropriate for that story. You watch Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING, that's one of the scariest movies of all time and it's rated G. THE RING, THE GRUDGE, CLOVERFIELD - I thought they were all terrific films. I made my career and my name bringing back blood to movies because I felt that studios were castrating films. We shot the scariest movie possible and I would not put my name on it if I did not believe in it the way I do. We gave Daniel total freedom to make the movie he wanted to make, and when we brought it to Lionsgate they said, "If they ask us to cut the balls off this movie, we're going rated R, no problem". And it came back PG-13, so we said, "We'll take it".

This movie is not a movie that requires gore. You see PIRANHA 3D, that's a goregasm. That's the fun of that movie. This movie is a truly a film about a girl who might be possessed or might be crazy; it's much more on THE RING or THE GRUDGE end of the horror spectrum. Fans should not expect a bloodbath, but I think they're going to be very pleasantly surprised by how smart and scary the film is.

Let's say the film does really well at the box office, and the studio comes up to you and says, "We've got to do THE LAST EXORCISM 2 immediately". Would you guys be down for that? Would that even be possible storywise?

Stamm: I think that depends on the story. If someone comes up with an amazing story that should be told, that would actually enhance the legacy of Cotton Marcus, then I think that would be something interesting to look at. I don't think anyone is interested in just ripping off the idea and making a sequel that's not as good or better than the original.

Roth: Yeah, I'd sooner go and make an original movie rather than a lame sequel. Any day.

Speaking of that, what do you guys have lined up? Do you know what your follow-up is going to be?

Stamm: I know what my follow-up is going to be, but the deal is still being negotiated and unfortunately I can't talk about it yet, but I'm pretty excited about it.

Roth: And my follow-up is I'm jumping into my science-fiction film, ENDANGERED SPECIES.

Can you tell me anything about it? My editor will kill me if I don't get an inkling of info...

Roth: Well, nice knowing you!

Alright... Now how about HOSTEL III, are you involved with that at all?

Roth: I'm not, but my friends are making it. Mike Fleiss and Chris Briggs are making it. There's a huge demand from the fans to continue the series, and I said, "Who am I to not let that continue?" Scott Spiegel, who is a dear friend and is one of the executive producers of the first one, had a great idea and wants to dive in and do it. They totally have my blessing, but I'm not involved in any way, I'm not a producer, I haven't even read the script. I'll watch it for the first time when everyone else does.

Is that weird for you, or are you excited by that prospect - that they're taking something you created and doing this without your input?

Roth: It's sort of fun for me. Once we left the franchise, it's like a girlfriend you had a wonderful relationship with, and she's dating some other guy. You're happy that she's happy, but you don't really need to know the intimate details of their sex.

On that note, I'd like to thank Eli and Daniel for taking the time to chat with me. THE LAST EXORCISM opens on AUGUST 27th.

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