HT Talks To . . . Eli Roth

The modern horror maestro loves DVD, hates "torture porn."

Spend some time with the extensive bonus materials on any Eli Roth DVD, and you get his number pretty quickly. An aspiring filmmaker since the age of eight, he's now thoroughly enjoying his professional success. Off a total investment of less than $16 million, he's produced and directed a trio of gruesome, surprisingly funny horror hits, namely Cabin Fever, Hostel, and, most recently, Hostel Part II. Perhaps more DVD-savvy than any filmmaker I've talked to, he's now going Blu-ray with a new Director's Cut of the original Hostel, plus the home video debut of his killer sequel.

Before we get started, I just have to tell you, Hostel messed me up.

Oh, great!

So now in Hostel Part II, you have a respected actress like Heather Matarazzo hanging upside down, buck naked, bound and gagged, and sobbing. What challenge did that pose to you as the director?

Oh, Heather did the movie because of that scene. She flew from New York to L.A. to meet me. She said, "I have to do this role." So the challenge was, she's in such an uncomfortable position, but she has to feel she's in a safe place physically and emotionally. Eventually, we got to the point where her getting upside down was really nothing, and she could just focus on her performance.

With a horror sequel, in particular, do you feel that fans are going to expect you to hit specific beats as in the original?

Well yeah, 'cause if you're going back for more, there are certain things you want. I looked at the sequels that I really liked, like Evil Dead 2 and Saw II, and Aliens and Road Warrior, and they took my favorite parts of the first movie and really expanded upon it. So, you can't just go back to familiar territory, but you have to have those nods to the fans of the first one.

Is there pressure to be scarier, gorier? or is the real pressure to be more inventive with the script?

The pressure is to make a better movie. I mean, if you want to be gorier, all you have to do is add another tool and another body part. But to make a movie that's going to feel like it is at the level of the first one and is actually smarter and scarier and more interesting, and takes people in twists that they didn't expect, that's the real challenge.

Has there been anything you've written that someone has said to you, "Eli, you just can't do that in a movie"?

Everything I've ever written. When I write something and I don't get that reaction, I get concerned.

I'm not brave or anything, but most horror movies don't scare me, and yours do.

Oh, thank you.

How much of that deeper Hostel mythology that we see in Hostel II had already been fleshed out?

Everything had already been fleshed out. When I wrote Hostel 1, I had to fully create the universe, so that if you see little glimpses of it, you know it's there, even though we couldn't fully explain it in the first one. But they've also made some security improvements at the factory, obviously since the first movie. Jay Hernandez got out a little too easily.

How do you feel about the term "torture porn"?

I think it's absurd. The idea in Hostel is that it's people who have literally replaced sex with violence. They're so disconnected from themselves. But to me the term "torture porn" exemplifies how little critics understand horror movies; they're so quick to put them in a subclass of pornography. But if they watched the movie, they'd realize that a lot of [horror] films are actually making a comment about violence in society and could actually be argued to be anti-violent. The term says far more about the so-called critics who use it than it does about the movie itself.

What's your reaction to a ripoff like Turistas?

[sighs] Turistas was not a ripoff of Hostel. It was sold as a ripoff of Hostel, but it was made at the same time, and we just happened to be in the same territory. But they waited a year and they marketed it as a better version of Hostel, which was the big mistake. I think it was a poor film, and they tried to put down Hostel and use negative campaigning. And it blew up in their face. I mean, there's no need for that.

Hostel 2

As a modern filmmaker, is DVD just a fact of life now, another part of the process?

DVD is the most exciting thing in the world to me. I mean, I have the first generation of laserdisc players, so I had that like $160, 12-sided Brazil and the Alien box set and the deluxe edition of Taxi Driver. . .. You know, I devoured that stuff. So when I'm making the film, really from the preproduction stage, I'm always planning stuff for the DVD, [which] is what people will use to watch your film 100 years from now, some version of that. I always think of putting as much stuff on the DVD as possible. Cabin Fever was so packed that we maxed out the amount of memory that we could use.

Wow. Some "special editions" don't even need the second layer.

And horror movies, they used to say, "Make sure you shoot us an airline version," and now they say, "Make sure you shoot us extra gore for the unrated [DVD] version."

Cabin Fever

Listening to your commentaries and watching the "making of" footage, I wonder: Are you maybe having too much fun?

Is that possible? I mean, we're working our asses off, but there's a lot of fun spirit to it. It's all I've dreamed of my whole life; of course I'm going to enjoy every minute of it.

But your brother Gabe's behind-the-scenes movies are laugh-out-loud funny at times.

That's what we wanted. I just hate those boring behind-the-scenes that are so prepackaged and phony. I wanted people to feel what it was like being on set, to feel like they know me. And I also like to have a DVD that you could own for ten years and not see everything, like an encyclopedia of the film, and always go back and get new information on it as you wanted it.

What's your take on high def, Blu-ray?

High def's amazing. The only negative is that it catches every mistake, but it makes everybody step up their game, you know. I'm obsessed with every detail in the frame: every prop, every tool, the texture on the walls, the paint, everything. It makes me so happy to watch my film and see the picture that beautiful.

What can we look forward to on the Hostel Part II Blu-ray?

The Blu-ray's going to have all those security cameras in the factory that were capturing the different torture scenes. You can now have the point of view of being one of those monitor guards, and we have the actual tortures that are going in different rooms simultaneously.

What's coming up next for you?

I'm actually going to switch it up and do a comedy—a bunch of fake trailers, like the one I did in Grindhouse. It's going to be called Trailer Trash. I'm really looking forward to doing a comedy.