Eli Rothis one of those guys who seemingly never stops working. Whether serving as director, producer, actor, or some combination thereof, he’s always got a bounty of projects on the table. This year is no different and first up is The Last Exorcism 2, opening March 1st, for which Roth returns as producer. Part 2 continues where the first film left off, Louisiana farm girl Nell (Ashley Bell) is found alone in the woods with her family dead and no memory of what happened. As she tries to build a new life for herself in New Orleans pieces of her past begin to resurface and she discovers that the demon inside her is in no hurry to let her go.
I recently landed an exclusive phone interview with Roth. He talked about coming up with a new approach for the sequel, the difficulty of titling the sequel, and whether fans can expect to have their questions answered. He also talked about getting back in the director’s chair with The Green Inferno, shooting in the Amazon, the status on Thanksgiving, stepping into television format with Hemlock Grove, and working with Ti West on The Sacrament. Check out the full transcript after the jump.
Collider: I’m a fan of the first film, I think it was a clever take on the exorcism subgenre and I think part of what made that work were the overarching themes of faith and belief, and that clash between science and religion, from the trailer it appears that part two is going to be a much more straightforward exorcism film. What was your approach to the subject matter this time around?
Eli Roth: Well, thank you very much. We spent a lot of time developing that story, Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland. I love this conception to have a confessional documentary on exorcism that just went terribly wrong and I love the debate between science and faith, because after watching the movie you really switch from one side to the other. Whichever side you were on, you’re certain she’s crazy, or she’s molested, or she’s raped, no she’s possessed, I love that mystery of a girl who’s suffered a complete mental breakdown or is she actually possessed? And now that we’ve answered that question, and of course when it was answered for Cotton it was too late for him, we thought ok the first one works because it is about this mystery unfolding, and the first one opened at number one worldwide in a lot of territories, it made 20 million opening weekend. We thought we just spent three years making this movie, the last thing we want to do is rush another one into production and the studio said, take your time, whatever you think is right.
We spent two years really working on first just coming up with ideas and the breakthrough was when I thought, well what if in the second one it’s not a documentary so we don’t just send off this second documentary crew to try and figure out what happened. Make it narrative, in the world of the sequel the first movie exists, but it’s this video that’s on YouTube with no explanation, nobody knows what the fuck it is, but everybody’s seen it. It’s just this weird freaky thing that everybody’s watched, but Nell has absolutely no memory of what’s happened and people are almost trying to protect her from seeing it. Because she’s been told that people pulled a terrible prank on her and there was a fire and family got killed. We wanted to set it in the world where she’s living in the home for troubled girls, people that have a history of abuse, drugs and criminal past, but its teenage girls in this kind of halfway house and she’s accepted in there and strange things start happening to her. She starts putting together that this is real and the thing is clearly still obsessed with her. And I love the possession angle of what if this thing doesn’t just want to take you over, what if it actually is in love with you and wanted you to love it back and was trying to seduce you and slowly embracing what could happen if you let it love you. And Ashley [Bell] is such a superb actor that we really, really wanted to give her something that could show even greater range of her talents than she had in the first one. In every scene she could really, really have those moments of fragility and creepiness as this girl discovering the world, discovering technology, but also realizing what’s going on.
Roth: You know everybody talks about that because horror movies naturally have franchise-ability. Cabin Fever and the Hostel movies have sequels, but we never really wanted to do anything about it until we saw what happened with the first one. The original title of the first one was “Cotton” and it’s really his story. Then Lionsgate changed it to The Last Exorcism and I thought, “OK, if we do a second one we have to call it ‘The Devil Inside’ because you can’t call it The Last Exorcism 2” Then of course The Devil Inside came out and Ed Gass-Donelly came up with ‘Begining of the End’ which we loved, and CBS Films, who is doing an amazing job with marketing, I love the poster they came up with and they did a fantastic trailer, they’re like, “Look, we understand that The Last Exorcism 2, people are going to make jokes, but everybody understands what it is, we don’t have to explain it and people will forget it if the trailer’s scary.” And they’re right. There’s been five Final Destinations, you would think the first one would be the final one, then there’s the next Final Destination. People liked the story and I thought we only want to do it if we have a strong reason to continue it. We spent two years on the script, Damien Chazelle and Ed Gass-Donelly turned in an amazing draft. I loved Ed’s movie Small Town Murder Songs, I thought it was really well done for low-budget. I wanted another director like Daniel Stamm that had made a movie that maybe had been seen in critical circles, but hadn’t been seen by mass audiences, and who was really hungry to sink their teeth into the subject matter and really approach it in a very smart, intelligent way.
The first film wrapped in a way that enough was answered so it could stand on its own, but there was certainly a lot left open for interpretation, can fans of the first film expect to get some answers for what the fuck we witnessed at the end?
Roth: Yeah, there are some answers, but I also hate the moment in a movie where someone says here let me explain to you exactly what happens. So we had to have some of that- the answers, but we don’t want to answer everything. Part of it is creating the mythology and unraveling it, but still leaving some of the mystery and some of the questions. Part of the fun of the first film is we had a very, very specific internal logic of the first film of exactly what happened. Like I could explain to you exactly what happened in the first one, but part of the fun and what made the movie creepy is people slowly piecing it together, thinking about it after, re-watching it, going frame by frame and coming up with theories about it. I love movies that have that resonating scare, that really get under your skin and make you think. So yes, we explain stuff, but I only want to explain it to the point that you’re not lost and you enjoy it. One of the great elements of the supernatural is having that mystery and letting people’s imaginations run wild with it.
Definitely. Have you seen the finished film and if you have what are your thoughts on it?
Roth: I’m very proud. I think Ed did a fantastic job. He’s in the final, final stages of post I’ve seen all the fine cuts of the movie, so we’re still doing the final cut now. We wanted to make a movie that would be a fun, scary as hell movie. My friend Nicolas Lopez who directed Aftershock and produced The Green Inferno, his little sister is fourteen years and her favorite movie is The Last Exorcism, she loves it. There’s a whole generation of teenage girls that love it. We wanted something that would get the jaded forty-something film hard nerd that’s seen it all, but also something that fourteen year old girls would love.
You have so many projects going on right now so I definitely want to jump into as many of those as I can before I run out of time with you. You mentioned The Green Inferno, for people that don’t know can you talk a little bit about what that project is and what they can expect from it?
Roth: Yeah, I’m literally just starting editing now. It’s a movie I directed, it’s my return to the director’s chair after being in every other chair, which I loved, I had an amazing time, but I was ready to direct again, hungry to direct again. I’ve been able to incorporate everything I learned on Inglourious Basterds, on The Man with the Iron Fists, and The Last Exorcism. I wanted to do something that would really be a challenge. We went deep, deep, deep into the amazon. I filmed in a village where there is literally no electricity or running water, farther up the amazon than anyone has every shot before. These people had never seen a movie or a television before. We had to bring a television and a generator and show them a DVD of Cannibal Holocaust to show them what a movie was. Our movie isn’t anything like Cannibal Holocaust, but there is violence in it so we wanted to see how these people would react and they thought it was the funniest thing they’ve ever thing. So there are these kids from the amazon who literally have never seen a movie before and their only frame of reference of what a movie is is Cannibal Holocaust.
Roth: It was amazing. We were deep, deep in the Amazon. To get there it was 4 hours travel on a dirt road in a jeep and then getting in a motor boat and going 90 minutes up the river where there’s absolute nothingness, and getting out there were 200 villagers that I hired and they all became part of the movie and I became friends with all of them. It was incredible, it was an insane experience. There were tarantulas, there were poisonous snakes, one time the river was so high we all almost crashed. When we came back to Santiago we all had to be de-parasited, some of us had life-threating parasites. In retrospect it was completely insane and thank god no one was killed. The only person who’s shot near there was Werner Herzog for Agguire: The Wrath of God. The footage looks amazing, it’s stunning, it looks like nothing I’ve ever shot, it looks incredible. I’m so used to seeing deep jungle in Hawaii and this looks unbelievable. I’m having a great time cutting it and it will be ready in a couple months.
Have you put together your assembly cut?
Roth: No, I’m literally starting editing this week. I went to Easter Island over the New Year, which is the farthest point from civilization on the planet and sort of just relaxed my head and now it’s just 24 hour editing. And obviously talking about Last Exorcism 2 and seeing the final special effects and all that. The response to the trailer was really phenomenal. I think CBS did an amazing job of showing how scary the film is.
A few months ago you were quoted as saying that you finally figured out how to make the Thanksgiving movie work. That is a project that I know a lot of people, and that definitely includes myself, are very excited to finally see. What’s the status on that? Do you have a screenplay?
Roth: John Watts and Chris Ford are the writers, actually wrote the treatment with my friend Jeff Rendell who plays the pilgrim in the Thanksgiving trailer, and we made the original trailer together when we were 19 years old. Chris wrote the movie Frank and Robot, which is a terrific movie, him and john made this fake trailer “Clown”, which I saw and we developed into a movie. Clown is one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. These guys are such, such good writers. They love it. They love horror. They’re very, very smart. The script for Clown was so scary and we just shot it this December. The footage looks fantastic, John’s editing it now. He literally started writing this week on Thanksgiving. We were trying to get it written before Clown, but he just got too busy in prep so he just shot the movie. So now that they’re doing post on that he and Christopher are working on the script.
You guys just premiered the first trailer for Hemlock Grove a couple days ago and it was trending on Twitter. Clearly that’s a project that has a lot of people excited and interested, what can you tease for the people that are excited to see the show?
Roth: I had such a good time on that. It’s obviously a different medium than directing a movie but I had such a great experience shooting that. The cast is fantastic. I’ve been meaning to do something with Television space but I always felt so restricted by what you could and couldn’t do and then I started seeing what they could do with Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire and the medium is really there where you can really do something with the storytelling format. And I love the idea of binge-watching. Netflix really understands that once you watch an episode you want to watch the next one right away. You don’t want wait for the next week, the same time; if you watch them on DVR you can kind of ingest them all at once. So the idea of doing a series that could be a creepy Twin Peaks style horror series, with people like Famke Janssen and Dougray Scott. I love the Brian McGreevy’s Novel. And we thought let’s do something that could be really, really fun for fans that completely embraces monsters and is violent and adult, that’s not super-gory, but is gory enough that is satisfying. Something that’s really, really creepy and fun. And Brian already has three books already completely laid out, so if it does go for a second season we already have seasons two and three completely figured out with the mythology. I mean we had both trailers come out within 24 hours of each other and had such an overwhelmingly positive response. I directed the pilot for Hemlock Grove, but really I’m mainly a producer on both. People have been like, “Where have you been? What have you been doing?” I’m really happy and I think fans are going to love it.
I know I have to let you go, but I have to ask The Sacrament, because the idea of you and Ti West collaborating is crazy exciting. I believe that wrapped back in November, have you seen any footage or a rough cut on that?
Roth: The footage looks amazing. It’s really creepy, it’s very scary. Ti shot it; I don’t want to say anything about his style. All I can say is its some sort of found footage and it’s very creepy. He’s editing that right now and I’ve looked at the dailies, but I told him I’d wait until he had his cut ready before I looked at it. Ti’s an amazing filmmaker and we had a really, really good time working on that movie together. So we’re both in the editing room right now.
Awesome, thank you so much.
Roth: It was great talking to you.