Wednesday, June 06, 2007

HOSTEL 2The Evening Class Roundtable Interview With Eli Roth (Pt. 2)

Part One of this transcript can be found here. The continuation of this transcript is neither for the spoiler-wary nor the profanity-wary.

/Film: A few of my friends went to Newton North and South.

Roth: I went to South.

/Film: At some point you were going to do a movie on Scavenger Hunt. Can you talk about that?

Roth: Scavenger Hunt was a project I was going to do after Cabin Fever but I got sidetracked with Hostel. It's definitely something I want to do. There was an article on the front page of the New York Times about the Newton school system. These kids from Newton are under such crazy pressure. Where I grew up it was like you have to go to Harvard. You have to be a doctor or lawyer or you're going to be homeless and you're going to be finished. I actually got the fuck out of there. When I decided I wanted to make movies, when I was sawed in half by a chainsaw at my bar mitzvah, people were like, "What the fuck is wrong with this guy?" I was a fuckin' alien growing up there. I don't fit in with these fuckin' people at all who are basically just turning into their parents. The goal is to go to college, go to law school, work in a law firm so you can live in Newton. It's like, "Great! Congratulations! Endgame. You've achieved it. You've become your parents. Well-done."

The pressure there! I remember kids crying when they didn't get 1200-1400 on their SATs and feeling like their life was over. So they started this scavenger hunt—our class started it; the class of 1990—where you'd get a stop sign, get some straws, and we all got into it and we all put in $20. This got so bad over the year because the pressure was so much. These kids had never done anything wrong. I saw the list. It was like: fuck the judges, blow the judges, steal your mom's wedding dress, pop 10 Viagra, and these fuckin' kids did it! Fuck a sophomore, get two guys to hook up, fuck yourself with a dildo in front of the judge wrapped in saran wrap, and they did it! These kids had never done anything wrong and they were like fuckin' Jews Gone Wild. They fuckin' took ecstasy. They fucked themselves with dildos. They were like shitting in parking lots and they all got on videotape and the police got it and all these kids were going to get fuckin' punished and they lawyered their way out of it. Their fuckin' parents were the most powerful lawyers in the most powerful law firms and they were like, "That's not going on your record." They lawyered their way out of it. I talked to the principal in that high school and the kids were called into the principal's office and the kids sent their attorneys who were also their parents [who would say], "My client refuses to answer that question. Honey, don't say a word." You can't write this shit. The principal's like, "I'm sitting there trying to discipline the kid for being on videotapes smashing the school windows, ripping the letters off the high school, but their parents are saying, 'My client refuses to answer that question. Honey, don't say a word." I'm like, this is a movie. This is fuckin' Newton in a nutshell. It's insane. People think I'm crazy but these people are living it, man fulltime.

Groucho Reviews: I want to ask a philosophical question about horror. I understand, I think, the appeal of a scary movie and the horror movie, psychological horror and suspense, but I'm a little at wit's end to describe the appeal of gore, the Fangoria audience and the people who—like [at the premiere screening]—applaud at the gruesome visuals. How do you see the mindset?

Roth: I think that people love a good story and they love a great kill in a movie. We are in this weird post-9/11 world where—if you think about it—I'm 35 but there are kids who were 10, 11, 12 years old when that happened that are now 16, 17, 18. They're growing up with, "You're going to get blown up", terror alert orange, don't travel overseas, every time you fly X-ray your shoes or someone will blow up the plane; that is what they're infused with. Plus the images coming back from Iraq war with a never ending war that—guess who's next in the firing line?—that war is not over and those kids are 17. If I was 17, I'd be fuckin' terrified about like, "Oh, the draft might be coming up." These kids are seeing these images and they're really fuckin' scared. It's no accident. They're flocking to these movies and screaming at the top of their lungs. I get letters through MySpace from soldiers in Iraq that tell me that Hostel is one of the most popular movies in the military base. I wrote this guy, several guys, and I wrote, "Why the fuck would you watch Hostel after what you see in a day?" And they explain it to me: they go out in the field—and this guy told me about a day where they literally during a day went out and saw someone with their face blown off and then at night they watch Hostel and they're terrified. What they said was that—when you're on the battlefield—they're not allowed to be afraid. You can't emotionally respond. You have to tactically respond like a machine. They're seeing these horrible images and they are not allowed to show any fear. That is their job. I think that to a much lesser degree that's how we all are in society; we see these horrible images but—because of our place in society—we're not allowed to show fear. Well, these soldiers go back to the base, they still can't show any fear, but then when they put on Hostel, it says for the next 90 minutes not only are you allowed to be scared, you're encouraged. It is socially acceptable for you to be terrified for this period of time. And they fuckin' let it all out and they all get together and they scream and they tell me that the soldiers are screaming when they watch Hostel. They're terrified of it and they're terrified to watch it and they go back on the battlefield and see real violence. It's like any art form. When you hear a song, it's like, "That's how I'm feeling" and it helps you to unlock that emotion that's inside. To a much lesser degree, I think that's what horror films do; [they] help us deal with real life violence. It's the same function that pro-wrestling serves. Where people are watching the story and they're like going, "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!" When Owen Hart fell to his death in that settlement round, the whole fuckin' theater, 27,000 people, went dead silent. It was horrible. When the violence becomes real, we can't take it; but, it's the theatricality, it's the story of it [we can handle]. That's what any art form does—if it's photography, if it's a story you read, if it's a piece of music, or if it's a film—it helps you deal with these emotions. Honestly, kids [who] read fairy tales; Grimms' fairy tales are so violent—it's kids being burnt in ovens, being eaten by monsters—and children hear it and they think, okay, they're thinking that stuff but they feel like they're not crazy. They feel like they're not alone for being scared of it. It makes you feel like you're normal. I think in the movies there are people [who] are terrified of stuff, they're like, "Oh yeah, I'm not the only who's fuckin' freakin' out about this shit."

Groucho Reviews: But for the guy (or the gal) who's not really scared but are giggling and enjoying a gore moment, is that because they're enjoying the craft of it, do you think?

Roth: When people are laughing at funerals, they're not laughing at death; they're laughing because they're uncomfortable. That's when I see it. When people laugh at the gore moments, they know that it's fake and they're nervous and they're uncomfortable and that's how it comes out. And that's okay. I don't think it means any joy in real life. I don't think it means they're sick and sometimes they're enjoying the magic trick and sometimes they're enjoying the reality; but, I think people are caught up in it emotionally and I feel it's like laughing at a funeral.

Popcorn Reel: You have a tremendous legion of horror fans after the first Hostel and other films that you've done, but is there a greater challenge to broaden that audience? From the person that will drive down a highway and stop and look at that gory accident….

Roth: I think that's everyone.

Popcorn Reel: Right. Do you find that there's a greater challenge to build an audience because everybody seems to have that morbid curiosity?

Roth: Oh yeah, yeah. I think that with Hostel I expanded my audience greatly. Hostel did opening weekend almost what Cabin Fever did in its entire run. It was a wonderful feeling to feel like there were a lot more people out there. Then on DVD, Narnia had been out for one week prior and then—[when] Hostel came out—it was outselling at WalMart. I didn't think we'd be allowed to sell Hostel at WalMart. Huge fuckin' displays: "Unrated DVD at WalMart"! Clearly, people don't say no to money. If it makes money, they'll sell it. I'd been told otherwise. I always want to [do] two things. [I] always want to improve myself as a filmmaker. I always want to learn from my mistakes and make a better film. I want to also try things out so I'm not relying on safety nets. I want to experiment with new techniques of storytelling, with new [tonalities], new violence, I want to push myself as a filmmaker to not be afraid and challenge myself and try and do things that are different. I think [Hostel 2] is the first horror movie to be scored by Slovak folk music. I realized that we had that Czechoslovakian Communist pop music and now we have this Slovak folk music. It was great to watch audiences loving it and accepting it and being totally into it. Also, most importantly, I want to appeal to my core audience. I don't want to make a movie that's going to try and widen out. That's where you get into trouble. If you try to make something for everybody—unless you're doing a G-rated or PG-rated movie—the nature of Hostel, Part 2 is that it's for a certain audience and you have to stay true to that audience. If you really do and they respond and they make noise about it and other people will go, "What's everybody talking about?" With Part 1, it was like, "Well now we gotta see it because the horror fans are going crazy for it. What is this movie?" In the way the Saw films got everyone going. "Okay, well everyone's talking about Saw; I gotta see it." That's what you gotta do. You gotta stay true to your core audience. You want to make a film that you hope appeals to everybody but most important it's got to appeal to the audience that you're making it for.

The Evening Class: "New violence" is an intriguing term. I like that you're thinking in terms of visualizing a new violence for your audience. For me you really won me with the Grindhouse: Thanksgiving faux-trailer. It was so outrageous that it demanded respect and I actually came to Hostel 2 with that respect.

Roth: Thank you. I hope you still have it after seeing the film?

The Evening Class: Oh yes.

Roth: I watched Thanksgiving and it was like, "You know what? That little thing we did for $150,000 in two days with no stars or any one take and it was from my heart. It was pure love that made that movie." It was such a dream of mine to make that trailer and it was like The Producers; I went out of my way to make the worst thing possible, the worst acting, the worst dialogue, the worst photography and it wound up being the best reviews of my career. Everyone loved it.

I think that what people respond to in my films is the honesty. They can sense that it's being made by someone who genuinely loves this stuff and is just so fuckin' happy and lucky someone gave me a camera and I'm going to make the most of it. That kind of enthusiasm is the way everybody feels—anyone in this room—"Oh my god, if we got a camera, if we got a chance to direct, we'd just fuckin' go for it!" It lives or dies but you know at the end of the day you just went for it and that's really what I try to do in every scene in the movie. Really try to look at the script, look at the dialog, look at the photography, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but you just gotta give it your all every time. I think that's what people genuinely respond to. So thank you. And it's tough to come up with new ways. The ratings board actually said to me, "Eli, we don't know what to compare this to because we've never seen this in a movie before." I said, "That's what people like about me, is that I do original stuff." People actually enjoy my films because they come out of it going, "Wow, that was different. I've never seen that before. There's a lot of penis in this movie." I said, "Well, yeah, if there's one complaint I got from girls is that there was too much female nudity in [Hostel]." I tried to get males and they cancelled on me for the first one. I was like, "You want to talk about me objectifying women? Okay. Here's women objectifying men. It's in an art class so it's okay to objectify men. There's a nude dude. There you go. Enjoy. He's standing there for women to look at. We're all objectifying him but it's artistic because we're drawing him, right? Ha ha. We're artists, right? So that makes it okay." I was like, "Well, there's scissors and it's there and I said—guys, I'm running out of body parts, what can I tell you?" But they were cool with it.

Groucho Reviews: Is The Box a project that's indefinitely on hold?

Roth: I'm never going to do that. Richard's going to do that. That was a project that I was going to do with Richard Kelly from Donnie Darko, but Rich really wants to do it and it's one of those things where I got so caught up with Hostel and Richard had a great idea for it. I was originally going to direct it but I'm really happy that Richard's going to do it because he's going to do an amazing film out of it.

/Film: Real quick: Is Scavenger Hunt ever going to happen?

Roth: Yeah, it is; but, I can't do everything at once. I realize that there are some filmmakers who can multi-task and I'm not one of those guys. I tried that after Cabin Fever. It doesn't work. I really can do one thing at a time. The toughest thing I did was two things at a time, which was the Grindhouse trailer. I had to schedule that and then act in Quentin's movie, which was a whole thing, and then do the lead prep on Hostel 2, shoot Hostel 2, schedule two extra days to shoot the Grindhouse trailer, I was nuts even for that little tiny two-minute thing to do that on top of the movie. I work 24 hours. When I'm working on a film, I don't want to leave the editing room. I'm there with my editor and he's old, he's in his 60s now. This guy cut Kentucky Fried Movie and Animal House and American Werewolf In London; he's a great editor, George Folsey, but he can only work until 7:30, 8:00, and I'll music edit until midnight or 1:30 and be back in the morning. I love it. And on the weekends I'm there. That's all I do. I'm the guy who's typing up the credits and obsessing over the color. Literally from every word on the page, when we're doing the sound mix, I listen to every sound effect. I'm that nitpickey over every detail with the production design and the color and the lightbulb, this and that, and the sound mixing and the pre-dubbing and color timing. I love every step of the way. I love talking to you guys, and talking to horror fans, and traveling around. I can't do more than one movie at a time. There's just an order and I'll get to it.

/Film: So what's the order of things coming next?

Roth: The order of what's next is sleep. After that, it's anyone's guess. Trailer Trash I'm too excited about. Trailer Trash and Cell. Trailer Trash is great because you can do it in commercial shoots. I can do two or three of the fake trailers, shoot Cell, and then do the other 20 later on.

Cross-published at Twitch.


Michael Guillen said...

As a caveat, I just wanted to mention that the "nude" photo of Eli is yet another publicity stunt to promote Hostel 2 and, in that spirit, I hope it can be appreciated for the very funny sight gag that it is, so to speak. My thanks to Peter Sciretta of /Film who revealed the pic at his site on Monday. Lionsgate marketing exec and part-time photographer Tim Palen shot the photo as part of an upcoming book titled Guts: The Art of Marketing Horror Films.

My congrats to Peter as well for being picked up by the Hostel website for a publicity byte!

David McDougall said...

NB: the Newton link is the wrong Newton.

Michael Guillen said...

Ah, how right you are, mon ami. Thanks for the correction. Of course I knew that--judging from Eli's nickname for his hometown compatriots as "Massholes"--but I was hurrying and got messy.

Anonymous said...

Great roundtable interview Maya! Roth seems like a nice guy who really loves horror films and enjoys making movies. I think he's smarter than a lot of critics give him credit for.

That "nude" picture is really funny by the way!

I'm looking forward to seeing Hostel 2 this weekend if time allows. I'll be in Vegas, but hopefully I'll be able to catch it playing somewhere while I'm there.

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

Just wanted to add that I finally saw Hostel 2 this weekend and really enjoyed it. As a matter of fact I think it's Roth's best film. I don't know why it seems to being doing so poorly at the box office or why so many critics have decided to slam the movie but it has some really terrific moments in it. I think Roth is smarter than a lot of critics give him credit for.

Without reading your great review of the film Maya, I may have waited for the DVD but I'm glad I went out of my way to see it in a theater.

Michael Guillen said...

Kimberly, how gracious of you to say. No higher compliment can be paid a film writer than that what they've written has inspired someone to see the film. Thank you.