Exclusive: Eli Roth Talks Season 2 of AMC’s HISTORY OF HORROR

AMC’s Eli Roth-produced (and hosted) History of Horror is now back with a second season that features everyone from Bill Hader and Mary Harron to Stephen King and Rob Zombie tackling their own films, along with various others found within the subgenres of horror we all love. From haunted houses to evil children, season two of History of Horror amps up what made the first season resonate with audiences and horror lovers all around and brings viewers a series of episodes that serve as in depth conversations about the horror flicks we latch onto. 

We thought we’d reach out and chat with Roth about season two, along with what he sees coming in future horror. Read on!

Dread Central: Genre fans loved the first season of History of Horror. It felt like a good, in-depth look at the genre we all adore. When gearing up for season two, what were some things you wanted to add to the mix this time around and were there any parts of the first season you avoided?

Eli Roth: The show is truly a labor of love.  Many people have a lot to say on the subject, and I felt like it had never been categorized in any sort of historical way in a docuseries. I wanted something that would be fun to watch ten, twenty, thirty years from now, where you could see all the creators who made these incredible films telling their personal stories about them and why they made them.  Plus we’re losing so many of our masters, I wanted to get them on camera talking about their films and others that inspired them before they go.  Already since filming we lost Joel Schumacher and Stuart Gordon, and before we got to film we lost Wes, Tobe, Romero, H.G. Lewis. When they go, their stories go with them, so I’m just glad to get everyone in the show to be enjoyed for all time.

Horror films and genre films are often loaded with messages that the creators slip in there, sometimes overtly and sometimes subtly, and it’s fun to really see what the films were about.  I was fascinated to hear Mary Harron talk about American Psycho and how she approached the material and why. The novel and the film fascinated me, so it’s really incredible for me to hear what Mary wanted to say with the film.  That film over time has become an undisputed classic, but when it was first released the public did not spark to it. That’s the beauty of horror movies – comedies are very much of the moment they were made in and don’t always age well, but the blood in horror films becomes like a fine wine that only grows more interesting and complex over time.  So to answer your question, there’s so much we wanted to say, it was just a matter of what we could fit into the structure of six episodes.  I could make six hundred episodes of the show, the hardest part is what to keep in and what to leave out.  Also – just know if you don’t see someone on the show, we asked, believe me.  We try to get everyone in there, but often people’s schedules conflict with the shooting dates and others are just tired of talking about certain films, which I understand. Everyone gets the opportunity, though.

DC: The show captures how many creative types are horror fans, from Bill Hader all the way to the great Stephen King. What is it about the genre that you think is able to be such a universal passion for so many?

ER: Horror’s unpretentious.  They’re not made for praise and awards, they’re made to shock audiences and scare you. If a horror movie does its job, it terrifies you and you never forget it.   It’s just pure fun, and you love it at such an early age, that when you watch these movies now you feel like a kid again.  Even thinking back to how scared you got watching that movie with a group of friends that one night, it’s a fun memory to live in.  Horror’s transgressive, the characters in the films misbehave, the villains misbehave, and people get upset at the movies and upset at other people enjoying the movies.  But there are few things we love as much as the stuff we love in those early adolescent years, and those are the years people tend to fall in love with horror.  You get addicted to the adrenaline rush.  Think of what you were into when you were 12, 13, 14 – have you ever felt that way about anything in your life as an adult?  When you’re a kid and young teen those things you’re into are everything. 

DC: How did you pick which subgenres you wanted to tackle this time around?

ER: We have a huge list of categories we want to tackle, but we have to get the network to sign off on them.  It’s a discussion.  I want the show to be accessible, so it’s not about my personal taste, but I want a mix of films people know that we can re-examine and older movies they haven’t heard of or haven’t seen.  The show should be fun for casual fans but also for hardcore horror fans.  

DC: Horror is the one genre that is able to capture so many of society’s fears and concerns, disguised as horror and carnage. Right now, it’s such a massively important time for the world, when it comes to racial inequality and LGBTQ+ rights. Do you think these things are going to be able to find their way into more of the stories we’re given over the next few years, as a way to tackle everything going on in the world?

ER: Often these films precede what’s going on, it’s just something in the air.  Look at Get Out and Us and how ahead of the curve they were.  Some films are right on the cusp, others predict it, other films reflect it.  Horror often reflects the time in which it was made even if it’s not obvious on first viewing.  There’s the text and the sub text.  Sometimes a movie will click and we don’t know why and then years later you look back with a little distance and say “that’s what this film was tapping into.”  One of the things we love discussing on the show are the social issues hidden inside the movies. People often dismiss horror as trash, but the majority of the time it’s critics who are afraid to endorse the film for fear of being seen as endorsing the violence in the story.  But years later the films become beloved classics that are still quoted and imitated and referenced, so clearly there’s something more there.  When I made Cabin Fever, it came from fear of disease, which was coming of age in the 80s when suddenly AIDS meant sex with the wrong person could kill you. So little was known about the virus, and as a teen it was beaten into your head safe sex or you’ll die.  Then Hostel came from other fears, American imperialism, torture, decapitations, capitalism run amok, these types of things.  Green Inferno was satirizing activists who get caught up in a cause for vanity not because they care about the cause itself, and the people they’re trying to save don’t even want their help, they see them as intruders. All my films have messages in them in some way.  But also on the show I make it very clear this doesn’t necessarily make the film good or even a classic – the film has to work as a scary movie, and some films are just damn good scary movies with no message other than that, and that’s perfectly valid.  One does not have more value over the other in my eyes, I just think it’s interesting when you originally write a film off as some gory movie but speak to the creators and then re-watch it and see it through a different lens.

DC: Depending on how Season 2 does, do you have a third round in the cards and if so, what would you like to tackle with that one?

ER: We definitely have the ideas for a third season but the future of the show is up to the fans. The success of the second show will determine a third season or not.  It’s out of my hands, totally up to you all. 

DC: What are some genre films that have stood out to you in recent days?

ER: I thought Doctor Sleep was great.  I loved Alex Aja’s Crawl, and foreign films like RawRaw really blew me away.  I love Robert Eggers films, Ari Aster.  The decapitations in Hereditary were sublime, it was really fun to get to talk with him about them for the show.  Loved The WailingThe Platform, Three From Hell.  Mainly I watch older movies, I still have so many on my list I want to see.  Right now I’m doing Italian anthology films from the 60s, like Le Streghe and Le Fate. The shorts are hit or miss, but I’m a completist so I’m really interested to see Clint Eastwood in an obscure performance directed by Vittorio DeSica. I think, “ah, this is what he was doing in Italy when he wasn’t making Spaghetti Westerns.”   That’s one of the great ones.  



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