Eli Roth Diaries: How We Became ‘The Splat Pack’

Eli Roth has been documenting the making of “Hostel: Part II” with a series of diary entries for MTV. Yesterday Roth talked about hearing the final sound mix for the film for the first time. Today he discusses how he and his peers came to be known as “The Splat Pack.”

About a year ago, I read an article by the British film journalist Alan Jones, who referred to the current wave of new horror directors as “The Splat Pack.” This group was myself, James Wan (“Saw”), Neil Marshall (“The Descent”), Alex Aja (“The Hills Have Eyes”), Darren Boussman (“Saw II”), Leigh Whannell (who wrote the first three “Saw” films) Greg McLean (“Wolf Creek”), and Rob Zombie.

Having met most of these guys, we all immediately learned that we had one thing in common: we love R-rated horror movies, and we felt that horror had gone soft, and we wanted to bring back the “hard” R. Everyone, in their own way, wanted to make the kinds of films they grew up on that they felt was missing in mainstream cinema today. Rob Zombie had been making “House of 1000 Corpses” while I was making “Cabin Fever,” without any knowledge of each other’s films. When I first met Rob, we talked about the horror films we grew up on and how we missed the visceral, grizzly, realistic horror films. We couldn’t figure out why sex and nudity had evaporated from scary movies, and we talked about how horror fans want their horror movies horrific, not safe and PG-13. Not that there’s anything wrong with PG-13, but that rating tends to best suit more supernatural movies like “The Grudge” and “The Sixth Sense,” whereas the films we were making were more realistic, and more brutal.

I got to meet Neil Marshall when I was doing “Hostel” press in London, and I told him how much I loved his first film “Dog Soldiers,” and how scared I was during “The Descent.” We talked about our love for violent horror movies, and how we didn’t want them safe and watered down. The more I met these guys, the more camaraderie we felt, because we were the only ones really pushing the envelope and getting our films out there through the studios. If someone’s film does well, it helps us all, and makes the other distributors more comfortable with releasing films that live in that danger zone. And while we don’t have clubhouse meetings and aren’t really a formal organization, I thought the name “The Splat Pack” captured the spirit of what we were trying to do. I don’t know how much the other guys embrace the name (some do more than others) because we’re all individuals and don’t want to be lumped into one group, but if I’m going to get put into some kind of group by the press, then I’m proud to be listed alongside those guys. (Tarantino likes to joke that I’m the Sinatra of the “Splat Pack,” but in truth I’m more like the Jerry Lewis.)

I know that when fans go to see a film like “Hostel,” they want the hardcore scenes that your parents don’t want you to see. I want the film to be very scary, and very violent, but without going overboard. I learned very early on that if you have too much gore, suddenly your film turns into a comedy. I usually shoot all the gore when I direct a kill scene, and then in editing decide how much to use. It’s always easier to make your film gorier — just add another tool and body part and voila, your film’s more disgusting — but the goal for me is to create the scariest roller coaster at the amusement park. I want my films to feel like a combination of a roller coaster and a haunted house, which were always my two favorite rides. The film should have the jumps and scares of the haunted house, but the screaming adrenaline-filled thrill of the most terrifying roller coaster you’ve ever been on. You know you’re going to be fine at the end, but you hang on for dear life and scream at the top of your lungs until it’s over, and then after you’re exhilarated, shaking, laughing, and you kind of want to do it again. It’s a challenge — you should dare yourself to see how much you can take — and that’s what I want when people go see my films.

Missed any of his daily entries? Click here for the “Eli Roth Diaries” archive.