The actor and horror magnate talks violence on television (why it’s getting better) and shooting a cannibal movie in the remote Amazon.
Eli Roth doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. Since first unveiling his nihilistic, straightforward brand of horror with the ‘02 gore fest Cabin Fever, the slash-happy actor/writer/director/producer has cultivated a dedicated fan base of diehard horror-junkies, including Quentin Tarantino, who christened the Massachusetts-native “Frank Sinatra of the Splat Pack” and cast him as the Bear Jew in Inglorious Basterds. Now the executive producer of Netflix’s gothic Hemlock Grove and the brains behind the upcoming hyper-real cannibal flick The Green Inferno, the 42-year-old auteur who opened the Hostel franchise almost a decade ago is ready to give the horror genre another round of shock therapy.
What made you want to work with Netflix on a television show rather than a major network or movie studio?
We figured that fans of Twilight were going to grow up and want something more adult. And with Netflix, we really get to push the envelope with the sex and violence. For example, the werewolf transformation scene: It’s so visceral and violent, like a forensic science class or watching someone have an epileptic seizure. It’s not like a hot guy takes off his shirt and – poof – he turns into a fluffy wolf. It’s taking the mythology in strange directions that people never thought to take it.
Why do you think movies and TV shows are getting so violent? Is it a sort of arms race?
There’s such an awareness of how movies and TV shows are made that it’s really hard to shock people. People, now more than ever, know the difference between movie violence and real violence. It’s not like when, say, Scarface came out, and they were like, “This is violent. People are going to be so shocked.” Now, everyone knows it’s fake because you’re literally talking to the actors on Twitter as you’re watching the show, and there’s a million behind-the-scenes about it. People love The Walking Dead, and that’s become the norm for gore. But the blood isn’t seen as violence; it’s just seen as a story point.
In what direction do you see television horror headed?
I think it has to get smarter and better. For a show to last a lot of seasons now, it can’t be mediocre. It has got to be something that is distinct, special, and original. You have to do it in a way that nobody has ever done it before; otherwise, fans just aren’t going to accept it. We’re in this golden age of television horror, and it’s really up to the creators to step up their game and make it great.
If you look at television in general, it’s awesome. Take a look at what Louis C.K. is doing with his fourth season of Louie, it’s fucking mind-blowing. And if you look at what Mike Judge is doing on Silicon Valley, it’s so funny and smart, and there’s no substitute for that. There’s no substitute for something that is smart and original.
Can you tell us about your upcoming cannibal horror flick, The Green Inferno?
I’m really excited about it. I think it’s my best film. We went to this village in the Amazon where the people had no idea what a movie or a television was. They had no electricity, and they had never seen ice cubes before. We had to bring a television and a generator and show the whole village a film called Cannibal Holocaust to educate them on what our movie was going to be. They thought it was a comedy. The whole village was laughing and then everyone signed up to be in the film. We traveled up the Amazon five hours every single day, going back and forth from the village. There were tarantulas and poisonous snake – it was completely insane but the movie is like no other.
So the villagers play the cannibals?
Yep, they play the natives. I wanted them to look like completely uncontacted man, and so we found a village that is completely cut off from society. They had the time of their lives. They’re a farming village, so they couldn’t believe that instead of spending 10 hours in the heat sun farming, they could actually get painted red and pretend to eat somebody and make ten time the amount of money doing it. They want us to come back and shoot more.
Do you plan to send them copies of the film when it comes out?
I’d actually love to do a screening there. We would have to drive to the town where we catch the boats, take the boats up the Amazon, and bring a generator and a television. I want to film us doing a screening there. They might decide to eat us at the end, but, yeah, we have to do it.