Eli Roth interview (Director of Hostel & Cabin Fever)

Writer/Director Eli Roth, whose 2002 feature Cabin Fever grandly got under horror audiences' skins, triumphantly returns with the balls-to-the-wall feature Hostel. John Gray recently caught up with Mr. Roth and actress Barbara Nedeljakova at a Dallas promotional screening of the film hosted by Pit Of Horror. We heartily thank both for their time and participation in this interview.

POH: So what inspired you to write Hostel?
Eli Roth You know, after Cabin Fever I found myself in this great position where a lot of doors that had previously been closed opened. It's like you are on the outside, then all of the sudden, all the studios want to make movies with you. I started taking meetings and a lot of projects got sent to me to see if I wanted to direct them. They were just so bad, that you couldn't believe someone was actually going to go ahead and make the film....and then they would say, well that's where you come in and you can re-write it and add your own spin to it, but it's like....you can't polish a turd, it's still a piece of shit! So, I got involved with a few projects that all required me to write and one of those was The Bad Seed which already had another writer attached to it. suddenly I realized a year went by and you know, I was developing projects and writing, but I hadn't shot anything.

So when the film came out, a lot of the do it yourself directors like Peter Jackson, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino who did it own their own were all so supportive and kept saying, just do another one. And I thought....do I really want to follow a low budget horror film with another low budget horror film? Then I saw Saw and thought, why the fuck not? What, seven hundred or nine hundred grand in eighteen days? It was a fucking fun movie, and here I am waiting for these studio movies, so I just said fuck it, I'm tired of this....I'm tired of waiting. I wasn't sure what to do so I asked Guillermo Del Toro, and he said whatever gives you the biggest boner man, 'cause you can't work without a boner man, you gotta fuckin' wake up with a rager.... you have got to have such a boner! And that's when I said, he's right! It's as simple as that. Then I asked Quentin Tarantino. I said I'm not sure what to do next. I mean, I could do this thirty five million dollar film or this ten million dollar film and he was like, what are the ideas....what are you thinking about? I pitched the idea and he said that is the scariest fucking idea I have ever heard! That is so fucking disturbing that someone would want to go into a room and kill somebody for the thrill of it! Like it was a sexual act... you've gotta write that, this could be your Takashi Miike film!

So, I had seen all these films on the festival circuit like Audition, Ichi The Killer, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and I said, this is the kind of movie I want to make, I want to make a movie like the Dutch Vanishing. Something that is sick, and disturbing, and fucked up....something with subtext to it. I wanted it also to be a fun ride... and that's the main thing about Cabin Fever that divides the fans on it as that it's funny and scary. It goes back and forth, and that's what the movie was. And I mean, I love that....but that was appropriate for that movie, not every movie should be like that. I wanted a movie that would be darker in tone, but still have some of the humor that Cabin Fever had ...but then move into a much darker territory.

POH: The poster says inspired by true events. How inspired?
Harry (AICN.com) Knowles sent me a link to this website....even before I finished Cabin Fever, like three years ago. I had just finished shooting and had no money, and I was trying to raise more money and we were talking about the sickest thing you could find on the internet. And he showed me this site where you could go to Thailand, pay ten thousand dollars to go into a room and shoot someone in the head. It said all these people were volunteers because part of the money would go to the family because they were so poor or had a terminal illness. And I thought, God, is this fake or is it real? And I thought it doesn't even matter because someone still thought of this and took the time to make site, you could go and pay money to kill somebody. So I talked to Mike Fleiss who produced the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, and we really liked each other's movies....so we decided to partner up. And we came up with this idea about backpackers and the name Hostel. But we had no story. So I thought and thought about it and all of the sudden it just hit me....this is going to be about that thing in Thailand. I burned the script about in about two weeks, but it was really something that had been brewing for years.

POH: How the hell did you get past the ratings board? This is probably the most violent film I have ever seen with an 'R' rating.
Yeah, that was a big concern of mine. It was actually in my contract that I had to deliver and 'R' rating. See, the ratings board has changed, especially in the last year....they kinda get it with horror movies. They understand that if it's a horror film and there is blood, there are certain expectations that have to be met by the fans. Plus the other thing is that, with a war going on....they are like, it's just a movie. We're at war and people are dying everyday. How can you possibly say possibly say that my movie is going to damage society? There's actually a real war happening and everyday, on the news. Americans are getting killed, bodies are being burned, and no one knows when it's going to end....like it's hard to say, you put my film up against that and it's like theater, magic tricks. It's incredible, but the sex is what they are really tense about. I guess if there was like a giant orgy going on they would freak, but with a war going on, I guess they are a little less concerned with violence.

POH: There is a ton of nudity and sex in the film... and a lot of violence.
Yeah, but we didn't do both together. There's a split. There's sex, and that's what they use to lure the guys in. It's all exploitation and the things people do to each other.

This movie is sick!

POH: That is kind of where the guys in the film get into trouble.
I know so many guys who go to Las Vegas and Amsterdam just for the hookers, and to me that's insane, and they basically look at the girls like a ride. Like they have gone to Disney Land. Like you pay your money, you get on and get off and that basically becomes another story to tell your friends. And what happens when you do that to someone and the tables get turned? There is actually a human behind there and it's funny how the guys end up almost like the hookers and objectified.

POH: So there is a moral to the story in Hostel after all?
I don't want to like cram morality down anyone's throat, but that's what definitely influenced the story. You just see these guys and the way they talk about hookers and girls. I've also noticed a trend in pornography lately, where there are all these humiliation sites... all about tricking out girls. It started with like Bang Bus and 8th Street Latinas and its like, "Hey, do you want citizenship? Get the fuck outta here bitch!" And you like know it's fake, but there is still someone at home jerking off to this shit and getting off on humiliating girls. Sex is not enough anymore, and there are like fifteen exploitation websites that have all just popped up, and I think that guys think that about Eastern Europe and that the girls are gonna fuck them just because they are American.

POH: And in the movie, they are the ones who end up getting fucked.

POH: Did you have to make any cuts at all? Will we see an unrated DVD?
They asked me to trim some shots, but I just took frames out. If you look at the two side by side you couldn't tell. You could tell if you looked at it on avid, but like watching them there is no difference. I think I took a total of twelve frames out of the movie.

POH: Well, like when Paxton (Jay Hernandez) is getting dragged down the corridor and he sees what is happening in all the rooms, there is some fucked up shit going on and they were all quick cuts....leading me to believe there may have been more.
Yeah, that's how I wanted it. You know it was something fucked up going on, but you would have to still frame it on DVD to really see what was going on. I didn't want those images any longer....that's exactly how I intended it to be.

POH: Well, I am amazed they let the eye ball scene past. My God, that was the total money shot!
Yep, that was the money shot, and the shot I was most scared they would want to cut out. That's what I left it full on, right in camera because I was certain they are going to tell me to cut it. I went back and switched out the music, and like put in rap and hip hop shit. I don't know if they knew what to make of it. Was it intense and scary? Or far out and goofy? I think they just thought it was like Kill Bill' with the blood squirting. So when you put the snipping sound and the scary music back in, it's awful!

POH: Yeah, it even made me cringe! The entire theater reacted to that scene!
Yeah, it was great! It's a total audience participation movie and I want the theater yelling and screaming!

POH: Did you have any problems with the ratings board with Cabin Fever? That was a very violent film.
No....they were great about it. I think what saved me was Rob Zombie went in before me both times. I guess they got satisfied after beating him up. I actually thanked Rob recently for taking the bullet for me now twice. But they have been great and seem to understand horror movies with violence.

POH: I think it also was really out there in some Lynchian (David Lynch), black lodge ("Twin Peaks") type universe that they couldn't really grasp. The cabin in the film is a total representation of that....to me.
Yeah, no question. Obviously David Lynch is one of my heroes and I worked with him for a long time. But there is also a lot of humor in Cabin Fever and with Quentin's name and my name on a movie, no parent is going to take their kid to this movie by mistake. Our audience has certain expectations and those have to be met. Blood....that's why they are going to see it.

POH: Like the old lady that walked out last night? I thought she had to be someone's mom or something. what the hell did she think she was going to see?
I know, that was crazy....I was amazed. It was hilarious.

POH: So how was the casting process? You cast in America and the Czech Republic right?
Yeah, it was great. We held American auditions for the Josh and Paxton role and also held auditions in Prague. The thing that is wonderful about shooting in Prague is that there is such an incredible wealth of talent. We are probably the only American movie that has gone in and used a local crew and a Czech DP. Every other movie that shoots there brings in their own crew and department heads. So the local actors will get roles like bus boy #3 or have some walk on role. Usally they will end up dubbing the voices so it doesn't sound like they are in the Czech republic. That was the best thing about writing and then shooting there, because you could cast these actors and have authentic accents rather than trying to pretend.

So, all the sudden you have these award winning actors like Jan Vlasek that plays the Dutch business man. We called him 'Hannibal Czechkter', and he was so great. He doesn't even speak English and he said don't worry, I learn. He's like the top Shakespearean actor in the country! Most of these actors could care less about being in big films in America, they just love acting. Certainly, my favorite find was Barbara....she came in and out four hundred actors, she blew us away. She has this innocent sweetness to her, but then can just go ice cold, and scary, and dark, and distant and you are like, is this real? Is she really angry or am I misunderstanding? It was exactly what I was looking for.

So Barbara, what did you think when you read the script?
(Barbara) It was exactly like he said, two different parts. She appeared as a sweet and nice friendly girl but is very cold blooded. Very interesting.

What inspired your performance?
(Barbara)It was just something inside.

(Eli to Barbara) How did you find that darkness for the role?
(Barbara) It's something that everybody has inside, that when people get through a difficult part of life that it's something we can find.

From left: Eli Roth, Barbara Nedeljakova and John Gray.

(Eli) So that was another wonderful thing to me that she is so much like a Monica Belluci or Angelina Jolie....that sort of dark, mysterious, European beauty about her, but that has this strange, cold quality. Even down to the police officer that Paxton goes to see. He had won a Goya (Spanish Oscar) award for best actor in a film opposite Penelope Cruz. These people just want to work, and they are great! It makes me just want to write another movie and shoot it there.

What is next from Eli Roth? Cabin Fever 2?
Cabin Fever 2 is something I'm not involved with. There are so many rights holders and I had this great idea for the sequel, and they just said we are going to do something better. I am working on The Box with Rich (Donnie Darko) Kelly, but he has been busy with Domino and I have been busy with Hostel. I think really what I want to do is just finish up the press tour, get the film out and then go ride my horse in Iceland.

Well, whatever you do, we are behind you.
Thanks again, John. The screening went great, and I appreciate everything you guys at the Pit Of Horror are doing. It's all about the opening weekend....look at Saw II. That proved all the studios wrong, so if Hostel does well, then there are ten other guys and girls waiting to get their horror film made. It's all about the opening weekend.


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