During the Hostel junket, myself and a few other journalists sat in a hotel room waiting for the film’s writer/director Eli Roth to come in for his interview. While watching the Giants/Chiefs game, somehow the conversation turned to sick things we had seen on the internet. We were in the middle of this conversation when Eli walked in and that is how this interview began. (Again beware, this interview contains spoilers).
Question: So Eli have you ever seen a man fucked to death by a horse?
Eli Roth: A Man? No. Not a man fucked to death by a horse. I’ve seen a girl fucking a horse, I’ve seen two Japanese girls vomiting in each other’s mouths in a bathtub, but I have never seen a man fucked to death by a horse.
It feels like a Fangoria convention in here with all of these familiar faces. Now do I have to be the director and you are the interviewer? Sorry, sorry, Professional face. Hello! You’re welcome.
Q: How did Hostel come about?
ER: I knew I was gonna write it. It was one of those things, after Cabin Fever was all totally built through internet and word of mouth. We made it for 1 million and a half bucks, and it wound up doing over 100 million dollars, not that any of it went to me. About 4 dollars did but that’s cool. After that I had all this opportunity and I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I started writing this project here, and got set up with this studio, and I kind of started like 15 different things. When you’re completely on the outside, and then all of a sudden every door is open, you wanna start taking advantage of it but then I realized, it’s like those magnetic dogs when you put their noses together and they start spinning, in 15 different directions.
I was talking to Quentin, and Quentin loved Cabin Fever. After he saw it he invited me to his house to watch movies. We watched War of the Gargantuas, Hell Night, Blood and Black Lace and Zombi.. We would just geek out watching movies. I said to Quentin, “You know, I kind of just don’t know what to do now. I’m at this weird place where I’m being offered to direct studio movies, I have my own stuff that sort of developing”. And he’s like, “Well, what ideas are you working on?” I told him, this and this and this…and I said “Well, then there’s this other thing…” and I told him the idea for Hostel and he was like “Are you Fucking Kidding me? That’s the sickest fucking idea I have ever heard. You’ve got to do that. Fuck it, do it low budget”. I have a horror company called Raw Nerve, and suggested I do it for like 3 million bucks or something. “Go to Europe and make it as sick as you want to make it. Make it fucking balls-out. This could be your Takashi Miike film. This could be a classic American horror movie.” So I thought about it… I have a lot of experience making low budget movies. I know how to do it, but I know I could learn and make it even better. I said, “Fuck it he’s right.”
So I drove home that day and unplugged my phone, and I just burned out the draft. I showed it to Scott Spiegel and Boaz Yakin, my partners at Raw Nerve, and they loved it. They had great ideas. I sat down and did another draft all in the span of two weeks, and I showed it to Quentin, and he was like, “This is fucking awesome. Let’s go through it.” And we went through the script. And he’s like, “You know what? We’re gonna do a bullshit pass. I’m gonna call bullshit where it feels like this could only happen in a movie. If this is movie convenience or it’s not something that you and I would do, then I am calling bullshit. “He can’t get out of the chair like this, cut his fucking fingers off” “All right all right.” “Well, I wanna cut his hand, but then would he bleed to death?” “No, if you cut half his hand he could probably still wiggle out…” you know, that kind of stuff. So, we did like a whole pass, we went through it and sort of did a reality pass on it, and it just sort of seemed natural. Quentin was like, “You know, Id love to be involved in this, and I’m like, “Yeah, it’d be so fucking fun”. So he was just great.
We shot in Prague while he was doing a CSI episode, and he was really helpful in the editing room. George Folsey cut the movie with me. He was John Landis’ partner, he produced American Werewolf in London, Blues Brothers, Trading Places, and he cut Animal House. He had also edited a lot of blaxsploitation movies that Quentin loved like Bucktown and J.D.’s Revenge, that’s where George kind of cut his teeth, those AIP movies, so Quentin had seen all his movies. Quentin came in the editing room and said, “Well, what do you think of this, maybe, you know I think you can cut this. You know, I think this is a good scare, but what if you add some this to that?” he helped us trim it down. But honestly, it was his enthusiasm, his spark. You know, you get that fear of doing your second film, especially if the first one did really, really well. I wanted to make sure this one does well, too, but I also want to do something that I’m proud of that feels like a step forward. It just felt like the right next movie.
Q: You were looking for that Miike feel. Do you think that you could have pushed it a little further?
ER: Yeah…No, it’s not that I want to reach a broader audience. I was really looking at the story I was telling and who I was telling it for. I mean, I think that Miike makes the greatest Miike movies ever. There’s only one Miike and there’s no need to try to be Miike. I just want to be the best me, not the best Miike. Sorry, that was lame.
If you’re really, really looking at it, obviously it’s really heavily influenced by Audition and The Vanishing. With Cabin Fever I started going to Stiges film festival, Brussels, and seeing Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Audition and all of a sudden I’m seeing all the good stuff that of course never makes it into theaters over here. That’s when I was like, “Holy Shit, South Korea, this is where it’s at.” Like what the fuck is going on there, in Japan…they’re making these balls-out moves that are just so disturbing. But you know, I didn’t want to imitate shots like in Cabin Fever I was like “This is my Texas Chainsaw Massacre Shot” and “This is my shot from The Thing”. I decided it was time for me to stand on my own. I can be influenced by these movies, but I am not going to watch movies and take shots. I can hear the music, this is the feel, I just see it this way, and just kind of going with that.
I didn’t want to try to make it so violent just for the sake of that. I wanted people to come out and say yeah, “that was sick and fucked up”, but it still has to be an R rated film to get released, so that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t feel like there was any need to try to make Ichi the Killer 2. That’s what Miike does, and let those guys do that. I kinda wanted to make something that felt influenced by that but was still an American movie.
Q: Why is horror such the obsession for you? When did you realize the genre, and who was worried about that?
ER: Well, no one was worried about that. I knew I wanted to make horror movies from the time I was eight years old. I remember I was six when I saw The Exorcist; I was eight when my dad took me to see Alien in the theater. And I said, “I wanna be a producer,” it said, Produced by David Giler, and my dad said, “The producer has to raise all the money”. It said, Directed by Ridley Scott, I said, “Well, what does the director do?” He says, “The director gets to spend the money and tell everybody what to do” I was like, “Ok, I wanna be a director”.
I just always loved scary stories, always. I love when you’re sitting around at a sleepover or something telling ghost stories. I went to overnight camp and day camp and anytime there was a sleepover or a cookout by a fire, everyone sits around and tells ghost stories. It’s just so much fun to be scared like that. You know, I can’t watch real violence. I don’t like real blood in real life, but I can watch movie violence endlessly. I love magic tricks, too, like people getting sawed in half. I don’t know where that comes from, but it’s a combination of the two; ghost stories and magic tricks, kind of all combined into one.
When I was eight, I started making chainsaw films. Like, that was all I ever wanted to do. Now, the directors I love are like Spielberg, Peter Jackson and obviously Quentin and Sam Raimi. They all started out making amazing horror films. Tthey love movies and they just look at great stories. I now am at the point where I want to tell stories and if they were scary stories, I’d make a scary movie. But if I feel that way about a dramatic story or science fiction, I’m gonna throw myself into it. Those are the directors that I respect and admire and certainly want to be like. The idea isn’t just to scare people, it’s just to tell stories and to believe in it.
Q: Why did you choose Jay Hernandez?
ER: Jay Hernandez, I think, is really underrated. His career really started with Crazy/Beautiful, but the last few movies that Jay has done he’s been in were really good movies like The Rookie, Ladder 49, Friday Night Lights. He’s in an ensemble; wearing a uniform and a lot of times he’s got a helmet or a hat on. So you kind of don’t distinguish him in those movies, even though he’s very good. In Ladder 49 he got cut down to nothing. He read the script and he really responded to it. When I met him, and I thought, “This guy would be incredible. I’d be lucky to get this guy.” He was such a good actor that he feels like a regular guy. I didn’t want people who looked like pretty boys, or movie people. I wanted people who felt like guys I went to college with, grew up with, people that I know. The thing about Jay is he’s really like a real guy. He has that quality, that very natural style of acting. You don’t feel like he’s acting. He’s just somebody who throws himself in the role. What I also felt about Jay was that he was willing to make himself vulnerable. A lot of those guys want to be macho and tough all the time, they don’t want to sit there and be crying like a baby when they’re about to die in a movie and Jay was willing to do that. He did it really well in a way that you don’t go “Oh, that pussy” I mean, you genuinely feel sorry for him. You go “Fuck yeah, I’d be doing the same thing.”
Q: How did the story come about?
ER: I’ll tell you where it started. It started with a conversation with Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles. Harry and I were talking about sick stuff we’d seen on the Internet, like that the guy in Texas who set it up so you could control a gun and hunt lions and wild game online. The FBI had shut this guy down. I think his legal defense was that he was making it so handicapped people could hunt, too. It was so fucked up (laughs). I thought, “Jesus. Why wouldn’t they just put a human being in a room?” and Harry said, “Well, actually I found something like that” and he sent me a link to a site where you could go to Thailand and for ten thousand dollars, walk into a room and shoot somebody in the head. The site claimed that the person you were killing had signed up for it and that part of the money would go to their family because they were so broke and were gonna die anyways. It was to give you the thrill of taking another human life. So we said, “Is this Bullshit? Is this real?” it looked real. But you know what, it doesn’t matter. Whether this place exists or not is not important.
The point is that somebody built a website about it. Somebody else thought up, realized, and conceptualized this site. They figured that there’s some guy out there that’s so bored with money and drugs, they can’t get off from going to a hooker or strip club or doing drugs. They’re looking for that next level of thrill and that, I said, was real. I know people like that. I can just see someone to money means nothing, they’ve got all these things and they’re just numb. They want to walk into a room and just kill someone without any consequences.
I saw parallels between guys I knew who would go to Europe or even go to Vegas and go “yeah, we’re gonna go get hookers and do drugs” or “we’re gonna go to Amsterdam” and it’s kind of this American thing of going abroad and doing all these things you’re not supposed to do. That’s why I made Amsterdam purposefully look like an X-rated Disneyland. It’s just another story. They’re not interacting with another human being, they’re just paying their money, and they’re on that path. But what happens after twenty years from now? They would wind up like these businessmen. The brothel in Amsterdam is kind of like this weird mirror image of this; the slaughterhouse is a horrible, hell-version of that brothel. Josh walks up and down the hall; Jay gets dragged down the hall. I saw parallels in the exploitation and the value of life, or lack of it, in other parts of the world.
Q: Was their any issue with the establishment of the tone in the first half of the film?
ER: Yeah, I made a conscious decision not to make it a scary horror movie from minute one. We had the creepy title sequence, but I wanted the audience to go on a trip with the guys. I wanted them to be there in Amsterdam having fun. Then they get lured in and kind of seduced into going to Slovakia the way the guys do… then they fucking pay the price for it. That’s what I love about Audition, that the guy is so sexist and is kind of unaware of it. You know these guys, the way they’re looking at women, the way they’re treating women. I very deliberately made Jay Hernandez unlikable in that first half, the way he’s like, “Ah that bitch is a fucking hog”, but he doesn’t even realize it. It’s kind of the moment where he goes back to rescue Kana that you actually start to like him. While he’s getting tortured you’re like, “yeah, that fucker, he kind of deserves it, he’s a dick!” I wanted to make a movie that was like a slow burn kind of horror film. I love Audition, where there’s all the build up to the last ten minutes, and then it’s just horrifying.
I know that’s gonna throw people, but hopefully they’re interested enough in the story and like the characters enough to go along with the ride. If they pay that money for the ticket then they probably will and I think it hopefully gets people to feel like it delivers at the end. But I felt like, if you start off the movie with people’s fingers getting cut off and eyes getting cut out, then for 45 minutes into it, you’re changing the channel already, you know, you’re just bored. I really wanted to have something that would keep people guessing, that would keep them off guard, where they would really not know where it was going. Cause everybody sees horror movies ten steps ahead now, everybody has seen everything, so I like a movie where it’s like, “Oh this wasn’t what I expected” or “Oh, that’s weird,” or “Oh, what’s going on with this guy, and the, why, and what the fuck’s this all about? This guy is like, touching the other guy…” I wanted to have it start off colorful and light, with controlled camera work… once Oli disappears, then the color starts to drain away, and by the end it’s like very rough, hand-held camera work and it’s basically black, ashen, and just…the color of blood.
Q: What about the misdirection in script?
Eli: I don’t want to give it away, obviously, to people who haven’t seen it. There is some very clear misdirection. It’s purposely to throw the audience off. I want people to feel like they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them. I want people to feel like, they know where we are, they know who these people are, they know who the main characters are, they know what’s gonna happen, and all of a sudden it just steps on you. You’re stuck in a foreign land with no subtitles where they don’t speak the language, with someone you don’t really kind of know that well who’s kind of a dick, and its like, “Oh fuck, where am I? What’s going to happen to me?” It makes people feel really unsafe. I like that. You know, I think Psycho did that really well.
Q: So how did you find the babes?
ER: We had casting sessions in Prague and for the two main girls; nobody came close to Barbara, who played the brunette Natalya, out of something like 400 girls who auditioned. She walked in the room and she was like a young Monica Belucci. That quality of Louise Schneider, one of those foreign girls that are from another era, that are just…she doesn’t look like the typical Los Angeles beauty; you know, I didn’t want the fake tits. I wanted someone who looks like they are from another world. When she read the scene she completely understood it; that scene where she’s manipulating Jay and kind of fucking with him in the bar, where you don’t know if she’s on drugs or if she doesn’t really understand, or … she’s just looking him in the eye and fucking with him. She was really, really terrifying. Nobody came close to her.
That was one of the great things about getting to shoot in the Czech republic, getting to work with these actors like Jan, who played the Dutch businessman. We called him Hannibal Czecktor, he was a fresh actor from the Czech Republic, he usually only does Shakespeare and very rarely does film but he decided to do this. All of a sudden, this guy who seems nice enough is doing these terrible things, and he’s got those piercing eyes. That was what was so fun about shooting there. Most people who shoot in Prague will shoot it for America. So they’ll have someone who will be waiter #3 and they’ll hire them and they’ll dub their voice, so it looks like American, but I wrote something that could incorporate that, where you could get actors acting at the top of their game and not trying to fake their accent or hide it.
Q: So was that website real?
ER: The site itself was real, but you had to give credit card information, and I was at the point where I wanted to do a documentary about it, and it’s like, to get any further I would have had to give personal information and I figure these people kill people for a living, I’m not gonna find out. I’ll leave that to someone else. That’s a mystery I don’t need to solve. I had no idea if this place existed. I know that the website was real, the site was real, somebody built a site for that, and my point was like, well, somebody thought of it. That’s fucked up. Someone is thinking about this and went so far as to create a website about it.
Q: What can you tell us about the Ollie character?
ER: Olli, the Icelander. You know, I love Iceland. I lived there when I was 19. It’s funny, because Iceland inspired Cabin Fever and I went there when we were prepping that and met this guy Eythor, who was one of the funniest guys I had ever met. We went out, and he was insane, I had never met anyone like him, and I thought, “This guy has to be in a movie”. He does Iron Man competitions, he’s been on television, he has businesses, he’s just this fascinating character. I remember the first week I went to Iceland I was 19, I went to some horse show, and everyone was drunk and going crazy, and I was just standing back, watching like a bunch of drunken people going nuts and I was like, “These people are awesome!”
Icelanders aren’t in movies, you know, you don’t see an Icelandic character. So I figured, you know what? I can take 1100 years of Icelandic culture and fucking flush it down the toilet in 90 minutes. Because I will make everybody think that everyone from Iceland is like this guy. Bjork is fine. She’s had a god run, but it’s time for her to step aside. I think Eythor should be the most famous person in the world from Iceland. I know Bjork is there, and we saw her when we were there, she’s perfectly nice, but she didn’t strike me as the people that I’ve met in Iceland as a typical Icelander. Whereas Eythor, that’s what they’re like. In fact when I was there, we had a premiere there and the Minister of Culture threw me a huge dinner, just me, Quentin, and Eythor, and I got to issue a formal apology to the Minister of Culture for ruining Icelandic culture which he accepted, Then we met the president of Iceland and I asked him for a presidential pardon for ruining Iceland all over the world and he actually said, “Well, you know, you’re character is pretty accurate so I’ll give you the pardon”
Q: What was the hardest part of shooting Hostel?
ER: Honestly, after shooting Cabin Fever, which had no money, it was a piece of cake. The hard part for me was leaving Prague and going back to Los Angeles. I had the best time shooting, I loved the crews, the production went so smoothly, and I was shooting a horror movie! We had KNB there; there was blood, guts, and chainsaws. I didn’t want it to end. The hardest part was when the shoot ended and I had to go back in the editing room. I loved editing, I had a great time with George, but I fell in love with Prague and it was hard to let it go. I loved being overseas. I had no problems fitting in to the culture of the Czech Republic; Ii wished I could have shot 120 days instead of 40.
Q: Do you think now you will get back to those studio projects?
ER: It’s interesting. After Cabin Fever I had all these studio things that I started setting up. But now I’m spoiled. I’ve done two movies in a row that I got to write, produce, direct, completely control, and was involved in the marketing of. So I guess it depends what project it is. Obviously if someone came up to me and said, “We want you to do Indiana Jones 4” or even, Porky’s 4”, I’d be like, “All right, great”. I kinda feel like, if this movie does well, it kind of reinforces my confidence that maybe I should just follow my own ideas. And maybe, if I keep going on this path, I could eventually wind up like Quentin or Robert Rodriguez, who get to make movies for 40-50 million dollars budget level, they’re completely controlled and they do it their own way, and make them in their own backyards. That’s how I’d like to do it. So I truthfully don’t know. After this movie I’m spoiled, and it’s making me think twice about how I want to do everything in the future.
Q: How do you feel about the Hostel trailer? Do you feel that it shows too much?
ER: The trailer. It’s got to look really dark; it’s got to be really scary. The studio agrees. But then they say, “What if you could go torture….” And I’m like, “You’re giving away the whole movie!” and they say, “Yeah, But we tested it, and it’s testing higher than Saw II”. What can I say? At a certain point, it’s a business and it’s out of your hands. I wish everyone would just go see the movie because I really want them to, but they have to sell it, and unfortunately they give away way too much. It’s at a point now where they don’t tell me they’re gonna put stuff on the internet. I went to Dread Central, and there was like a whole clip of the Eyegasm. Not only did they put that on there, there was no music… like, why would you give that away? But whatever, that’s what people like…there’s a certain point where you have to let go. I can’t control everything, as much as I would like to.
Q: Do you think people will compare Hostel to Saw?
ER: No, not really, only in that they were made around the same time. You know, everyone will always compare it to Saw, since it’s closer in tone, and Saw is a violent movie… but it’s a puzzle movie. It’s a different kind of horror movie; you’re trying to figure out what’s happening. I love Saw II. It’s fun, it’s a mystery, and there’s twists and turns… the girl falling n needles was pretty fucked up, but I don’t feel like that’s going to happen to me, you know what I mean? It doesn’t kind of resonate in that way. It’s a scary movie and it’s awesome and it’s fun, but it doesn’t feel like… Like a lot of people end up telling me that for them the most disturbing scene is with the businessman and he’s like “Oh my god, did you like it? How did you do it?” You think about it in different ways. So you know what? I’d be lucky to be compared to a movie like Saw II, it was a really fun movie and it did great. So if people want to do that, then that’s up to them.
Once again, thanks to Lions Gate for setting up the junket and for allowing us to participate in it. Hostel opens everywhere on January 6th, be sure to visit its official site for more cool stuff!