Roth, Eli (The Last Exorcism)
Eli Roth is known for being the guy who put the gore back in horror. Before Cabin Fever hit theaters in the early 2000s, the theatrical landscape from our beloved genre was looking a little bleak. Once Roth unleashed the film, his clever and creepy gorefest set in the woods, fans knew that the times, they were a-changing.
Fast forward eight years. Roth is no longer the “independent-filmmaker-who-could” but rather the “independent-filmmaker-that-did” after successfully following up Cabin Fever with theatrical releases of both Hostel and Hostel 2 and garnering praise for his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds last year. All of this good fortune through the years of his career has given Roth the opportunity to now champion other directors, like Daniel Stamm, who helmed the upcoming thriller The Last Exorcism (review here).
While Roth, who served as a producer on the film, was making the press rounds for the upcoming tale of a preacher who faces true evil during his last performed exorcism, Dread Central had the opportunity to sit down and chat with him about his involvement behind-the-scenes on The Last Exorcism and how the project took him back to his independent roots.
“The whole concept started with producer Eric Newman (Dawn of the Dead remake), who wanted to do a documentary-style movie of an exorcism that goes horribly wrong,” explained Roth. “He hired Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland initially to write the script, and when he met with Studio Canal, they told Eric that they would finance this movie if my name was attached to it. I think it’s really nice that kind of recognition happens because the fans have been so gracious and supportive towards my work and now foreign distributors know they can sell a movie if my name is on it.”
“We got a lot of freedom to do what we wanted to with Last Exorcism once the money was raised. We took that trust Studio Canal put into us as producers and put that trust right into Daniel Stamm to direct the film. We told Daniel, ‘Cast the best actors. Don’t worry about names and just make sure these are the right people for the story,’ which is very much the opposite of how the system usually works. Most of the time no one will finance you if your film doesn’t have a name actor, but we were lucky. I think if we would have used a big name, it would have distracted from the spirit of the project,” Roth added.
Roth, who built his career as the guy who pushed the boundaries of gore (I still exercise extreme caution any time I shave my legs thanks to him), found himself in new territory with The Last Exorcism, a movie that features a very limited amount of blood and hardly a body count. The producer said that most of what effectively makes the project terrifying is the tension built around this young girl and what that means for those who get involved to try and help her condition.
“I think our ultimate goal was that we just wanted to make a truly scary movie, and the story really didn’t call for a lot of gore or violence,” Roth explained. “The premise of a girl who may or may not be possessed was scary enough, especially when you factor in threats from her family. So when Lionsgate came in and bought the film, they told us that if the MPAA asked us to cut the most important scenes in order to get a PG-13 rating, then we’d just work with The Last Exorcism having an R rating. That was incredible because they believed so much in the film, they didn’t want a castrated version of it released in theaters.”
“I feel very lucky that we’re getting a theatrical release for The Last Exorcism. The reality of the industry today is that it costs $20 million just to do a wide theatrical release so studios have to make sure that the interest is there to make it profitable. The bottom line is the film has to be at a certain level of quality for studios to want to release it wide, and thankfully Lionsgate saw that quality in Last Exorcism,” Roth added.
While certainly the success of last year’s Paranormal Activity, which was also a documentary-style horror film, helped reinvigorate a new era in genre storytelling, Roth said that it didn’t have much bearing on whether or not The Last Exorcism would get made.
Roth said, “We had this movie in development for four years so we had already shot Last Exorcism by the time Paranormal Activity hit theaters last fall. So while Paranormal isn’t necessarily the reason behind why we were able to get this movie made, the hunger it created in the marketplace is really nice to come into.”
Even though Roth has been the central champion in the media for The Last Exorcism for some time now, he said the spirit of the film truly came from the up-and-coming director Stamm.
“I worked with Daniel from the minute he was hired up until he finished casting the film,” explained Roth. “What I really liked is that we both had similar energies so we could bounce ideas off each other and that I could use some of my past experience with getting an indie horror film made and give Daniel some wisdom out of that.”
“Once he started shooting, though, I was doing a lot of the press for Inglourious Basterds so I couldn’t really be there on set with him. By the time I was done with Cannes, he was about two thirds of the way done shooting, and they had such a vibe going on set already since everyone was living together in the house they filmed in, I really didn’t want to interrupt that at all or take anything away from what Daniel was doing. So I just stayed away,” Roth added.
Roth let Stamm take the vision he had for the project to create the first edit of the film, and then the duo worked together diligently in post-production to put the finishing touches on the project. Roth said, “I let Daniel cut the film himself until he really found the movie in all of the footage, and once he got to that point, my involvement was to sit with him and just be a resource to him to help him get the movie in the best shape it could be.”
“Daniel is such a smart and strong filmmaker on his own that I just think me being there to help guide him during post-production and show him how to get through the obstacles that come along with independent filmmaking was the best thing I could do. I wanted to stay away when it was necessary and just be there for him when he needed me to be there,” Roth added.
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