Hostel: Part II - Eli Roth interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
ELI Roth talks about his reasons for making Hostel: Part II and why the original film helped to bring torture into the mainstream – with some surprise results!
He also discusses the issue of violence against women and why he agreed to take part in Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse project against his better instincts!
What tempted you to do a sequel?
Eli Roth: I thought that if I’m going to make a sequel it has to be a film that’s so much better than the first one. I think everybody thinks of horror sequels as the law of diminishing returns. But there have been some good ones, like Saw II, I really enjoyed The Devil’s Rejects and 28 Weeks Later and Evil Dead 2. In my case, I wanted to go for Road Warrior and Aliens. I wanted to make a movie that takes the best elements of the first one and really use that as a building block for the sequel.
I thought of it like Kill Bill: Volume One and Two. Instead of Hostel 2 it was going to be Hostel: Part II. What happens if there’s no credits? If you just cut the credits out, what’s next? So, I’m writing it from the point of view of the world’s biggest Hostel fan. So, what do I want to see? What would scare me? What would I be really psyched to see and what am I expecting? What would be disappointing? That was how I approached writing it. I also had the benefit of watching it with audiences around the world.
Q. What do you think people responded to in the first film?
Eli Roth: I felt people responded to two things. One, obviously, is the gore and the scenes like the eye gauging. They want those moments and believe me you’re going to get them in Part II. You have to have those moments where people go: “I can’t fucking believe he did this!” I want to have an ending where people say: “That’s the most shocking ending I’ve ever seen in a mainstream horror film.”
But the scene that people really, really responded to was the one in the locker room where the American client, Rick Hoffman, is going: “How did you kill them? Did you kill them fast or slow?” More people told me that scene disturbed more than anything else in the film. It was the excited look on his face that really disturbed people. They wanted to see a movie about that guy and I thought I did too. I want to know more about that character and this organisation and I want to see girls… I want to see what happens when girls get brought into it. So, now that we know what this place is let’s use that. We don’t have to see it through the guy’s eyes again.
Q. Is it fair comment to say that films like Hostel and its sequel are putting the shocks back into the horror genre?
Eli Roth: I think in the late ’80s and early ’90s horror was dead. They came back in the form of the ghost movies. People said that everyone wants PG-13 movies. But it was like: “Well, no if you look back at The Ring, The Others, The Sixth Sense... at the time it was like, ‘see, everyone wants PG-13!’ Those are great movies but looking back now that was M Night Shyamalan, Alejandro Amenábar and Gore Verbinski directing those movies. It’s no accident those movies were as successful as they were. You had three of the top directors in the world making those films.” But all the copycat movies were always PG-13 and people said: “Nobody wants violence.”
I think in a post-9/11 world, with the images coming back from Iraq, everybody knows more and more people who are going over there… the images on the YouTube phenomenon where the violence is so immediate. Direct people need something stronger to respond to. I think that there’s definitely a wave of directors – who are labelled the splat pack – who really, really care about making great scary movies. You have Neil Marshall [The Descent], James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who made the Saw movies, and Alexandre Aja [The Hills Have Eyes] and Rob Zombie… we love these movies and we really want to make scary, intense films like the ones from the ’70s and the ones we grew up on.
Q. But it has also brought a backlash with it, with many referring to them as torture porn… What’s your view on that?
Eli Roth: Well it’s amazing. What’s interesting is that when Hostel came out, the average budget of a horror movie was $80 million. I made Hostel for $3.8 million. Then when it opened at No.1 with $20 million and knocked out Narnia people were like: “What the hell is going on? How are people flocking to this violent movie?” So, immediately the critics said: “Oh, it’s torture porn, people are getting off on the violent!” Actually, they missed the point of the movie. The point was that what scares people is the thought of someone using violence as a replacement for sex. The violence has become a sexual act because they’re so dis-connected and so numb that they now need that violence to get off.
There’s a lot of thought that went into this movie and it really stirred up debates about Iraq. There was a lot of intelligence that went into that film that fans responded to. Even the European critics… They said it’s the smartest film they’d seen on capitalism and how it’s gone too far. And that’s how I feel about what’s going on in Iraq. There’s people that just want money and people are being sacrificed for it. So, when a critic just says it’s torture porn… to throw it into a sub-genre of pornography, to me, says volumes about the critics limited capacity to understand what a horror film can be than it actually does about the film itself. I feel that a label like “torture porn” is like a parent saying: “Oh that rock ‘n’ roll music – the kids and the devil!” They think that just because there’s violence in it, there’s no intelligence.
But hey Tarantino faced the same backlash when his films came out until eventually people felt they were actually much smarter. I mean Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or and people said: “Wait a minute, he’s actually smart and he knows what he’s doing!” I feel that with Hostel, any time you make a film like that it’s going to illicit a strong reaction and you can’t worry about that.
Do you think it has contributed to bringing torture into the mainstream, even between Hostel 1 and 2, on things like 24 and Casino Royale?
Eli Roth: It’s amazing the stuff that really just a year ago was genuinely shocking is now in Casino Royale. I saw it and thought: “Are you kidding me? What does this room look like? I’ve seen a guy naked, strapped in a chair before. But then they were like, ‘you don’t need all those elaborate devices…’ I was like: “What’s that a reference to? Are they making fun of me’?” But that’s so cool. It’s like somehow my film made it into a James Bond movie.
Then I turned on 24 and I couldn’t believe it. The stuff that people really went after me for and were shocked by… there’s Jack Bauer in a chair and the guy goes over and – using a hand-held POV shot – picks up the tools, chooses a power drill, goes over and starts drilling him in his shoulder. It’s like: “Where did that come from?”
The difference is in Hostel it’s in the theatre – it’s in public but it’s in a private place. You have to actively make a choice to want to go see it. It’s not being forced on anyone. Whereas 24 you can be flipping channels and it’s right there in your living room. Anyone has access to that. But that just shows how mainstream it is and how people are seeing this stuff on YouTube. People are scared of it. This is a subject matter that everyone’s talking about and everyone’s thinking about, particularly in American culture.
Q. Now that you have females as the main victims are you expecting double the criticism?
Eli Roth: I always feel that there’s no violence in a movie – it’s not real, it’s a magic trick. Nobody is really dying. In fact, the people that die in my movies have gone on to become extremely successful! So you’d be lucky to get tortured to death in one of my films. It’s the best thing that could happen to your career. But I’m very aware that as soon as you put women in this situation, all of a sudden people are like: “Wow, well wait a second!” Immediately, people become very sensitive to it. But it’s the difference between hunting a lion and hunting a deer. If someone hunts a lion, it’s like: “Wow, they’re brave!” But if they’re hunting a deer it’s like: “That poor deer!” I know that. I know that guys getting killed is horrible but people have seen it before. You’ve seen The Evil Dead. With girls, it’s like: “I don’t want to see that happening…” I know that.
So, you have to write scenes and design scenes that are scary and horrific, but that are also watchable. I didn’t want people to just feel like they got punched in the stomach. I don’t want people to feel: “Why am I watching this? It’s sick and sadistic.” I want people to watch and think it’s scary but they can’t wait to see what happens next. I also wanted to make a movie that was watchable. I always say that no matter what the torture is, or the tool is, first of all it’s nothing worse than what’s been done already and that wasn’t done by the church and the state for over a period of 250 years during the European witch trials. Just go to The London Dungeon and look at some of those illustrations and those tools and you couldn’t even film that stuff because no one would sit there watching it…
Q. Do you think women would be drawn to Hostel: Part II in a way that they weren’t drawn to the original?
Eli Roth: Well, women became almost our bigger audience. Teenage girls went crazy for that movie. I saw it. I went to theatres all over and there were gangs of girls going and screaming. There were kids that were 10 or 11 years old when September 11 happened. They’ve been told for years they’re going to get killed, they’re going to get blown up. Every time you go on an airplane, X-ray your shoes because you’re going to get blown up. Terror alert orange, don’t travel. So, people have a reaction and they want to scream. Horror movies have become the new date movie.
The point of the first one was that it was about guys being lured by sex and the stereotypes… I always say it’s like a horror version of Borat. Borat‘s not an accurate depiction of Khazakstan, it’s an accurate depiction of America. That’s what Hostel is. It shows American stereotypes of Eastern Europe but it’s an accurate depiction of what a certain type of American is. They think they can buy and sell these girls and then they get bought and sold.
But for Part II I couldn’t do that again. I started the film with the girls in an art class and there’s a nude male model. People think that women are objectified, well here you go! Here’s a man being objectivized but now it’s under the guise of art. So is that OK? If there was one complaint the girls had, it was seeing all the naked girls made them slightly uncomfortable and brought up insecurities. So with Hostel II I thought I had a very, very strong female audience so I’m going to make a movie that’s going to appeal to them. The guys will love it, they’ll have their moments. But there’ll be a lot more male nudity in this one. I have a lot of sausage in this one! [laughs] And I tell you, that freaks guys out!
Q. Heather Matarazzo has to endure one of the more difficult scenes in Hostel: Part II – being hung upside down…
Eli Roth: God bless her, she was so amazing to work with. She read the script and flew from New York to Los Angeles to audition for it. I was such a fan of hers since Welcome To The Dollhouse. She’s really an amazing actor. I said to her: “You know what’s involved?” But she said: “I have to play this part.” I think the key to getting actors like Heather is to write great parts. And I want to write great parts for girls – really, really terrific characters that girls are going to want to play. You can’t just have gruesome scenes.
Q. Have you had any problems with the censors on this one?
Eli Roth: No, the censors were great. There’s always back and forth. But it’s Hostel 2, it’s not Happy Feet 2. Everybody knows what Hostel is and people that are going to see it are going for more of what they loved in the original. No one is accidentally going to walk into it, no parent is accidentally going to take their child, and we’re not pretending what it is in the advertising. We’re saying it’s very violent, it’s very scary and a continuation of the first one. Stay away if you don’t like it. They got that. So they watched it and said they got what I was going for but this was a little bit too much. So I’d say: “OK.” It was a real discussion and a process.
All I heard before I met with them was how terrible they were. But it’s not true. I felt they were totally reasonable. Even my Grindhouse trailer. I said: “Look, with my name and Quentin’s name on it, fans have an expectation…” But they were like a referee, they were there to protect us. They said: “We know what your fans want and we know what people are going for, but we just need to keep it within a certain balance that we’re asked to do.”
Q. Do you ever find yourself having to defend yourself to your mum?
Eli Roth: [Laughs] My parents love it! They’re on set. They make cameos in the movie. My father is a psycho-analyst and a professor at Harvard and he told me how many of the other professors at Harvard have gone and seen it. They love Hostel and they love the thought behind it. I like movies that work on two levels – like The Simpsons, kids can watch it and adults can watch it. Teenagers can watch Hostel and if they want to see a blood and guts violent movie they’re going to have a great time. They’re going to scream and yell, it’s a great date movie because they’re going to squeeze their date and their date is probably going to be too scared to go home… so you take them home and put on Dirty Dancing and everybody wins.
Also, I want a movie that 30 years from now, people can look back and see it as a reflection of where the culture was at – as a barometer of the culture. What was happening? What was the fear at the time it was made? I want it to be able to hold up in 30 years’ time. So, I’m really thinking about everything. What happens in Amsterdam is no accident; these guys are making fun of the girls in the window but essentially they become the girls in the window that they’re making fun of. Everything that they do to other people for a laugh and to get off is what happens to them. People kind of get that on the second or third viewing. I love that you put it out there on one level but if there’s more that you want to look for it’s there for you. It’s all very carefully thought out.
Q. Are we still going to see your Grindhouse trailer now that the movies have been split?
Eli Roth: It’s going to be on Planet Terror. All the trailer are on Planet Terror.
Q. When did you find time to shoot that trailer?
Eli Roth: I didn’t! It was very difficult. Quentin called me and said: “Yeah, you’ve got to be in my movie. You’ve got to be in Death Proof.” But he made me audition. I was like: “Dude, I don’t even want to do this…” So I left the casting of Hostel: Part II to drive to Venice, where Quentin was holding his casting, and the person ahead of me was Derek Richardson from Hostel 1 and he was like: “Dude, what are you doing here?” I said: “Don’t ask!”
Then I walked into the room and there was a video camera. I asked where Quentin was and they said he was at his house. He was sleeping. It was like: “Come on man, I thought he was going to be here!” But I had to do the audition for the tape and I just got it out of the way and went back to my cabin. But then the casting director called to say that I had a call back. I was like: “The joke’s going too far guys! What am I supposed to do?” So I had to go to Quentin’s house and I was sitting with other actors that I knew, who were famous, and it was: “Hey, what’s up?” Then I read with Quentin, which was just weird, and he said: “It was really good, it was really good, hey I just got a 35mm print of Sergio Martino’s sex comedy Sex With A Smile, do you want to come and watch it later?” So I left his house for three hours and came back and it was just me and him in this theatre hanging out and watching the movie. But we weren’t allowed to talk about the audition or ask him. It was so strange….
But then his assistant called me and said: “I have good news and bad news. The good news is you got the part, the bad news is you have to do it.” I was like: “Oh Jesus, when am I supposed to do this?” I was prepping Hostel. The shoot was getting closer and closer and our dates were going to overlap. We were going to be directing at the same time. Luckily, he started before me and Quentin said: “Eli, I’d love you to be in the bar scene. It’s going to be loose. We can get a photo double for you.” Luckily, the assistant director looked like me. So I made it part of my contract that I would leave for one week during pre-production to act in Quentin’s movie and that’s it – no questions, no arguments, that’s the deal. We just built it into the schedule.
I was in Prague, but I flew to Texas. I was jet lagged and we were shooting all night. I was exhausted and getting phone calls from the production designer and watching casting tapes in the trailer. I remember when Hostel came out it did so the same time as Munich and I remember thinking: “Wow, how cool is it that Mathieu Kassovitz gets to act for Steven Spielberg and learn from this master and then go and make his own movies.” Then I was in Texas with no sleep and I’m like: “Fuck man, careful what you wish for! This is a nightmare!” I was exhausted. But it was like a masterclass in directing. Although I went back literally right into rehearsal, started shooting… while I was doing it I had to write my Grindhouse trailer and I added two days of shooting. My brother was producing Hostel and the Grindhouse trailer and I was like: “Gabe, just figure this out!”
I then had to edit them both at the same time, so I really don’t know how I did it. If I sat down and logically thought through what it would entail and what would be at risk if I did both of them… you know when there’s a loaded gun to your head and you just make yourself do it? It’s amazing what you can push yourself to do.
Q. What about Cell?
Eli Roth: I’m really, really excited about that. It’s definitely bigger budget. I’ve always wanted to make a big apocalypse movie. I love 28 Weeks Later, I think it’s great but Cell is totally different. It’s about people’s dependence on technology, the collapse of society and watching everything fall apart. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, which I believe it can! You look at New Orleans and within hours everything felt apart.