FILM Recently, my eyeballs were among the first to be skewered by the finished print of Hostel 2. As torture and black humor unspooled on the big screen, director Eli Roth last seen working on Grindhouse, both as an actor and behind the camera for the Thanksgiving trailer prowled about, gauging audience reactions to his third feature film. The next day I met Roth to discuss all things horror. He talks fast. Here are some excerpts.
On the Metreon audience's response to Hostel 2: When you're making a film, you're literally going on instinct. I know my gore stuff is gonna work, but it's the other stuff, those moments where you're, like, "No, don't, don't, don't!" in editing, you're just hoping the audience will feel that way. And I thought that every moment hit the way I wanted it to. Even in a fan-based audience, sometimes they're, like, "All right, impress me, Roth. Let's see what you got." I wanted people to be cheering and screaming and going wild the way they were at the end of the first one, and I really felt we got that.
On emuutf8g the grand old Italian B-movie tradition of killing kids: I wanted to take risks in the movie. I wanted things where people would go, "Oh, you can't do that." Not just to offend, but I wanted to live in that danger zone. After I made it, I saw this film directed by [Narciso Ibáñez] Serrador called Who Can Kill a Child?, which I think is genuinely one of the single greatest horror films. I love those early 1970s Italian movies like Torso, Night Train Murders, and To Be Twenty, by Fernando di Leo. Have you seen To Be Twenty? At the end of this movie, my jaw was on the ground. It was so horrific that they pulled every single print from the theaters. But in all three of those films, it's a group of college-age girls that are all going on a trip somewhere. The girls all make intelligent decisions; there's nothing that they do that's like a dumb movie moment. And there's a real, palpable sense of dread in those movies. I really wanted to build that sense of dread for everybody [in Hostel 2].
On getting Ruggero Deodato, director of 1980's Cannibal Holocaust, to cameo: I went to Italy to do press for Hostel, and this journalist was producing behind-the-scenes interviews for No Shame DVDs. We drove an hour outside of Rome to the set of a TV show that Deodato was shooting. I brought my Cannibal Holocaust poster for him to sign. And he was so funny and so cool, and I was, like, "I got a cameo for you that I think the American fans would love." And Deodato is just a huge slice of ham. This guy loves being on camera. He's so funny. And when he showed up on set, I got to ask him questions like, how do you direct people that live in trees, like in Last Cannibal World? It was great to hear his answers.
On his rivalry with the Saw filmmakers: I'm friends with all those guys, and we always call each other when we get a kill scene done. It's almost like this bleeding contest we have. The Splat Pack we all love each other's movies. But there's always that side of you that wants to have the rep of having the nastiest kill. We joke all the time: "We're running out of body parts!"
On his inspiration for torture scenes: All you have to do is go to the Museum of Torture in Prague. The stuff you see is so shocking you couldn't even film it. [In my films] it's a combination of looking at history and what's actually already been done and sort of walking around Home Depot and looking at tools. Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter what I think of what makes the scene horrifying is whoever's in the chair. It's the actor. That's what makes it really scary.
His response to people who think his films glorify violence: I say, don't see them.