Eli Roth Diaries: A Little Healthy Horror Competition

Eli Roth has been documenting the making of “Hostel: Part II” with a series of diary entries for MTV. Last time Roth discussed the rules of the “Masters of Horror” dinners. Today he talks about the healthy competition between he and the other elite horror directors today.

Right now we’re at an interesting time in American horror. 2003 was the year that R-rated horror returned with a vengeance, starting off with “House of 1000 Corpses,” followed by “28 Days Later,” then “Freddy vs. Jason,” “Cabin Fever,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The public was hungry for violent films, and in 2004 R-rated horror went even more mainstream, with hits like “Dawn of the Dead,” and of course, “Saw.”

The “Saw” phenomenon fired up all the studios to make grisly horror films, and there were many rip-offs that went into production, none of which captured what made “Saw” work so well. The guys who make “Saw” genuinely love these films, and like the other horror directors, are making films that we’d want to see. People in the industry also love to declare horror dead, which is completely ridiculous. I’ve been hearing that one for years. Horror isn’t dead, crappy films are dead. If you make a bad film, people aren’t going to see it, and if you make a great one that excites audiences and gives them an experience unlike anything they’ve ever had before, they’ll come out in droves.

I remember before “Scream” came out, horror was declared dead. Then “Scream” hit $100 million dollars at the box office. Then horror was declared dead again, until “Blair Witch” came out, which hit $150 million at the box office. When “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” opened to $30 million dollars, I heard people say that R-rated horror was officially dead. The wave was over. Well, a month later “Saw 2” opened to $34 million dollars, eventually grossing $90 million, and ’suddenly’ R-rated horror was back.

I think that as long as you make a great movie, people will come support it, whether it’s R-rated, PG-13, or even G-rated. “Hostel,” for many people, was the most violent film they’ve ever seen, and for some it wasn’t violent enough. Now with “Hostel: Part II,” I upped the ante and made a film that will truly be more horrifying, but one that I really believe will get even louder screams and cheers than the first one. “Hostel Part II” is a film made for people to scream in. If you’re sitting there quiet the entire film, I’ve done something wrong.

People always say you should be quiet in movies, but this is the one movie where you’re encouraged to yell at the top of your lungs. Not during my precious dialogue scenes, of course, but during the scares, I want the audience screaming so loud you can’t even hear the sound. If “Hostel: Part II” does what I believe it will, and if the fans are hungry for what is going to be remembered as one of the most violent American films ever to make it to mainstream cinemas, then we’ll have more films like it. But it’s up to us, the filmmakers, to make better and better films.

I think what makes the modern horror movement so exciting is that you have a group of filmmakers who not only love the genre and have tremendous respect for it, but who are talented enough to make great films. And they’re only getting better and better with each film they make. I’m really excited for Rob Zombie’s “Halloween,” and Neil Marshall’s “Doomsday,” and Darren Boussman’s “Saw 4.” Alex Aja’s remaking “Piranha,” and James Wan’s finishing his new film “Death Sentence.” If everyone keeps making great films, then the audiences will keep coming out to support them. If people stop trying and get lazy, then the audiences will respond accordingly. If they feel like we’re tired, then the genre will become tired, and we’ll have to wait a few years until a new crop of blood-hungry directors comes along. But don’t expect that to happen.

We love these films too much and care too much about leaving our mark in the horror history. We’re all friends but there’s a little bit of a ’bleeding’ contest between us, to see who can do the nastiest kill. Everyone wants to be the guy that did the classic scare, so we make every death count. And I’m glad, because I depend on those guys to scare me! I can’t get scared watching my films, and those guys are the only ones left who can really still terrify me. But there’s still a little ’friendly competition’ between us. When the “Saw” guys are shooting, they often call me from the set and say “Oh man, we just filmed the sickest scene!” and will then describe it to me in graphic detail. I do the same thing when I’m in Prague shooting the “Hostel” films. (I don’t divulge absolutely everything, that would ruin the fun of seeing the look of shock and disgust on their faces at the first screening.)

Sometimes, of course, there’s crossover, and we have to rewrite our scripts because a kill is too similar. It’s actually happened to both camps. Last summer I was at the airport — waiting to fly to Prague to location scout for “Hostel: Part II” — when Darren Boussman and Leigh Whannell called me and told me about this great scene they just shot where the victim had to rip out all his piercings to stay alive. I hung up the phone and looked at my producer Chris Briggs, who saw the look on my face. “What?” he asked, half-dreading the answer. I just took out my pen and scratched out the scene in the script where someone gets their piercing ripped out. “Damn,” he said, nodding his head. “That was a good one.” Then about a month ago I got a text message from Darren, who was in Toronto prepping “Saw IV.” The exchange went something like this:

MY REPLY: what’d I do now?
DARREN’S TEXT MESSAGE: we had such a good scene and I just found out u did it in Hostel Part II!
MY REPLY: payback’s a bitch!

Then again, they’re in Toronto right now filming, so come October they could have the last laugh, because I know they’re secretly trying to, ahem, out-gross me. And if they do, more power to them, because I’m not easily shocked. But as of June 8th, I think I have a very good shot at the title for most horrifying death in a film. At least until Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” comes out in August.

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