Filmmaker/actor Eli Roth made a grisly splash with 2002's gross-out horror comedy "Cabin Fever" earning the title of "the future of horror" from Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino then helped usher Roth's follow-ups "Hostel" and "Hostel 2" into theaters by "presenting" the films. Roth and Tarantino remain close collaborators and colleagues with Roth starring as the baseball bat-wielding Sgt. Donny Donowitz a.k.a. "The Bear Jew" in Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds." Roth is now using the clout he's earned for himself to help a new generation of horror and beyond get films made and released. Thus far he's produced "The Last Exorcism" and its sequel, "The Man with the Iron Fists," and more, including the new disaster film "Aftershock" from Chilean director Nicolás López.
Roth co-wrote and stars in the film that sees a handful of party-goers fighting for survival in the aftermath of a earthquake that's not only unleashed massive amounts of devastation, but a horde of psychotically violent maniacs from a local demolished prison.
I spoke with Roth over the phone about his involvement with "Aftershock," his decision to play nerdy American "Gringo," the importance of helping other filmmakers, and his next film as director, "The Green Inferno."
MTV Geek: So how did you get involved with this?
Eli Roth: The original idea came from a conversation I had with director Nicolás López when he was describing to me what it was like living through the earthquake of 2010, and the ensuing events that followed. I’m a huge fan of Nicolás’ work, especially for geeks, I would tell them to go to Netflix and seek out his movies. His first movie, "Promedio Rojo," they called it the Latin "American Pie." I saw it years ago at the LA Film Festival. He was 19 years old when he made it. It’s so f***ing funny. I was a huge fan of that movie. I actually let Nico into the cutting room of "Hostel." He saw the very first, there was 45 minutes cut, and he came and he watched it. He was the very first one to see it; I think it was Nicolás and Edgar Wright. I even showed "Promedio Rojo" to Quentin [Tarantino] and he became a big fan of Nico. He then did a series of romantic comedies. This movie called "Que Pena tu Vida," which translates to “F*** My Life”. Then he did the sequel, "Que Pena tu Boda," which translates to “F*** my Wedding”. And then the new one, "Que Pena tu Familia," “F*** my Family”, which I have a cameo in. That whole trilogy is on Netflix, and I would highly suggest people seek them out. He shot "Que Pena tu Vid"a on a Canon 7D, it was the first movie that was shot on a 7D, blown up to 35mm, it was released on 35 screens. And it made more money in Chile than "The Social Network," it was beating "Hangover 2." It became a phenomenon down there. I said, “When are you going to cross over? “ After "The Last Exorcism, "I said, “Now I’m in a position to open movies and get them finance based on my name”. I had people lining up to invest in my movies. Then he starts talking about the earthquake and the things that happened because it hit at 3:30 in the morning on a Saturday when people were drunk and partying and then a second later the whole country was shaking like an amusement park ride. Next thing you know your friend's hand is cut off, and you have to get to a hospital or he’ll bleed to death. You also have to find the hand, but if you stay in the club too long, the club might collapse if there is another aftershock. So suddenly the cell phones were gone. They couldn’t contact the police, they couldn’t call the fire department, and nobody had GPS, because they couldn't use their cell phones. Nobody knew where to go, nobody could get home. The roads were all clogged up with cars, and then the prisons actually collapsed and the prisoners got out. Then the tsunami sirens went off. So surviving the earthquake was only the beginning. So we said we can do the Oscar version of this, or we can do the popcorn version. Both of us wanted to do the popcorn version; to me that’s a fun, exciting thriller, but we’re basing it all around these real events that happened to him or people he knew.
Geek: How involved were you directly? It seems like you were involved and helping him come up with the story and everything like that.
Roth: Yea we wrote it together. We produced it together and then I wrote the part of Gringo. I went down there to Chile. Chile is an amazing place. Santiago...Nicolás always joked about it saying “You think Chile is the Favella and that we ride around in rickshaws” but Chile is like Santa Barbara. It's vineyards, it’s the ocean, it’s got hotels, it’s got Starbucks. There are amazing restaurants; it’s very similar to California. I couldn’t’ believe how similar It is to California, you’d think you were in L.A. And it's opposite seasons, so in December I went down there and it was beautiful, in the summertime and everyone’s having pool parties and going to the beach. So we spend the first part of the movie where you show these characters having fun, and that’s what we did when we were writing the movie; we had a great time. But I really wanted the film to be about the minor problems in your life, like being in a text message fight with your girlfriend or when someone says something nasty to you on Twitter...you want the iPhone 5, whatever it is that seems like such a huge deal in your life. In 3 minutes everything is put into perspective when you are looking for your hand or you are going to bleed to death. Then we wanted the film to be about moral choices. You survive the earthquake and you get out and then all of a sudden you hear a baby crying. Do you run in and help the baby? Maybe there is another aftershock and the building comes down and then you’re dead. What about your family you have to take care of, so what do you do? We wanted to have these characters you really cared about and knew what was going on in their lives and watch them make these moral choices. Is it self-preservation or do they go and save their friend and what are the ramifications of that? Especially when society completely collapses around you. Which is what happened. It was the literal and figurative collapse of society.
Geek: It seems like there is a bit of the slasher movie formula in place here. Was that intentional?
Roth: Yea we wanted to have this intimate group that you you’re with and watch them try and survive the night. And without giving anything away we wanted people to figure out who’s going to live, who’s going to die, why they are going to die, and what is going to happen to them. And then start taking people off in different numbers. I mean, it is a thriller. The joke was that Nico had made "F*** My Life," "F*** My Wedding," "F*** My Family," and we called this one "F*** My Hostel." Because the first half really feels like a Nicolás López romantic comedy, with the bright colors and the fun and the ridiculous gags and the second half really feels like one of my movies, but the truth is that it’s really both of us throughout the entire film. We wanted it to be an exciting thrill ride. We were wondering what’s going to happen, who’s going to get it next and what’s the next challenge their going to face.
Geek: Were you always planning on playing Gringo?
Roth: I thought about playing Gringo, and originally it depended on what my schedule was and whether I was available to do it. I knew I was going to go to China to make "Man with the Iron Fists." And then Nicolás went and made "F*** My Wedding," and so the timing was there. Once we saw that the timing was going to work out, I decided to do it, I got along very well with Ariel Levy and Nicolas Martinez, the leads, and it was a very fun group and I thought to myself, this is a great way… Well I remember after "Inglorious Basterds" came out, Quentin said to me, “Now you can write really great parts for yourself.” And I had never done that, never wrote thinking this would be a really fun part to play. It was something completely different than Donnowitz or anything else I’ve done before. This guy is recently divorced. He’s a total a dork with girls, he’s shy, no game, he doesn’t know what works with the ladies or what apps people are using on phones. It was fun to play a character like that. As we got closer to production, we said let’s just do it, it makes the most sense.
Geek: You were so involved with getting this movie made and you’ve mentioned Quentin a few times, and he’s lent his name to some of your stuff. Why is it important for you to help someone like Nicolás?
Roth: Well I think, I love movies and I love helping other filmmakers get noticed. I feel very fortunate for what happened to me in my career and I remember the difference between "Cabin Fever" and "Hostel." Once Quentin noticed "Cabin Fever," in this magazine and called me his favorite new filmmaker, and called "Cabin Fever" the best new film he’s seen and called me the future of Horror, and this is his "Kill Bill" Premiere magazine interview. At the time, Premiere magazine was it, and it really made a huge difference and people looked at me differently. People suddenly thought it wasn’t just a gory splatter film, and that there was something artistic about it. I also remember when Peter Jackson gave me a quote for the "Cabin Fever" poster, and his acknowledgment, giving me the blessing and saying that this was a great film. It changed the advertising campaign and he was so generous and was the biggest filmmaker in the world, with "Lord of the Rings," and I’ll never forget how important that was. Sometimes, when you're a new filmmaker, you need the other filmmakers that people trust. I remember renting "Evil Dead" because Stephen King had a quote on it, saying it was the scariest movie he’d ever seen. That’s why I actually rented it. I said if Stephen King likes it, it’s got to be good. So I can now help people that might not have been discovered yet, but deserve it. It might be Jon Watts who directed "Clown," this terrific short film, to a director like Nicolás López, who has made, I believe, 6 or 7 movies, and he just turned 30 years-old. I think he’s one of the smartest and innovative filmmakers out there. Doing revolutionary things and saying this is a guy you should pay attention to. You can watch 4 of his movies on Netflix, most of which were shot on a Canon 7D or 5D and they look incredible, you can’t tell they were shot on that. I think for other young filmmakers, they could look at this and say okay, that’s how to do it. He would pay for his movies with sponsors. He went to Canon, got 50 Grand and pieced the whole thing together. It’s genius. I think that he’s one of the filmmakers out there worth paying attention to. Also Ti West, the horror fans all know, and the geeks all know, "House of the Devil" and "The Innkeepers." I feel like he’s ready to break out in the mainstream like he hasn’t before, and that’s why I produced "The Sacrament," so like with "The Last Exorcism," I feel like there are great filmmakers out there, and I remember how much it meant to me when I had a brand-name filmmaker come up to me and say “pay attention to this guy and give him a chance”, and it’s very exciting to be in the position to pay it forward and help the next generation of filmmakers, because all these guys are a generation behind me.
Geek: I totally agree with you about Ti West. I love his stuff.
Geek: He’s AMAZING and his new film "The Sacrament" is f***ing awesome. And what’s great about Ti is that we were able to make a movie that is truly a Ti West movie. I can come on and protect him. Everyone’s insurance is that I’m going to come on and it’s going to say Eli Roth. Even "Hemlock Grove" is breaking records for Netflix. And people are saying now that if Eli puts his name on a film, fans are going to give it a chance. So I’m giving Ti, and John and Nicolás the freedom to go completely crazy with their movies. And I’ll certainly step in and help them out if I need to, like Quentin helped me and Scotty Spiegel in the cut of "Hostel" when I needed it, because they were filmmakers I trusted. It’s great to be in a position to do that, I think I’m going to be more selective and boutique about what I produce in the future, only because it takes so much of my energy and I love directing so much and I want to focus on that more. If there is a filmmaker out there who I feel deserves attention and that I feel like I can collaborate with and have great experience with and that will help them, I think you learn on every project.
Geek: Speaking of your next directorial project, it seems like "Aftershock" treads similar ground to "The Green Inferno " I don’t know much about that movie yet, but did you take something from "Aftershock" and bring it to "The Green Inferno."
Roth: Nicolás López and I really want to start Chilewood, which is making mainstream movies for the world, but shooting them down in Chile. And it’s a whole different style, and attitude and way to make the movies and a new set of rules. Shooting that movie felt like right out of film school where you just go out, grab a camera and make a movie with your friends and have a good time. There is no one watching over your shoulder and telling you that you can’t do this. It’s just pure adrenaline fun. That’s what I wanted for "Green Inferno." It was the test run for Chilewood, and we took it and said, what can we do better? What do we want to change, what can we improve, and we got brand new cameras, the Canons, the new film cameras, the Z300, and we’re the first movie to shoot on it with new lenses and it looks phenomenal. We went so deep into the jungle, farther than anyone has ever brought cameras, and all kinds of crazy things, and it looks spectacular. It’s intense and grueling and I took most of the cast of "Green" from "Aftershock," Ariel Levy, Lorenza Izzo, who plays Brook Lavelle. She plays Kylie in "Aftershock" and is Blue Bell from "Hemlock Grove," and she gets killed off in that first episode. It starts the whole series. She is the lead in "Green Inferno" with Arielle Levy and Nicolas Martinez, and it’s the same DP and crew, same production designer, and same composer, so we wanted to do what Almovodar did and keep the same crew, same designers, and same creative team, and same cast and just keep making movies. So far its been the most exciting, creative, experience I’ve had since the first "Hostel."
Geek: Thanks, Eli!
"Aftershock" is out everywhere tomorrow, May 10.