Interview: Eli Roth

We chat to the Hostel director about The Last Exorcism and finding new voices in horror.

“The nice thing about producing is I can have my pace and inference in there at times, but really stand back. It’s truly Daniel Stamm’s film – he did such a good job directing and making it his own, and he’s such a performance-based director. We knew the film would live or die on the performances, so at the end when things go out of control, you feel bad, you feel this loss of control and you feel bad for these people.”
Almost overnight, the release of the movie has seen Roth inundated with scripts. “Once The Last Exorcism released and was a big hit, it was interesting to see the kind of non-horror projects that were brought to me to produce. I’m now getting scripts that say, ‘Would Eli like to produce this? Maybe he wants to direct it, maybe he wants to be in it. Maybe he wants to do all three.’ Which is wonderful, because on all of my films – even Cabin Fever, I was writer, the director and I made a cameo, so now I feel like these are all different things that I love.”

With the impact of his movies being built upon by other directors, Roth is satisfied by the state of mainstream horror – particularly as international interpretations of the subject are so different to his own and are increasingly experimental. “Oh, I think it’s in a great place. Every two or three years I think the horror genre needs reinventing and right now, I think Paranormal Activity did it brilliantly. I saw the Sundance cut, and I watched the tape and gave the DVD to Quentin. He was like, ‘This is the scariest movie I’ve seen in years!’ We knew it was going to be a phenomenon. We were already about to start prep on The Last Exorcism, we already had the film put together. It’s so exciting when someone like Oren Peli comes along and breathes new life into the genre, or this film Monsters which is coming out… it’s exciting to see how the violence transfers from country to country.”
“It’s so exciting to watch each country claim it’s the most violent, disgusting country,” Roth continues, “but at the same time… because you can shoot hi-def video on your iPhone now, it has really levelled the playing field. The tough part is the distribution and getting it out there, so people really have to step up their game and make movies that are worthy of being in theatres, but it is great that technology is at a place where you can have Paranormal Activity and Monsters, both of which were made for [small budgets] and are playing in movie theatres all over the world. I also think that horror movies have made so much money for the studios that everyone’s always looking for one. Nobody cares who’s in it, they just want to know if it’s scary.”

It’s not just the movies that they’re producing, either, but the way they’re being promoted. Few genres lend themselves better to word-of-mouth than horror. “With Facebook and Twitter and all these things, we’re able to organise the fans and give them a collective voice, in the same way that ten years ago Comic-Con gave that voice to the comic fans. They were there, but they didn’t have a way to communicate. That brought them together. I think that the horror fans, globally, are bonding and that you can help reach your audience directly through social networking when you make a film like this. It’s a very, very exciting time.”

With such a democratic environment for budding filmmakers, we have to ask Roth if he’d have preferred trying to break into Hollywood during a time when tools like Facebook and Twitter are available. “Well, I am so happy with how things worked out,” he declares. “I didn’t always understand it at the time, but you know I feel very, very lucky. When Cabin Fever came out, it was considered a very violent, bloody film and people were wondering if it was too violent for mainstream audiences, which is so silly now. It’s fun to be the guy who helped bring back blood and nudity to cinemas. I mean, that was missing. When Cabin Fever came out in cinemas, horror was considered a dead genre. So I feel very proud to be part of a group of filmmakers like Rob Zombie, Alex Aja, Neil Marshall and James Wan… these guys who helped bring back truly horrific horror to cinemas. I feel very, very lucky that that was my moment, that was what launched my career and made my name. I wouldn’t change that for anything.”

The Last Exorcism is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.