Capone and Eli Roth discuss horror movies, gore, Stephen King, the phrase "Torture Porn" and much more!!!
Published at: June 3, 2007, 12:03 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Capone is right in the below. I am also sitting down with Mr. Roth... tomorrow, actually. I had no idea Capone had already lined up an interview and to my chagrin he did a great job with it. Now I'm going to have figure out something smart and interesting that Capone didn't already bring up for tomorrow morning's interview. Damn it, Capone! Why couldn't you have dropped the ball on this one so I could just coast tomorrow?
Seriously, the interview below is really great. I don't think it'll change the minds of those strongly opposed to Eli Roth's movies, but you can't argue he makes strong points for his side. Enjoy the chat and hopefully my chat will make Capone's look like a peanut!
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. If what I'm hearing holds true, sometime in the next couple of days you will have the chance to read a second interview with HOSTEL: PART II writer-director Eli Roth. Quint is apparently going to hold his hostage for a time shortly after the Austin premiere of his latest and greatest at the soon-to-be-laid-to-rest downtown Alamo Drafthouse. I didn't actually find out about Quint's interview until after I spoke with Eli when he visited Chicago recently. We had a fantastic Q&A with a devoted and fun crowd Thursday night, followed by a sit-down one-on-one conversation Friday morning. But I'm guessing that two interviews with Eli Roth done within a week of each other will probably cover vastly different topics with little or no overlap. The man loves to talk and he's fun as hell to listen to. I think I looked at my notes once during the course of our talk, and that was only to look up an actor's name.
Although our paths have crossed at several BNATs over the years and we had a nice chat prior to his appearance in Chicago prior to an early screening of HOSTEL a year and a half ago, Eli and I have never actually done the formal interview thing. We were only given 20 minutes (I think it ended up being more like 25), and that's a tough place to be with him or anyone you have a million question for because you have to choose your questions and topics carefully, and inevitably there are burning issues that never get brought up. Still, I think what's here is good stuff, and I guarantee you Quint's interview will be excellent as well. Enjoy this rare opportunity to watch AICN double team Eli Roth
Capone: I see that you've got something happening this weekend at the Drafthouse. That has to be bittersweet for you in what will probably be your last time there.
Eli Roth: It is. I was really, really bummed that I wouldn't get to do a last Drafthouse blow out, but I'm really looking forward to it. And you just know Harry and Tim have something up their sleeves for the show.
C: There are some hints on the site.
ER: There are some hints. I have some idea of what they're going to do, but you know Harry. And I have some surprises of my own for the crowd. It should be fun. When was the first time we actually met? I guess it was at Butt Numb-a-Thon, but then I saw you when I was with Barbara [Nedeljakova, the beautiful villainous of HOSTEL] here. I remember seeing you when I was walking into that screening.
C: You just happened to spot me as I was running out of the theater before the screening, and we did talk for a while. But the BNAT before that, you and I ended up in Quint's car together going to dinner or the evening-before party.
ER: Holy shit. That's right. You never know who somebody is at those things. Somebody probably told me your name was Steve, but then they'll say, "That's Capone" and I'll go, "Oh, Capone! Nice to meet you, man." And I gotta tell you that Boaz [Yakin, executive producer on both HOSTEL film, who also directed the terrible Brittany Murphy vehicle UPTOWN GIRLS] was really, really upset about UPTOWN GIRLS also. [laughs] And let me tell you, he was just as upset as you were on that one, and they really put him through the ringer on that one. You were correct in your review. [If you really want to see what Eli's talking about, read my scathing review here]
C: You must be exhausted already from this press tour, and it's just started.
ER: I am, but I'm excited. It's exhilarating, finally watching the movie with audiences. You dream, you have these scenes in your head and you're shooting them. But last night was only the second group of people to see it. And I'm really happy that the ending just kills. Because I knew that this ending would have to be the show stopper of the entire HOSTEL oeuvre of kills, this has to be the one that's gotta fucking bring the house down. And I have to compete with what's out now. HOSTEL came out against KING KONG and NARNIA, and it's amazing that it did what it did. But I realize that HOSTEL, PART II is competing with PIRATES and SPIDER-MAN and SHREK 3 and OCEAN'S THIRTEEN. These are monsters with huge movie stars. And I was like, if I have a great kill, great kill. If I can do that great kill that everyone's talking about, it will trump that weekend.
C: And I should applaud you for really exploring the homo-erotic themes that were only hinted at in the first film.
ER: Getting some lesbionics.
C: And a shocking amount of cock as well.
ER: There's a lot of sausage. If there was one complaint I heard consistently from girls, girls who loved it, they would say there was a little too much female nudity and it made them uncomfortable because they saw it with their boyfriend and he was looking at the girls. I said, I get that. We actually had naked guys for HOSTEL I, but they didn't show up. All the dudes canceled, and no one on the crew wanted to do it. We had Eythor's [Gudjonsson, who played Oli] ass, but that's about as much as we got. That's how I responded to people who said I was exploiting women. You think I'm exploiting women? Here you go. We got a nude model; there's a nude dude. But because it's in art class it's "art" and not exploitation. I literally have it in there just to fuck with critics. Because I have the girls sketching him, so technically they're not exploiting him. But if the girls didn't have their sketch pads and there's naked guy standing there, then I'd be exploiting men. It's hilarious to me that a girl with a sketch pad is what makes the difference. That's why I did that.
C: I was given a handful of tickets to give out to the screening last night, and I deliberately showed favor to couples who e-mailed me for them because I like the idea of women seeing this film to. And I had no idea that male nudity would factor so heavily into the movie.
ER: That's great. We want women to see it. Thank you very much for doing that. Because the early word on the screenings...I mean if people only see the posters and if they've seen the first one, they think, "Oh god, is this going to be Eli's sick fantasy with girls getting brutalized?" People now clearly see that it's not. That woman last night who said that her kids took her there, I love this movie. You see the girls going nuts. I do think it is a feminist horror film. We have three lead female characters [Eli's switches on his best Ladies Man voice] for the ladies. I wanted to write great roles and explore these themes further, but we don't need the sexuality that we had in the first one. That was part of it. The guys making fun of the hookers, and the they effectively become the hookers they were making fun of where someone walks into a room and does whatever they want to with them for their own pleasure.
C: That falls in with the social commentary elements of your films and all great horror films.
ER: I don't shy away from social commentary at all. It's very strong. It's one of the things, I think, people look for in my films. I have very strong opinions about things, and I think horror movies are a great way express that. What I was saying last night was that I don't want people to feel stupid if they're not getting that. I think first and foremost, the movie's job is to entertain. And I think when people watch a movie for the first time, they're in the story and they're scared and there's gore and it's all surprises. It's really when you watch it the second time on DVD that they start to see, "Okay, I can see the parallels between what these guys are doing in Amsterdam and what happens later to them in Slovakia. The first one is really about exploitation and the way people exploit each other for their own pleasure, and do unto others as you want done to you. What they do to hookers is what they have done to them, and nothing is ever enough for anybody in the movie. Everybody wants a little bit more. And they could leave at any time, but they don't because they want more.
Ultimately that's these businessmen [in HOSTEL: PART II, played perfectly by Roger Bart and Richard Burgi]. I always felt like Josh and Paxton and Oli[the characters in HOSTEL], if they'd kept doing this for 25 years, would wind up as the businessmen. And so when I was writing the roles of the businessmen, I basically saw those guys 25 years later would be at that point. Hookers in Amsterdam are boring. They'd done that already and they're looking for that next level, and they're very frustrated in their own lives. Roger's been effectively…his fucking wife has effectively cut his balls off. His wife and kids just ignore him, they leave without saying goodbye, and he's left with the dishes. You get a little glimpse of Stuart's home life, and you see how emasculated the guy is and how frustrated he is. And I know a lot of people like that who can't stand up to someone in their own life, and they take it out on someone weaker and more helpless. That's what these guys are doing. But I don't want the film to feel like…like I felt CRASH shoved a message down my throat and didn't even give me the credit for being smart enough to get it on my own. I like movies where you can watch them again years later, like MOTHER'S DAY , those two guys were named Ike and Addley, which I never put together until I was older, Eisenhower and Adley Stevenson. And when you listen to the commentary, you notice there's a television on in every single shot in the movie in the house, and these guys are just the overflow of the pop culture sewer. Whether it came across or not, they really thought it out. There's actual thought that went into MOTHER'S DAY, and for years I thought it was just a splatter film. Then you realize that there is something more there, and there's a reason I liked it.
C: Does the vibe of the violence change when you have your primary victims be men rather than women?
ER: You have be careful how you treat the violence. I don't want the movie to be an unpleasant experience. I don't want people to feel like they got punched in the stomach for two hours. I don't think that's enjoyable. I want it to be a rollercoaster ride that is better and scarier than the first one, like ALIENS or ROAD WARRIOR. That was the kind of sequel I wanted to make. I want people to go, "That was so much better than the first one." But I think having girls inherently ratchets up the tension. You're just more nervous thinking, "Oh God." Also, they made security improvements at the factory. You're not getting in or out of there unless they want you to. You can't just run away; you can't just escape. We make that very clear. If someone's going to escape, they're going to have to find a pretty clever way to do it.
It was very difficult and challenging to write scenes that would be scary but also scenes that would be watchable and effective. Brutally killing someone, that was the shock of the first one. We really get to know Derek Richardson [who played Josh]; we're sure he's the main character. And then he's killed out of nowhere, so horribly. And the tone completely turns. And you're left with Jay Hernandez [Paxton], who you don't really know and you don't really like him at that point because he's kind of been a jerk and in the background. He's not a bad guy, but he's not your favorite guy, and he slowly emerges as the hero. We don't need to do that tonal shift now. Now we can start off in that dark place. Now that we know where they're heading, we can watch it objectively. It was that scene in the car [in HOSTEL]--it wound up being one of my favorite scenes in the film--where he's riding to the factory with Natalya, and she's like, "Do you want gum?" And he says, "No." "Too bad for you." The double meaning in that line, because when we know where he's headed, it's really tense and scary. And I said, okay, that's how I'm going to approach the writing of the second one. We know where everyone is headed, let's use that to the film's advantage. And I saw how people responded to the gore, like the eyegasm and the girls getting run over, and I saw also how people responded to the scene in the locker room with Rick Hoffman. And that was just a dialog scene, no scary music, no scary lighting, no violence.
C: That's possibly my favorite scene in the film.
ER: I think it's my favorite scene. That and the car scene and the pub scene are the scenes that I watch over and over that I'm most proud of, that I feel really really worked. And I said, I'm going to make the whole movie like these scenes, and have that dark, sick, you might be laughing but you're uncomfortable, creepy, ominous tone and a real sense of dread. And that's what I think these early-'70s Italian Giallo films did that I really hadn't discovered until I went to Italy last year with HOSTEL and tracked down the DVDs and watch Sergio Martino's TORSO, Fernando De Lio's TO BE TWENTY (AVERE VENT'ANNI), and Aldo Lato's NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS. It's a LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT ripoff set on a train and it's great. In all three of these movies, you've got these groups of college-age girls in Italy going on trip somewhere and horrible things happen. And you just dread every move they make, but the girls are smart, so you can't blame them for the decisions they're making. But they are great characters and great performances, but you'll watch it going "Don't do it, don't do it" because you know what's coming.
C: Let me throw this phrase at you. It's one that is getting used with increasing frequency on our site, and I want to know what it means to you. Do you embrace it, do you reject it, do you ignore it? Torture porn.
ER: Yeah. I understand it. I've heard myself referred to as a gore-teur or gore-nography. I think that I understand what David Edelstein [of New York Magazine, credited with coining the term] said when he said audiences were getting off on the violence. What that does though is it immediately discredits the film. You know, when you watch pornography, you watch it, you get off, and that's it. I think it's more reflective of the critic than the film. It shows a lack of understanding and ability to understand and appreciate a horror film as something more than just a horror film. The gore blinds them to any intelligence that goes into making the film. And I think that the term "torture porn" genuinely says more about the critic's limited understanding of what horror movies can do than about the film itself.
C: In a short space of time, the phase has almost become a positive expression. I hear a film described that way, and my interest is piqued.
ER: Yeah, and I think as long as people see it as a sub-genre of horror and not a sub-genre of pornography. When the term first came out it was basically saying it was a sub-genre of pornography. I really think it's the violence in these movies that blinds people to the intelligence behind it. I think Pasolini's SALO was so shocking to people that they could see beyond, you know, oh my God, there's people eating shit, there's people eating glass. And it's like, yeah, and look what people were really doing during World War II. It's pretty much the same. It's like any of these movies, like DAWN OF THE DEAD. The violence blinded people, and 30 years later they see it as an allegory for America cannibalizing itself and becoming one big shopping mall and people becoming these mindless consumers.
I think it's an easy way to categorize and classify things. That's what you can't do even if you look at CABIN FEVER or HOSTEL. People will say, It was totally inconsistent. Yeah, that's the tone I like. I like mixing it up and taking pieces of different things. That's what drove people crazy about DONNIE DARKO. They didn't know what shelf to put it on in the video store. Is it science fiction? Is it drama? Is it horror? Is it mystery? What is that film? It's a beautiful film. I'm definitely doing stuff that's classified in the horror realm, but I want it to be smarter and better. William Friedkin, he told me that when they made THE EXORCIST, he said, "We made a drama." That's how I approached it. I shot it to say this is what's really happening. Obviously I was going for scares and gore, but it's amazing that when you have that level of violence in your film, people automatically discredit you.
C: I saw that clip on your MySpace page of you on Fox News guy kind of going at it.
ER: With Neil Cavuto. He's had me on again since and we actually had a really great talk. After 300, he had me on. I don't know if anyone can YouTube that, but the Monday after 300 opened, I was talking about violence and its therapeutic affect. I was saying that there are soldiers in Iraq that write me and tell me that HOSTEL is one of the most popular movies in the military. They love it. I wrote back and asked, "Why on earth would you watch HOSTEL after what you see in a day?" And he wrote back and said that he was out during the day with his friends and they saw somebody's face get blown off, and then they watched the movie that night with about 400 people and they were all screaming. But when they're on the battlefield, you have be a machine. You can't react emotionally. You have to tactically respond to a situation. And these guys are going out every day seeing this horrible stuff, and they're not allowed to be scared. But it all gets stored up, and it's got to come out. And when they watch HOSTEL, it's basically saying, for the next 90 minutes, not only are you allowed to be scared, you're encouraged to be scared because it's okay to be terrified. It doesn't mean you're a coward; it means you're scared of the movie, and that's okay. It's socially acceptable, and they let those feelings out. And I think to a much lesser degree, I think that's the purpose they serve in society right now. And if you think about, since September 11, a lot of these teenagers were 10 or 11 years old at the time. Now they're 15, 16, 17. They've grown up in those formative adolescent years with the war in Iraq, images coming home from Iraq, people they know coming back from Iraq, and the fact that they're next if there's draft. I remember when the Gulf War broke out when I was 19, all my friends were thinking, Oh my God, is there going to be a draft? And that's what's going on right now. These people are terrified, and they need to let it out and they need these images to scare them. And I think that's what any art form does, whether it's a piece of music or a book or a painting. It stirs up feeling, it helps you let those feelings out.
C: One of the points you brought up in that interview was how horror films also reflect people's frustration with the current administration in troubled times. I don't think he liked that.
ER: But now I can see, I mean, that was a year ago, April 2006, when the DVD came out. But you can see now, everything I talked about, it's still going on. It's actually gotten worse.
C: Let's talk a little about casting. When you cast Heather Matarazzo or Bijou Phillips in a film, they bring something familiar with them. Heather will probably be dealing with playing Dawn Wiener in WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE and Bijou often plays a party girl in things like BULLY, HAVOC, and BLACK AND WHITE. But I don't think a lot of people know Lauren German. We don't know what to expect from her character, which is perfect because there is such a shift in her during the course of the film.
ER: You really get to know her as it goes on. Lauren German in one of the best kept secrets in Hollywood. Fans of the site will know her as the hitchhiker from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE [remake]. She gets her head blown off in the van. She's amazing in that five minutes. I say that and everybody knows who I'm talking about, she's that good in the part. So she's very intense actor. I know with Heather, everyone goes, okay Dawn Wiener, and with Bijou, they know these stories about her, they know her as kind of this wild child. But I think Heather and Bijou are such superb actors that they transcend any baggage you might have brought to the film. I think it's gone very quickly. And Lauren, nobody has any associations with her. A lot of her stuff has been independent, some of it hasn't been released yet, art house films. And I think she's clearly ready to break out. It's amazing to talk to her because her favorite movie is ANCHORMAN. She could do that broad comedy as well. I just wanted people who are the best actors, and they won it in the audition. That's where all of them won their roles. Same with Roger Bart and Richard Burgi, you make everyone read and you see who feels right. We had girls read together, and that group of girls, we liked the way they looked together, the way they naturally fit together. I believed everything they were saying, the dynamic of the three of them. The same way I liked the dynamic of the two guys.
C: I mentioned that weird coincidence that both men were former "Desperate Housewives" cast members.
ER: They'd met once in 20 years. They'd only met once at a photo shoot. And they were instantly best friends.
C: I'd known Roger's work for a few years. Before it went to Broadway, "The Producers" did a run in Chicago with the Broadway cast, so I knew him from that and from the STEPFORD WIVES remake, so I always thought the man was gay.
ER: Oh everyone thought he was gay, and it's great to torment Roger about that. An article in one of the gay magazines said, you know, "Movies this summer--Why is it gay?" And for our movie, it said Heather Matarazzo and Roger Bart. And a journalist asked me, "So you cast two gay actors..." And I called Roger right away and said, "Hey, guess what this guy just asked me?" But you know, Roger's a musical theatre guy, and he also plays those flaming guys like Carmen Ghia in "The Producers," and he's so funny that people just naturally assume that he's gay. In the same way when you see Nathan Lane in a campy role. But, no, Roger is not gay, so that makes it hilarious. He's amazing; he's so goddamn funny. It’s so funny he's Dr. Frankenstein [in the musical version of Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN]. And he loves attention; he loves being the center of attention.
C: Since we're running out of time, I want to talk to you about your Stephen King adaptation CELL. This is your first film that you will not have written. Are you concerned that you're going to be ultra-critical of the script that comes to you next week?
ER: Of course. But I'm also working with really great writers. Sure it's my first time doing it, but if I'm going to do this to see if I can do it…I mean, look, obviously Spielberg does it, millions of directors do it, this is a good way to do it with a Stephen King book. I'm also working with two of the greatest writers in Hollywood Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski [co-writers of ED WOOD, THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, MAN ON THE MOON, and the upcoming King adaptation 1408], and if there's something I want to change tonally, I'll direct them as I direct any department. If I let my DP come in with his own list of shots, I'd say, that's not how we're shooting the film. If I saw my production designer designing stuff without my direction, I'd go, "That's not how it's going to be." So I have to approach it the way I'd approach any department, and give very strong, clear direction. And obviously, I've been very busy with HOSTEL: PART II that I haven't had a chance to focus, so what I'll do is get the script. I'm sure they will write a great draft, but if it's not what I'm looking for, we'll get it to that and I'll work with them they way I work with a cast member or DP or editor.
C: Do you have Stephen King movies?
ER: I love CARRIE, and I love CREEPSHOW, I love THE SHINING, I love 'SALEM'S LOT. Those are all really terrific; there are so many great ones. I mean THE SHINING is it for me.
C: You may be introducing yourself to a new audience by adapting one of his books.
ER: I think they'll be a lot of crossover audience. They'll at least know that he had to have seen HOSTEL to approve it. But I told everyone, it's going to be an adaptation, not a re-creation. I'm not filming the book; I'm using the book as source material and writing a script based on that. That was the first thing I said, I don't want to piss of Stephen King. I hear he didn't like THE SHINING, and THE SHINING's my favorite. I said, As long as I can change stuff I'll be involved, and he said it's totally cool.
[As the publicist comes in to break up our cozy chat, Eli adds one more thing.] I just want to say that it's the readers, the fans that made HOSTEL really send a strong message to Hollywood when a little $4 million movie knocked out the $200 million lion off the number one spot, and we really went out there to make a better film. And I do think that this ending will be that scene. I don't care how much money people spend on movie stars or special effects, I don't think they're going to come close to the reaction that the end of HOSTEL: PART II is going to get. I think it's going to be that movie moment of the summer, and I think it will go down as one of the best horror movie kills.
C: I believe that when entertainment writers begin writing their summer movie wrap up pieces, you're going to see a whole lot of people trying to figure out clever ways to describe that scene.
ER: People are going to be genuinely shocked. I predict that there will be theaters that pull the print.
ER: I think that there is going to be some theater somewhere where people are so outraged at it, they're going to demand that they just don't show it anymore.
C: And I have no doubt that Lionsgate will promote the hell out that fact when that happens.