LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Since coming on to the horror film scene eight years ago with “Cabin Fever,” filmmaker Eli Roth made a name for himself in the genre with the “Hostel” franchise. An occasional actor, he got a chance to shine last year as the infamous “The Bear Jew” in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”
Roth sat down with Reuters to discuss his latest producing effort, “The Last Exorcism,” which opens in U.S. movie theaters on Friday. The film is about a minister who lets a documentary crew film his last exorcism. A non-believer who has swindled plenty believers in the past, he is unprepared for what he encounters.
Q: What kind of childhood did you have that would make you grow up and create such scary and gory movies?
A: “I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, in the safest neighborhood, in a very wonderful, loving household. My father (Dr. Sheldon Roth) was a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and my mother’s a fantastic painter. I was the neighborhood babysitter and never got into trouble.”
Q: Were there signs of blood and guts in your future back then?
A: “I’d say, ‘I want to film someone being chopped in half with a chainsaw’ and my parents would say, ‘That’s wonderful honey. Here’s a saw, be careful.’ They never saw it as real violence; they always saw it as creative expression.”
Q: With parents like that, you must have your own psychological theories when it comes to horror films.
A: “Horror movies are the last place in society where it’s socially acceptable to be scared. We can’t be scared at home, we can’t be scared at our jobs. But when you’re scared at a movie, there’s no shame. You’re not a coward. We all have feelings we bundle up our whole lives and when we watch a scary movie, we are able to release them.”
Q: Your latest film, “The Last Exorcism,” is about a young woman possessed by the devil. Can that really happen?
A: “Having been raised by a psychiatrist, I was told anything psychological was a mental illness. Then I saw (the 1973 feature) “The Exorcist” and it changed everything. It really freaked me out. I told my dad, ‘What’s this whole possession thing you’ve never told me about?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about that. We’re Jews. We don’t believe in that.’”
Q: Did that quiet your fears?
A: “No! I was certain it was going to happen to me. I thought I was going to be the test case for the Devil. He’d be like, ‘See? I got you (Jews) too!’”
Q: And today, what do you believe?
A: “Exorcism and possession is the kind of thing I’m almost scared to believe in. On the set of “The Last Exorcism,” the brother of one our drivers was an exorcist. He’d talk about it like it was no big deal, like he went to the store and bought milk.”
Q: You’ve done cameo roles in movies here and there, but “Inglourious Basterds” was your biggest role yet. Do you consider yourself an actor?
A: “I think of myself as a writer-director first and foremost. Even when I was acting in ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ I still shot the film-within-the-film, ‘Nation’s Pride.’ I couldn’t quite let go of my director’s hat. I might actually write a part for myself one day and then I’ll be able to combine all three.”
Editing by Jill Serjeant