Say what you want about Eli Roth and the vicious, stomach-turning films he puts into theaters, but the guy is one of the most passionate filmmakers working today. This weekend he returns with Hostel: Part II; a sequel to the very successful horror film that had a lot of people buzzing when it first came out back in 2005. Quite simply, he's the kind of guy you'd love to have your back in a fight. He's real, he's raw, he's emotional -- and he's very proud of the work he produces. I recently caught up with Eli to talk up everything Hostel, as well as check the status on some of those other buzzed-about films Roth has planned for us down the line. Where is he at with Cell, the Stephen King adaptation? Will he direct a Grindhouse 2 with Edgar Wright? What's up with this Trailer Trash movie? Or how about an animated horror flick? Oh, and how does Roth really feel about the MPAA? Well, read on and you'll find out ...
Cinematical: Here's what I'm hearing about Eli Roth lately: Eli Roth wants to make a Grindhouse 2 with Edgar Wright, and he also wants to make a Trailer Trash movie. Is all of it true?
Eli Roth: Well, one was that if they were going to do a Grindhouse 2, I was joking with Edgar that he should do Don't and I would do Thanksgiving. And we still might do it. But it would have to be something we did between movies; kind of like a fun side project. But then I also want to do a whole movie of fake trailers -- like Kentucky Fried Movie, Borat or Jackass -- called Trailer Trash. Thanksgiving was the most fun I've ever had shooting anything, and the response to it was the best response to anything I've ever done in my career. And so I have so many more ideas like that that are ready to go that I'd love to start shooting it.
Cinematical: So basically you're going to shoot an entire movie full of three-minute trailers?
ER: Picture Thanksgiving, and now picture an entire movie with trailers like that.
Cinematical: And how far along are you on it; who else is involved?
ER: I'm not saying anything else on it except that I'm writing it with my brother. But I have a story, I have a plot, and I want a make a movie like Monty Python and the Holy Grail -- totally silly, totally absurd -- something like Borat; Borat is a good example.
Cinematical: So, if you were to do an entire feature out of your Thanksgiving trailer, it would be in a Grindhouse 2?
ER: Yeah, I'd do it as a forty-five minute movie; we'd make two forty to fifty-five minute movies. Real grindhouse style, with reels missing and sh*t. That's the fun. And if you're gonna play a high school student, you have to be over 25. That's the rule.
Cinematical: Why do you think Grindhouse failed at the box office?
ER: I think the length scared a lot of people off. Everyone who saw Grindhouse f**king loved it. I think the guys made an amazing film, and that 25 years from now everyone will be talking about the classic film Grindhouse and the words 'box office failure' won't even apply. I think length was a difficulty for a lot of people, and also conceptually there was part of the audience that didn't know what grindhouse was or is -- is it Death Proof, is it Planet Terror? And a lot of people I know felt like they had to have seen those old movies to get the joke, which is not the case. So I just think it was a tough sell all around -- plus, it was Easter weekend, and a lot of people couldn't take their families. A lot of my friends have kids now; ya know, who's gonna watch your kid for five hours? So all of those things factored into, 'Well, I guess we'll just see it on DVD.'
Cinematical: I don't know about anyone else, but I'd love to see a Grindhouse 2. I guess the hope would be that those same people who loved the first one would get behind the second one and tell everyone to go see it.
ER: Well the first Grindhouse cost $65 million, and if Edgar and I did one we'd want to do it for, like, $5 million. Like you know how Dogma 95 had rules, this would have to be Dog Sh*t 2005 -- we'd get seven days, no rehearsals, then lay down some really clear rules and make sure you stick to them. Try to challenge yourself like it's a real Roger Corman exploitation film.
Cinematical: Heck, I'd definitely see it. So tell me about Hostel II -- are you pumped up about it coming out this weekend, or what?
ER: Yeah man, I'm f**king psyched. I honestly think that no matter what other movie comes out this summer -- no matter what their budget is -- nothing will even come close to the kind of ending we have in Hostel: Part II. I think it's one of the most shocking endings people have ever seen in a mainstream horror film. I think this is the movie where people are going to come out of it going, 'I can't even believe someone just did that.'
Cinematical: Where did the original idea for the first Hostel come from?
ER: Well, it came from this website that Harry Knowles from AICN showed me. Where, for ten thousand dollars, you could walk into a room and shoot someone in the head. It was in Thailand. And it claimed that the person you were shooting had volunteered for this, and part of the money would go to their family. For a long time, we talked about whether or not it was real, or if it was some bullsh*t thing that someone made up. Then I thought that neither of us wanted to find out if it was real, but then I figured that if someone conceptualized it then maybe it is real. Then I looked over the course of human history, and this is stuff that people have actually done. This is human nature; people have a need to torture and control other people. So all that stuff inspired me to write the film -- I wanted to bring a film with a kind of Asian violence, a battle royale audition to American cinemas. And people were ready for it, clearly, by the way they responded.
Cinematical: What's different about the sequel versus the original?
ER: Well it picks up literally the next cut from where the last one left off. A lot of horror sequels are kind of sub-par, like Friday the 13th 2 or Halloween 2. They're never as good as the original. But then there are films like Saw 2 and Devils Rejects that did a great job of sort of expanding the mythology and improving on the original. The goal was to make a film like Road Warrior or Aliens. For me, I thought Road Warrior was the best sequel. It took the best parts of the first one and improved on them. Fortunately, I got to watch the first Hostel with audiences from around the world -- and out of the whole film, the scene people seemed to enjoy the most was the one with Rick Hoffman in the locker room. The look of excitement from the client; seeing a glimpse into his psychology -- more people in every country from around the world said, 'I want to see a movie about that guy. That guy terrifies me.' And I said, you know what -- I do too. So I thought I'd made something that further explored things from that point of view. We're going to expand on the mythology, we're going to learn everything about this organization. With the last one there was this very deliberate tonal shift, but with this one we start off in this very dark and scary place. And it's only going to get darker.
Cinematical: You're one of the only directors I know of who actually gets off on people walking out of your movies. Why is that?
ER: Well, when someone throws up while watching one of your movies, it's like a standing ovation. I want to make movies that aren't safe; that aren't for everyone. If someone gets up and walks out of the movie, it means it's really affected them. I want my films to be like a rollercoaster ride -- I want them to be the scariest rollercoaster in the park. Ya know, the best thing you can say about a horror film is don't see it.
Cinematical: Have you ever had anyone look at you sideways when you come up with a really sick way of torturing these girls? Is your family cool with this?
ER: My family gets that it's just a movie, and they see the intelligence behind it. I think when you have scenes with girls, you just have to be very careful about the way you shoot it. I know the very concept is upsetting to some people, and I don't want people to think they're going to see this movie and get punched in the stomach for 90 minutes. It's not that. It's a fun night at the movies; it's a rollercoaster ride. I think having girls in it raises the stakes, but I didn't want to make a film that was just sadistic and mean -- to a point where you're sitting there asking yourself 'Why am I watching this.' I want people to be invested in the story and to care about the characters. I want them screaming, cheering, yelling -- all those heightened emotions. That's the goal. When the studio first read the script, they said 'There's no way you can film this.' But that's exactly the response I got with Thanksgiving, that's the response I got with Cabin Fever and that's the response I got with Hostel. I knew in my heart of hearts -- just like everything I've done so far in my career -- that it would work. But when the suits read it, they get terrified. They go, 'How can you do this. You can't do this.' And I say, 'Watch, people are going to go crazy. They're going to love it.'
Cinematical: I know the Hostel: Part II posters were pretty different, especially the international one that had a girl holding a decapitated head. Was there any jealously on your part when Captivity got all this publicity for their posters?
ER: Well ... I mean, everyone hates those guys. And word of mouth is that Captivity sucked. Why would I be jealous of that; I don't give a sh*t. I was pissed actually, because it makes it very difficult for the rest of us. They did not go before the MPAA with those posters. It really puts everyone on edge when that happens. And suddenly, who's the next one up? Oh, thanks, it's me. I'm not doing this for attention, I'm doing this to make good movies. And that decapitated head poster was a European poster; that was in 80% of the countries in Europe. It was not a poster that was intended for American audiences.
Cinematical: I know you're a huge supporter of the MPAA, and it's interesting because these Hostel films are pretty controversial.
ER: They're doing a great job. Ya know, in other countries, they just take stuff out; there's a government censor board. In Germany, we're having a great deal of problems with the censors over Hostel: Part II. And the stuff they're asking me to take out isn't even the most graphic stuff in the movie; it's the idea that freaks people out. And we're having a big fight over it. Whereas the MPAA, any scene that became a problem, we had a discussion about it. I just called them, talked to them on the phone and we had a very reasonable conversation about it. In Japan, they wouldn't even put Hostel in theaters because of the blow torch scene; how we disfigured a Japanese girl's face. That's a cultural no no over there.They wouldn't allow it. My perspective on this is very different from everyone else. I'm the one that has to deal with countries saying sorry, your film's not going to play in theaters. Period. End of discussion. But the MPAA, they get it -- they say, 'It's Hostel, it's Hostel: Part II. We know what your fans want, but there's gotta be a common ground. We have a job to do; we have to be the voices of the parents of America.' But we come to a compromise; it's reasonable, and we have a discussion about it. And there's no other country where you have a voice.
Cinematical: So should more filmmakers work with them instead of against them?
ER: I think filmmakers, in general ... there are some awesome, really great filmmakers -- but on the whole, filmmakers, actors, I think they are the biggest bunch of whiny, over-paid babies on the planet. I just wish they would f**king shut up and realize how lucky they are. If you don't want your voice stifled, be a playwright, go write a book, go paint things. If you want to make movies, there's a lot of money at risk and a lot of people's jobs depend on it. It's compromise; that is the name of the game. I think these filmmakers who are whining ... I saw that documentary on the MPAA [This Film is Not Yet Rated], and I thought 'You guys are f**king nuts.' Some of them, yeah -- I love John Waters. I agree with John Waters. But a lot of these directors ... I just don't know what f**king planet they're on.
Cinematical: I know you're moving on to Cell, the Stephen King adaptation. Last time we checked in, the writers were still working on a draft. Where is that now?
ER: Same thing. I just like to do one movie at a time. I know some directors multi-task, but I can't do that. I tried with Grindhouse and Hostel II and it was exhausting. So I'm going to get through the press on Hostel II and then dive into the script for Cell.
Cinematical: Anyone in mind for the lead roles; I know Jordan Ladd is a favorite of yours?
ER: Nope. Nobody. No cast until there's a script. The only thing that matters right now is the script. Once I finish Hostel: Part II, I'll take short break and then dive into Cell.
Cinematical: With remakes all the rage these days, would you ever be interested in remaking a Stephen King film?
ER: Nope. I did Cell because I've always wanted to do a Stephen King adaptation. Everything else from this point forward, I want to write, direct and create my own ideas.
Cinematical: I know a lot of your early work was in animation. Have you ever considered making a balls-to-the-wall animated horror flick?
ER: Yeah, I have actually. But I think animation lends itself more to comedy. You can make it scary and creepy, but I like animation because it's more fantastic. Like on the level of Yellow Submarine and Fantastic Planet, and I love the stop motion Wallace and Gromit. So if I did something in animation it would be more fantastic over comedy -- that's my style.
Cinematical: So in your opinion, is Hostel: Part II the perfect date movie?
ER: There's no question it's the perfect date movie. If you're a guy who takes a girl to see Ocean's Thirteen, the girl is going to look at you and go, 'You're not George Clooney. You're not Brad Pitt. You're not Matt Damon.' If you take her to see Hostel: Part II, they're gonna go 'Oh my God, I was so scared and you were there for me. That was so much fun and you're so brave. I'm really freaked out now, and I don't wanna sleep alone.' So then you can reply, 'Great, come back to my place -- we can watch Dirty Dancing.' Just make sure you have Dirty Dancing in the DVD player, and you're all set.
Note: Eli and I also talked about Hostel: Part III; you can check out that part of the conversation here.