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 Id
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 didnt
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 wasnt 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
A. Yeah, Im sick of all these pussy-ass 13-rated, current
day horror films. It was like, 'enough already', weve seen
this film a million times. And I think the feeling is now that
audiences dont 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
theres 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 Carpenters remake of The Thing
is isolated and I took those things as my template.
I hope that people wont think that Ive 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. Its very hard to make anything groundbreaking.
So what I tried to do was subvert expectations, like theres
Karen and everyone thinks oh shes the nice pretty
one, shes gonna live to the end, so I killed her off
first. And then Bert, whos 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
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 wouldnt 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 wouldnt have added anything to the
Q. Is it true that some people returned your script because
they thought it was racist?
A. Its 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 guys neighbours were black and I said dont
you think that flag might offend you neighbours?, and he replied
you dont have to worry about niggers round here, they
dont mind that none. And it was like he just couldnt
see anything wrong with what he was doing. It just didnt
occur to him that he might be offensive. So thats the guy
that the store-owner is based on in the film. And thats
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. Its 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.