Eli Roth needs no introduction, but what the hell. Ever since the fiendishly funny Cabin Fever hit theaters in 2002, the Boston native has been working tirelessly to establish himself as the master of the horror universe. Mission accomplished. The success of Hostel and its sequel, Hostel II, made Roth the primo purveyor of so-called “torture porn”—a label Roth rejects—and pretty much gave the filmmaker carte rouge to lend his hemoglobin-soaked vision to a bunch of diverse projects. They include everything from a role in Inglorious Basterds, to the Vegas tourist deathtrap Eli Roth’s Goretorium, to Netflix’s latest attempt at original programming, Hemlock Grove (Roth directed the pilot and is executive producer).
Roth’s latest fever nightmare is Aftershock, a blood-n-guts disaster romp he stars in and co-wrote with the film’s director, Nicolas Lopez. The movie, which is loosely based on Lopez’s real-life experiences, follows three bros who head to Chile for some VIP partying, only to discover how much things can suck when an earthquake traps them in an underground club. But the twist: things suck even more when they finally escape—think escaped prisoners, general lawlessness, and worst of all, no cell service.
Roth recently returned to the director’s chair with The Green Inferno (Amazon, cannibals, total fucking chaos), and we caught up with the delightfully talkative mini-mogul to discuss his insanely busy life, the power of the retweet, and some “asshole” from The Hollywood Reporter.
In the last few years you’ve stopped directing movies and focused much more on your brand. What’s behind that?
A whole lot of marketing. Right from the beginning, I saw five stages to make a movie. Write the movie, then you raise the money, then shooting, then editing the movie, and the last stage which is the most important, which is the promotion. And it never ends. I remember when I was shooting my first feature, making sure the behind-the-scenes was as funny as the movie, and mine was the first DVD that had multiple commentary tracks. I had five of them in Cabin Fever, and people didn’t even know you were allowed to do more than one. I had a lot to say. I wanted it to be a DVD for people to listen to over and over, and slowly digest over a thousand years. But really I put myself out there as the new face of horror, and people liked me because I could speak articularly, be camera-friendly, and I looked very much against the type of what people expected directors to look like, and especially people that made horror movies to look like. But also I have had very interesting opportunities in my career, like the collaboration with Tarantino as an actor, and then collaborating with RZA in Man with the Iron Fist. Life presented me these strange and wonderful opportunities and I just fully dove in it.
Is it hard to figure out what it is you want to do? You must be presented with a plethora of opportunities.
Yeah, and I certainly think I exceeded my bandwidth last year. I was opening a haunted house in Vegas, the Goretorium, which is going great. Tourists are going there and freaking out and throwing up. But it does become hard to pick and choose and narrow down what you really, really want to do, because it like you’ve waited your whole life to do all these things and suddenly you can do all of it. I certainly think my new word for 2013 is “streamline.”
In Aftershock, you’re in front of the camera. You obviously don’t need the money. Are you doing it just for kicks?
Yeah. All of it I do because it’s fun. Aftershock really came from my conversations with Nicolas Lopez, whose films I love. He’s so innovative. He’s the one who figured out shooting on a Canon 7D. That’s what our approach to Aftershock was. Let’s shoot it in five days. If you put a Zeiss lens or a nice Canon lens on it, it looks like you’re shooting film and nobody cares what it’s shot on, because they’re going to watch it on iTunes, they’re going to watch it on their iPad. It’d be great if they’d see it in the theater, but it’ll be digitally projected anyways, so fuck it. And we wanted to do something that felt like an old school disaster movie where we really destroyed shit. And there’s a little bit of CG, but it’s 99% practical in the movie. We wanted to make an old school movie where you really, really felt the destruction. And his stories of that night of the earthquake were so fucking horrifying. We didn’t have to invent anything. We just strung different events together in a row.
In the third act, Aftershock veers away from the disaster element and becomes more about humans turning on each other. Why did you take it in that direction?
We’re making a movie that shows society unraveling. That’s what the film is about, the collapse of society and people reverting to some feral state of survival or attack. The film’s about moral choices and what do you do when you’re presented with these various challenges. We are also are making a horrific movie, so we wanted to show the horror of what humans are capable of. If a prison breaks open, prisoners have to behave like prisoners. One of the nice things about independent cinema is you don’t have to play by anybody’s rules. I find most movies are so boring, because I see the same thing over and over and over again.
You often retweet fans’ positive reactions to your work. What’s it like having such immediate access to your audience?
It used to be the IMDB message board. First it was the Ain’t It Cool News review and then all the fan comments which were always, fuck you, this sucked. Then you could see IMDB message boards or message threads. I’d go on Bloody Disgusting or Dread Central and read the threads of what people were saying, but that’s a specific type of fan. I would say fan boy. And they’re coming from a different place.
Horror fans, too.
Horror fans, they fucking hate everything and they hate you, especially. No matter what you do, you’re fucked. But Twitter is incredible. House of Cards was like the greatest show ever made, so after House of Cards, anything was going to get killed critically. You’re not making the show thinking you’re going to be compared to House of Cards. And then you see the fan response and it broke records for downloads. It just blew everything away.
When it comes to retweeting fans positive reactions, you’re very prolific.
It’s partly marketing. Yeah, I’m going to lose followers by re-tweeting, but fuck it. People love the show. They want me to know they watched all 13 episodes, and I’m letting them know I appreciate that. And by the way, Netflix is counting and looking and watching, and they have data on how much #HemlockGrove gets re-tweeted, what’s the buzz word, and are we a trending topic? You can’t imagine the impact that data makes on a corporation whose stock price depends on this stuff. So part of my job is to get out there and trumpet the success of it and let other people know that people love the show. And I know this asshole in The Hollywood Reporter ripped me a new one, but fuck it.
He was just like it’s the worst thing ever that happened in history. It’s hilarious. It’s so bad it makes you want to watch the show.
What do you mean he ripped you?
They tore the show to pieces and me in particular, because I’m the brunt of it. I put myself out there as the face of it, so of course I’m going to be attacked. It doesn’t matter. People love it and they’re dying for season two.
After Hostel 2, so-called “torture porn” faced a backlash. Do you resent that term?
I think it’s silly. It’s like parents describing that “damn rock’n’roll music.” Whoever uses that phrase, you instantly know they’re not into those movies, and they have some agenda against them. It always says way more about the person using it than the movies themselves. And chances are they never watch them and never would watch them and use it as a platform to feel morally superior.
Selena Gomez has a tiny cameo in Aftershock. Was there ever any pressure to use that in your marketing?
No, no, no. Of course not. It’s a cameo. We didn’t cast Selena. Selena’s a friend. She was doing a concert in Santiago. We were shooting nights, and I said, do you want to come by on set and see what we’re doing? She came by just to hang out and was so impressed and so into it, that we were like, why don’t we just shoot something with you. And we made up a scene and shot it. If you blink, you’ll miss it, but that’s part of the fun was. I was like, we’re not going to sell it as a Selena Gomez film. I know what her name means, and it’s not fair to do that to her. That was never the spirit of what we did. It’s just fun and random and a nice little aside. Besides, my name’s enough to open it. You’re not going to sell a horror movie on Selena. I love Selena, but you have me, so sell it from my name.