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Cabin Fever - Everyone has seen everything; it's very hard to make anything groundbreaking



Interview by: Graeme Kay

A GRADUATE of NYU film school, Eli Roth makes his feature film directing and producing debut with Cabin Fever.

Graeme Kay caught up with the director while he was in London promoting the film.

Q. What was the inspiration for this film?
A.
Mostly it came from my own experiences with various skin complaints. When I was 19-years-old I was working on a horse farm in the south of Iceland. I had been cleaning out a barn and I got a skin infection in my face.
That night I woke up and scratched at my face, thinking I’d been bitten by a mosquito, and chunks of skin started coming off in my hand. The next morning I attempted to shave, and again I found my skin falling off. The strange thing was it didn’t hurt, but I went to a dermatologist, who though horrified and puzzled by the condition, gave me some steroid cream which, luckily, cleared it up.
Some time after this I read an article about the necrotising strep-virus, fotobacterum damsela, which can eat through a human body in 24 hours, and that gave me the idea for this film.

Q. What sort of research did you do into the virus?
A.
I went to various websites and spoke to victims of the disease, one of which was my cameraman who had contracted a less virulent form in hospital, and they told me that the way I presented it on screen was right.

Q. Did any of them accuse you of exploiting them?
A.
Well, when word first got out that I was doing this film, a few of them wrote to complain, but after I assured them that I wasn’t trying to make a medical documentary but a horror film they were fine with the idea.

Q. There is very much a retro-feel about the film. Was that deliberate?
A.
Yeah, I’m sick of all these pussy-ass 13-rated, current day horror films. It was like, 'enough already', we’ve seen this film a million times. And I think the feeling is now that audiences don’t want directors to play it safe, they want horror in their horror movies. They want real characters and real film music, not some pussy-ass movie with an alterno-rock soundtrack packed with TV stars who you know are going to survive because there’s got to be a sequel.
Before I started on this I sat down and watched a load of films by the directors that I admire, like Sam Raimi, John Carpenter and David Lynch, and broke each of the films down into how they looked, how many characters they each had and how the characters related to each other.
I found that they all shared certain characteristics – like the way that Karen is locked in the shed is just like the way that a character in John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing is isolated – and I took those things as my template.
I hope that people won’t think that I’ve just ripped off, like, Evil Dead because what I intended with this film was to pay homage to all those great films.

Q. It must be difficult to find new ways to shock these days?
A.
Oh yeah. Everyone is so sophisticated. Everyone has seen everything. It’s very hard to make anything groundbreaking.
So what I tried to do was subvert expectations, like there’s Karen and everyone thinks ‘oh she’s the nice pretty one, she’s gonna live to the end’, so I killed her off first. And then Bert, who’s like a complete idiot, turns out to be the responsible one who tries to repair the car, while Jeff, who we all think is like, the natural leader, just breaks down completely.

Q. The films that have influenced you are known for their violence. Do you ever think you can go too far in that respect?
A.
Yeah, I do. I decided from the start that there would be a certain violence threshold above which I wouldn’t go, because when it becomes totally gratuitous people blank out. The same thing with the humour, there was a hell of a lot of humour that we cut out, because it wouldn’t have added anything to the story.

Q. Is it true that some people returned your script because they thought it was racist?
A.
It’s true. All because of the remark about niggers, made by the sweet old man at the store. But that again came from a real life experience.
Before the film I was looking at locations in North Carolina and I met this beautiful old guy, really hospitable, really friendly who had a wall full of guns and a Confederate flag in full display. Now, all this guy’s neighbours were black and I said ‘don’t you think that flag might offend you neighbours?, and he replied ‘you don’t have to worry about niggers round here, they don’t mind that none’. And it was like he just couldn’t see anything wrong with what he was doing. It just didn’t occur to him that he might be offensive. So that’s the guy that the store-owner is based on in the film. And that’s why I added the twist at the end. I wanted to upset convention.
But, going back to your question, I learned pretty quickly to take that out of the scripts I was mailing because I realised that people were getting to page 5, reading that remark and turning down the film on the grounds that it was racist. So many people are up their own arses about racism; they were all telling me I had to take that part out. But I was like ‘fuck you!’, because what I did with that guy is a great joke.

Q. How has the success of Cabin Fever changed your life?
A.
It’s been incredible. Since it was released, some of my all-time idols have been in touch with me. Wes Craven, David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino… who invited me over to his house to watch Gargantua!
Can you imagine that? Watching movies with Tarantino. It was the most trippy, surreal, wonderful thing.

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