Back in February, HorrorCultFilms had the honour and pleasure of interviewing one of our favourite horror directors and producers, Eli Roth, on his latest production, THE LAST EXORCISM: PART 2. Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly, the film is finally getting its UK theatrical release on Friday 7th June 2013, so we asked Eli what’s changed since the first film, what we can expect from the sequel and what it was like to film his two upcoming movies, Nicolas Lopez’s earthquake shocker, AFTERSHOCK, and his very own cannibal horror, THE GREEN INFERNO.
What’s happened to Nell since the events of The Last Exorcism?
Well, a lot has happened to Nell. The movie actually picks up on the same night as the first one, kinda where Nell is found, and we make the switch from the found footage docu-style into narrative. So straight away it starts narrative, with the shot of the camcorder on the ground. Nell is found and has absolutely no memory of what happened and has no idea what happened to her. The film then cuts to a few weeks later where she’s brought to a home for troubled and she basically knows that someone perpetrated a fraud on her and this reverend was there making this documentary. All she knows is it went very wrong and her family was killed in a fire. So, slowly, you realise that what happens in the first film exists in the world of the second film as this viral video which the other girls in the house discover and of course they’re none too pleased to have her as a housemate…
She’s possessed, and she’s trying to move on with her life, integrate and convince herself that this was all just some terrible thing that happened to her, but slowly the reality of what it is starts to seep into all aspects of her life and ruin it.
So what made you decide to do away with the found footage aspect?
Well, we thought a lot about it. One of the nice things about doing a movie low-budget was that we could be experimental, and as soon as it become the no1 film on the opening weekend, everyone started asking, “let’s do a sequel, let’s do a sequel.” We were certainly open to it but we didn’t want to rush and just churn out a sequel. We were going take our time and figure it out and find the story. We kept thinking in the docu-format: it was always another documentary crew going there to eyewitness, to find out what happened, and none of us really wanted to see a movie about that. We love Ashley Bell, we love that character of Nell and she’s such an amazing actress, with such incredible range. All the scenes of her in the mirror, contorting her face, were like the freaking Exorcist shit. That’s the stuff I love, that’s what I wanna see!
So, what if we abandoned it (docu-style), and we thought “Well, how can we do that?” There was the breakthrough when I thought “Okay, what if the first film exists as this viral video that she doesn’t even know exists until she discovers it”, and that was great because then you could have people going, “Hey you’re that chick from the thing! Do the thing with your fingers! Do the bending!”. The other characters in the movie are in the position of the audience but the first film was very much about whether or not this is really a psychological drama about a girl who might be possessed or might be crazy from some sort of trauma that she’s experienced. Now that we’ve answered that question we could really have fun with it, with the possession.
After producing The Last Exorcism and this sequel, and also being an established horror director, do you take a different stance to producing? Are you hands-off or is it still very much your film?
No, I definitely want it to be Ed Gass-Donnelly’s film. If I wanted it to be my film I’d direct it, and I want the directors to know that. With Daniel (Stamm), I’m very involved in the script development and I’m watching all the dailies as they’re coming in and making notes. Then I’ll look at the cuts and if I think there needs to be more work then I’ll really get in there in the editing room. But with Ed, I really wanted him to take ownership. I wanted someone to be really, really excited to do the movie. I wasn’t going to direct it but I wanted it to be a good movie so we wanted to find a filmmaker out there, that really, really wanted to prove themselves and sink their teeth into it and make a great film. Whereas Daniel’s favourite filmmaker is Lars Von Trier, you can see The Idiots and all those films, that’s what he was going for with the first film, Ed Gass-Donnelly loves Roman Polanski and would obsessively watch Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining and say “This is the tone, this is the mood, this is the kind of camerawork I want, this is the framing, this is the pace”, and I just thought that was great and I fully supported him. So while he was shooting the film, it was kind of an intimate set. The first one I didn’t go on set, because I didn’t want him to feel like I’m directing over his shoulder or that I didn’t trust him and I didn’t want the actors to feel like there’s two directors. I just produced Ti West’s new movie The Sacrament, and it was the same deal, and this other film Clown that I produced, where I trust these guys so much. I’m very much there in the prep and overseeing the casting and the locations and how they’re gonna do it, but when it comes down to actually making the film I’m pretty hands-off because otherwise people feel like there’s two directors on set.
Did you have any history with Ed beforehand and how did he get involved in the project?
We saw his movie. We were just searching for films, and we saw this film Small Town Murder Songs and we thought it was really really well done. The acting was really good and I knew he did it for no money, and that’s what I was looking for, someone who could be smart and clever on a low-budget. We don’t need someone that’s gonna need to spend a lot of money cos it’s not that type of story, it’s not that type of film. He comes from a theatre background, so he’s very very performance-based and photography-based and he really knew how to make it look good. He has very high standards for everything. He didn’t want anything to look cheap or weak. I wanted someone who was going to be obsessive about every detail and every shot, who’s really proving their talent with the film and that’s what he did.
Does The Last Exorcism Part 2 continue with the slow build-up of the scares?
Well, we like that pace. I don’t think you can switch gears, but I also think the first one, that first thirty minutes are so funny, until she shows up the motel and you’re like “Oh my God. What is this?” and we knew we couldn’t do that again either. One of the things Ed did really well was that the first twenty/twenty-five minutes are very creepy, effective and fun. If the last ended at that point, that’s where we wanted to start the second one and continue with the tone of it – scary and dark.
Did you purposefully avoid any clichés so it wasn’t compared to any other possession films?
You know, we had a big discussion about that, because Ed wanted levitation and I was very against it. He’s like “No no no! Don’t worry! I know they levitate in The Exorcist…” but he had a really good idea and specific reason to do it, where to go and how to do it. I was like, “Okay. If he cares, he’s got something in his head, that he’s 1000% certain is gonna work, I just have to trust him, and if it doesn’t work we can always cut it.” But he did it and it was amazing. And it worked so well in the story, that you’d think “yeah, you know what, The Exorcist was forty years ago it’s not really a cliché.” I mean, it’s kind of a cliché from that movie, but at that point you’re not even conscious of it in the way he uses it and the way he did it. In the context of the story, it works great.
Do you see The Last Exorcism turning into a franchise?
I didn’t see the first one turning into a sequel and truthfully, we were only focussed on this one. We’re not thinking about a Part 3. I’m in a position now where I can make a lot of different films. I wouldn’t do a third part just to have a third one exist. We’d really only do it if we had a story that we felt was worth telling.
You might need a new title as well – The Last Exorcism 3 [laughs]
We were gonna call this one Last Exorcism Part 4 but it just seemed silly so we went for Part 2, “The Lastest Exorcism”… “The Lasting Exorcism”.
I remember the day after it opened I was like “I got a great title! We’re gonna call the second one The Devil Inside!” Everyone was like, “On that’s a good title, what’s the story?” And I was like, “I dunno, let me think about it. Oops! Alright, that title’s gone.”
Can we expect more Eli Roth trademark nastiness, like the aforementioned finger-breaking scene?
Well, it wouldn’t be a film with my name on it without that. The nice thing about these movies is that they’re a different type. It’s tonally a bit of a shift. I mean, sadly you’re not seeing people being hacked apart with power tool. As much as I love that, it doesn’t fit every story, but there’s those freaky, creepy disturbing scenes, for sure.
We overheard some talk about Aftershock. How’s that going?
Aftershock is amazing. It’s been an incredible year. I had the best time collaborating with Nicolás López. I love his movie Promedio Rojo. It’s so funny. All his films are on Netflix. Que Pena Tu Vida and Que Pena Tu Boda. They’re hilarious! I know he loves genre movies and Robert Rodriguez, (Quentin) Tarantino and James Cameron. I was like, “When are you doing an English-language movie?” I thought, now, after Last Exorcism, I was in a position to help him cross over. We sat down and we wrote. We thought, “Let’s write a science fiction movie” and he started telling me about what happened in the earthquake in 2010 and it was terrifying. I mean he didn’t have to make up anything, it’s all stuff that really happened. The earthquake hit at 3.30 in the morning on the last weekend of summer, so everyone was out partying in the bars, everyone was drunk. The bar fell on a friend of Lorenza Izzo’s and chopped his hands off. Everyone was looking for the hands but the building was shaking, so people were running, trampling and kicking the hands. When they got the hands, they tied them off, they took them out. Lorenza walked through a plate glass window and she was cut up. All the phones were out so nobody knew where to go ‘cos they didn’t have Google Maps on their phones. You couldn’t call the fire, you couldn’t call the police, and then the tsunami sirens went off, so everyone started freaking out and running up into the hills ‘cos of the tsunami warning. Then they realised the prisons had collapsed, and every criminal was out. Prisons were levelled, so people were just smashing and looting. People were in shock because it was suddenly helicopters and martial law. There was one town where they called off the tsunami warning because people were panicking so much and going crazy. Then Japan called and were like, “No, it doesn’t look like it’s gonna hit.” Then two hours later, the tsunami, out of nowhere, took out two thousand people.
So, we just strung all these incidents together and all these things that happened. What would terrify me is the idea that here we are, all round this table, everything’s fine and the next thing you know, you’re looking for your hands! A friend of Nicolás told me this story about a girl who was out on a first date with a guy. The rocks fell and hit him on the head, and he was paralyzed from the neck down. She had to move him in the back seat and drive stick, down the road with the boulders raining down. This was what everybody was going through. It’s horrific! We realised there hadn’t really been an earthquake movie since Earthquake, and anything that had been done recently had been done with CGI, so we wanted to do something old-school, do it practical, really break shit and drop things. Terrifying!
Is it a different tone to your other work?
It’s a mixture of Nicolás’ sensibilities and my own sensibilities. For my character, we wrote a guy whose pretty much the opposite of the Bear Jew. He’s not heroic, he’s a guy whose recently divorced, whose trying to go and re-integrate, go out and meet girls and realizing he can’t talk to any of them. He’s obviously got no idea what to say, a total dork striking out. They then meet these girls and they’re having fun. Everything’s going great then this earthquake hits, and suddenly you’re with these people that were strangers, who are now depending on each other for survival.
How important was it that you filmed on location instead of using sets?
Well, we had to film on location, because of the budget. There was so many places still destroyed from the earthquake. There were these cemeteries with tombs which were broken open. You’d walk around the cemeteries and there’s bones sticking out of the cracks. We shot a scene in the Santiago General Cemetery where I’m on the ground. I’m looking around and I’m like, “Wow, the set dressing’s great with all these skulls!” and he’s like, “Yeah…set dressing!”
It was incredible to be there. Even in the club that we filmed in, where we dropped the ceiling and smashed it, they showed Nicolás the security footage and he based it on that. People were killed in the club that night and he saw it. It’s crazy. Even if you go on Youtube, look at the videos of the Chilean earthquake, it’s horrific. Filming on location, certainly Valparaizo, is one of the coolest places. Valparaizo is one of the graffiti capitals of the world. Graffiti artists from all over the world go to Valparaizo to spraypaint. It’s amazing. Te whole city is like a walking mural, so filming there was awesome.
Had you always intended on acting in the film when you were writing it?
No, we wrote it and my schedule fit, so I wanted to be there. We thought as a producer, “oh we could save money” [laughs] “save on an extra plane ticket!”
How do you balance acting, directing and producing?
The nice thing was that I trust Nicolás, and it was his film, so I could be there as a creative producer and as an actor. We could talk about different stuff, in the editing room, but it was nice to be able to focus on the acting and not actually direct. I mean, it sucked at the end when you’re a character. Every night I was covered head to toe in fake blood, sweat and dust. We call it MTV Dust Party. We go in a tent and get blasted head to toe with baby powder. We’re all coughing and it’s all in our eyelashes, disgusting but it looked so good. However, it was nice to get back to directing and that was on Hemlock Grove, directing the pilot, even though it was television, it was more like a feature. Steven Poster, who shot Donnie Darko, shot the pilot with me which was really cool. David Cronenburg’s editor, Ron Sanders, cut it with me. It was a really fun time. I then went off to do The Green Inferno which was an incredible experience. I used the whole crew from Aftershock. And Lorenza Izzo from Aftershock is the girl who gets killed in Hemlock Grove. She was so great in the movie, with her beautiful, big expressive eyes. We needed a girl that would get eaten by a werewolf in the first episode and really make you remember. Someone that you don’t wanna see get eaten and killed. That was her. I wrote The Green Inferno for her. I cast her as the lead. She was unbelievable. She was like Naomi Watts in The Ring. She’s amazing. So I’m editing now. Nicolás has been a great creative collaborator and partner. It’s been a lot of fun, and he certainly gets me off my ass. [laughs] “Come on, you lazy American! Let’s go! Another movie, another movie…”
What can we expect from The Green Inferno?
The Green Inferno was a crazy experience. I wanted to write. I wanted my return to directing to be a real statement. I wanted it to be worth the wait, and I wanted to do something that would be a film, that I would think would be the film that I’d be remembered for, that would obliterate the others. So, we went and I found these locations in the Amazon that were unbelievable. I went further up the river than anyone had ever gone before to shoot, and we went past where Werner Herzog shot Aguirre, The Wrath Of God.
That was quite cool in itself…
Yeah, it was awesome. It was the Pongo Aguirre. We went up and we were like “Werner’s there right”, we’re going further. We found the last village on the river, after searching for hours. It was jungle and more jungle, but on the way back, we were like, “Okay, this is the last village.” I remember seeing grass huts so we pulled up. There was a little girl washing clothes on the beach, and we were thinking, “Can we shoot here? Can we get out?”. They came out of the houses and we had to explain to them what a movie is. They had no idea. They’d never seen a movie. These people had never seen a television. Conceptually, they didn’t even know what we were talking about. We were going to have to slowly educate them on a movie. We looked around the village, and it was the real deal. It really looked like it was straight out of another time, like out of one of those cannibal movies, but also beautiful like a Werner Herzog movie, Terrence Malick film or even Apocalypto. So we went full National Geographic with these natives, and we brought a generator and a television and we showed them Cannibal Holocaust! I thought the producers were going to show them E.T. or Wizard Of Oz, but they were like, “Yeah, we showed them Cannibal Holocaust…” “WHAT?!”
So I had pictures of these five-year-olds sitting there, watching Cannibal Holocaust and they’ve never seen a movie before. That’s their only frame of reference for what a movie is. The whole village signed up to dress up and play cannibals.
It was amazing. To get there was around five hours travel every day. You’d have to drive an hour on a dirt road to the boat and sail up the Amazon river. We brought coolers of Gatorade and ice, and the kids had never seen ice, they were like, “Woah!” It was mind-blowing to be in a village of people, both young and old, who’d never left the village, so they’d never seen it before. It was a trip.
Did you introduce them to Coca Cola?
They went crazy for Coca Cola. We actually had to hide our soda, because they went so crazy for Coca Cola. The kids wanted ice cream too! By the end, the kids were playing around with the fake heads. It was amazing. The weirdest, craziest thing was at the end, they all knew how to use the iPads and iPhones. They would all take our phones and shoot pictures and videos. We totally tampered with the social ecosystem of this village, but we put metal roofs on all the houses. They all live in straw huts, and we asked, “What do you want?”. We could pay money but they have no way to go into town and spend it, so we put metal on everyone’s house in the whole village, and they said, “That’s gonna change our lives.” It was crazy.
Are the kids in The Green Inferno like the ones you had in Hostel?
Yeah, they’re worse. They are amazing. Whereas in Hostel, aged five was the youngest, we could have two and three year old kids in The Green Inferno. It was amazing. The kids were so funny. What I realised is that kids are great in movies because kids make it authentic. In this village, we had pigs, chickens and bulls. We had a bull, “MURR!”, stomping through the shot. It’s like, “Sorry!”. Shitting on set. The kids were so damn funny, and because they had never seen a camera before, none of them were self-conscious at all. Whether you were filming or not, they would just do it again. These extras working in 110 degree heat in the sun, never asked to go to the bathroom. They would do it again. You just have them eating guts and fingers and they were so happy to. They were awesome. I miss those kids. We were there for a month so by the end I knew everyone in the village. I was on a first-name basis with all of them, and everyone was crying when we left. It was really sad.
Would you go back and visit?
Oh yeah. Of course. Going to have to do a premiere there. 😉
Many thanks to Eli Roth for the interview.
The Last Exorcism Part 2 is in UK cinemas Friday 7th June 2013
Nicolas Lopez’s Aftershock, co-written and starring Eli Roth, will be available to own on DVD in the UK from 26th August 2013.