I wanted to interview Eli Roth, and in fact I enjoyed it very much, but I was in a difficult place when the opportunity came up last month. I was given the chance to talk to the producer of The Last Exorcism Part II while he was in the editing room finishing The Green Inferno, his upcoming cannibalism movie, but I hadn't seen the danged movie yet. Fortunately, Eli Roth has, and he was more than happy to fill in the gaps and explain why he decided to follow up on the surprise 2010 horror hit, whereas he's allowed his other franchise – Cabin Fever and Hostel – to move on without him. We also talked about the incredible working conditions on his upcoming feature, and deciding to show a tribe of indigenous people – who had never seen a movie before – the ultraviolent Cannibal Holocaust as their very first movie.
The Last Exorcism Part II opens in theaters on March 1 (USA) and March 15 (UK).
CraveOnline: This is kind of weird, since we’re talking about The Last Exorcism Part II and I haven’t seen it yet…
Eli Roth: Well, that’s alright. I’ve seen it a bunch of times, so I can tell you everything about it.
Okay, first question: tell me everything about it.
I’m really, really excited about the sequel. The first one was a wonderful surprise hit, and we spent three years writing that script and getting it right, and making the movie, and Daniel Stamm did an amazing job of it. When you make a movie for a million and a half dollars and the opening weekend is like twenty [million dollars], everyone is asking, “Where’s the next one?” And the last thing we wanted to do was to just rush and make a sequel without really, really having a strong reason to do it. Everyone basically said the financing’s there for a sequel, whenever you guys are ready. We spent a long time really, really thinking through storylines because we wanted to get it right, and the breakthrough was when we decided…
You know, I thought, let’s make it straight narrative, but in the world of the sequel, the first one exists but it’s a viral video online. So that way the character now is going through this world, and other characters in the movie recognize [her] and go, “Oh man, you’re that chick! Do the thing with your back!” So they’re all thinking what the audience is thinking. Ashley Bell is such a superb actor that we wanted to hand her a story that could go even further with her talents, backbending aside. Damien Chazelle wrote a fantastic script, he really spent a long time getting that right, and getting Ed Gass-Donnelly to direct, he wrote his draft with Damien. They all had terrific ideas. I was very impressed with Ed’s movie Small Town Murder Songs, which was a festival movie with Peter Stormare, which he did for very little money and was beautifully shot. Really well done, very creepy. And Ed was so excited about [The Last Exorcism Part II] and wanted to shoot it like a Roman Polanski movie, that was his whole approach. Not that that it’s going to be compared to Rosemary’s Baby, but he wanted to have elegance and style and patience […] while at the same time making just a really scary, fun commercial movie.
I was a big, big fan of the original, and I loved the way you guys structured that movie, so that you suspect she’s going to be actually possessed, and then by the time we get to the end and we realize it’s been a cult movie all along it feels so obvious in retrospect. Are we going to delve into the cult narrative in this one?
Well, I don’t want to give too much away…
But we loved the idea. That was the fun of the first one, was… there’s this guy, a professional, who’s then realizing he’s in way over his head, that this is a very, very disturbed girl, who’s suffering some sort of trauma from abuse, or she really is possessed. And either way, he doesn’t know how to deal with it. And then he realizes at the end, he’s been drawn into this whole thing by this entity or these people, we don’t even know. We wanted a movie that was open-ended, that everyone could really discuss what was happening. We have our own internal logic, we knew what happened, but we wanted a movie that really made people think and argue about it. […]
We loved the idea that this thing is attracted to her, and that it wants her and wants to be part of her and wants her to love it and being possessed by something that wants you to love it back, and destroy the world around you. In the first one she’s very much possessed, and now that we’ve answered that question we wanted to go further with what would happen if there was something was inside you that wasn’t completely gone, that started destroying your world around you. […] There are lots of creepy, scary possibilities.
Since the mystery was such a compelling element of the original, now that that’s sort of know, are you more myth-building this time?
Yeah, it’s more watching someone try to integrate, function in a world where she doesn’t belong, where something happened to her so now there’s no place for her, and what would happen to you if you started to realize that maybe you’re better off with this thing [possessing you]. In the first one, the mystery was very much “is she crazy,” and now that we’ve answered it, we thought okay, what if you lived in this world and this video existed, you were just discovering. You have absolutely no memory of it. […] We see it from her perspective the entire time, and watching her through the twists and turns is a really, really fun, fascinating, scary approach. And that’s the point, is that now the cat’s out of the bag, [we can] really go for it. [Damien Chazelle] loves freaky exorcist stuff. I love it. He can’t get enough of it, and really, really embraced it.
When a lot of horror movies turn into a franchises they start going into different directions, sometimes a different direction with every sequel. Are you thinking along those lines right now, or are you looking at this one movie at a time?
I just go one movie at a time. I think that’s always the best approach, unless you start with a long mythology that can be broken down into three parts, and your imagination naturally goes to places. But we thought, “One movie at a time.” It takes a lot to come up with a movie that’s fresh, there’s a good twist in the first one […] It takes time. […] I mean, sometimes you got it all figured out, but other times you to really work through every throughline in your head, but I’m in a position now where I can make all kinds of horror movies, so we don’t “have” to make a third one. It can just be a two-part series, and that’s fine. But if people really, really, really respond to it and demand it, if they demand it and we’d come up with a continuation of the story that we think would really worth filming, then we’d do it. But I would only look at it if I thought it was worthwhile.
Have you been approached on other projects for sequels or follow-ups that you didn’t think were there, and you were just able to say “no?”
I mean, I walked away from Hostel and I walked away from Cabin Fever. I had nothing to do with Cabin Fever 2 and I had nothing to do with Hostel 3, so, you know… I was in a position where I wasn’t going to stop it, because obviously there’s a demand for it and the producers of the other movies were my partners in the first one. So they want to continue, go for it. But I’m interested in creating new stories. That’s what I’m doing with Green Inferno, my new film. So yeah, I’ve walked away from very successful film franchises before. The money’s been on the table, but I just [didn’t]. It’s not that I’m against them, it’s just that if I don’t want to do it, I just don’t do it.
Good for you. Are you on set for Green Inferno right now?
I’m actually in the editing room. We just started cutting. Wrapped literally the day before Christmas. I was deep, deep, deep in the Amazon in an area, a village that was only accessible by boat, and we had to travel four hours every day to get to the village. They had no electricity, no running water, no toilets, and the villagers had literally never seen television before. They didn’t know what a movie was. We had to explain to them what a movie was, and brought a generator and set up a TV and showed them Cannibal Holocaust. They thought was a comedy. They thought it was the funniest movie they’d ever seen…
For their first movie you showed them Cannibal Holocaust?
Yeah, there were three-year-old children in the village up the Amazon, and their only frame of reference of a movie is Cannibal Holocaust. And they think it’s a comedy. And can I tell you, these kids are the best damned actors I’ve worked with. [Laughs] The villagers were incredible. They were, literally a hundred degree heat, there’s tarantulas, there were deadly snakes… I mean, we were in the Amazon. It was deep, deep, deep jungle, and there ants that were like two-inch ants, and if they bite you apparently it feels like a gunshot for 24 hours. So we were very careful about the ants. It was an amazing, amazing experience. I had the most incredible time.
When we came back, we had to get in a jeep on a dirt road […] There were rock slides. Every day we packed bags with overnight stuff, because there would always be a chance there’d be a rockslide and we’d get stuck in the village. So every day we traveled with all your camera equipment and all your packed gear in case you got stuck there for weeks. Which could happen. At the end, there was stuff that we did that was really dangerous-looking […] Thank god nobody got killed. Everybody survived. But when we got back to Santiago everybody had to get de-parasited. But now I’m so happy. It’s amazing. We were in areas that were so remote nobody had ever shot there, which was beyond belief.
That sounds amazing.
I’m so excited about it.
You recently said that you’re trying to work on a Thanskgiving movie.
When Rodriguez did his own Grindhouse spin-off he actually incorporated footage from the original into the movie. Is that something you’re thinking about doing, or will this be an entirely new film?
I don’t know. I’ve found that in writing the movie, I want to have those scenes in the movie [but] I might not necessarily get locked into that footage. I love it, but I also think that it’s the idea of Thanksgiving [that matters]. They’re writing the script right now. John [Watts] actually just wrapped the movie in December, so he’s in the editing room, and he and Chris [Ford] are working on the script. So we’ll see.