Watch any of the films that bear the name Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel, Inglorious Basterds and the recent Piranha), and you may question whether Mrs. Roth should have held little Eli a tad more as a baby.
In person however, the director/writer/producer/actor is a relaxed, incredibly amiable chap with an encyclopedic knowledge of movies, a kind word to say about his interviewer’s SPACED T-shirt and a worthy reason to avoid this here publication: “It’s hard to read NME y’know, too many exes of my girlfriend.” (He means Peaches Geldof, for those of you who don’t read Heat).
Here he discusses his current role producing new horror smash, The Last Exorcism.
NME: So tell us about the film
“It’s a pseudo-documentary that follows this reverend who’s been cheating people for money his whole life by doing these fake exorcisms. He wants to make this documentary and have a crew follow him and his profession so he can expose all the tricks he does. He comes across a very religious father and a daughter that may be possessed. It just gets stranger and stranger from there.”
NME: Did you know the Vatican recently opened an exorcism school?
“Yeah, which means one of two things. Either evil is actually on the rise or unnecessary exorcisms are on the rise. So it’s bad news either way.”
NME: What’s your personal belief?
“I grew up the son of a psychiatrist so I always approach everything from a psychiatry point of view. Then I saw The Exorcist. It traumatised me. I thought ‘What the fuck is this? How come you haven’t told me about this?’ My parents said, ‘we’re Jewish, we don’t believe in that.’ I thought, ‘well I fucking believe in it! It’s gonna possess me!’
NME: There’s a line in the movie where the Reverend Cotton Marcus says: “To believe in God, you have to believe in the Devil”, then he later talks of how he doesn’t believe in demons…
“That’s right. That’s what gets him into trouble. The whole film is about his faith being tested. Because he just thinks they’re crazy, because he doesn’t believe in God, how could he believe in the devil? They’re all tested to see if they believe throughout the movie, and they fail at every turn because they think they’re smarter than everyone else.”
NME: Patrick Fabien brings a sense of humour to Cotton. Comedic moments seem almost essential in horror films.
“Especially if it’s a character piece. We’ve got to like this guy. We knew the whole movie would rest on Cotton and [director] Daniel Stamm auditioned hundreds of people before Patrick came in. We really put him through the ringer, made him do a sermon. He was just brilliant. He makes the movie. He nails it.”
NME: What have you got on the horizon? You’re working with RZA from the Wu Tang Clan…
“Yeah, we have this thing called Man With The Iron Fist we wrote together that we’ll probably start shooting early winter. It’s really exciting. It’s a spaghetti Western. It’s a full Kung Fu movie. RZA really loves his Kung Fu, the way I love horror. He wants to switch up the choreographers as he makes the movie so that we don’t get what we call ‘Fight Fatigue’.”
NME: If you had to choose between directing, writing, acting or producing for the rest of your life, what would you go for?
“I would direct forever. Directing is the best, it’s the only job. But the truth is, I’m really not passionate about directing unless it’s something I’ve written. And writing is the most difficult part of the process for me. It’s like pulling teeth for me. Acting is my least favourite but I loved doing it for Quentin.”
NME: It’s nice to see someone who obviously loves his movies.
“You have to love it or else what’s the point? The thing with this is we took no money up front, that’s how we kept the budget under $2,000,000. I didn’t take a salary, I just did it and then opening weekend we did over $20,000,000 which is more than the last Tom Cruise film did opening weekend. It’s just ridiculous.”
NME: Why does horror thrive on a low budget?
“A scare is a scare is a scare. The scare is the star. Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch proved that. Once you start spending more money you get into focus groups and testing and what was fun about The Last Exorcism was we knew the ending would divide people. I like a movie that gives you questions and you want to watch again and rethink from a totally different point of view. Then you see the little clues you missed, you piece it together like a puzzle.”
NME: If you can’t talk about a film at the end, then you’ve failed.
“Exactly! What’s the point if it just answers everything and there’s nothing left to say? Like The Thing, I will debate forever whether or not MacReady is a thing. A low budget film allows you to do that, it allows you to make a movie that makes no apologies, it takes a position and says, “Here’s the movie, take it or leave it.”
NME: Finally, people may not know but you were in Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World…
“Yeah you can YouTube it.”
NME: Did you get to meet Spielberg?
“No David Koepp was there shooting second unit. I was totally bummed. Still haven’t met him. One day!”
And, eyes down, here’s the proof…