The acclaimed horror director reminisces about his seminal splatter classic as well as future projects
Eli Roth is a master pitchman who always seems to be living in the future. Whenever he sits down for an interview, talk soon turns to the upcoming sequels, prequels, and future projects that are continuously bubbling up in his constantly moving mind. He's like a Great White shark that can never stop swimming, or he will die. So it's not often that we get to sit with the man and reminisce about past projects. But the upcoming Blu-ray release of his directorial debut Cabin Fever allowed us to do just that. The original film has been remastered in Hi-Def to coincide with the standard issue DVD release of its long shelved sequel Cabin Fever 2: Spring Break. Both of which arrive in stores today, February 16th, 2010.
To celebrate this cavalcade of gruesome gore, we caught up with Roth to chat about the film eight years after it's initial release. And in doing so, we couldn't help but touch on his upcoming future projects . Here's what Eli had to say about his groundbreaking horror-comedy mash-up:
A lot of your fans don't know that you actually got your start, as a lot of horror directors have, working for Troma. How do you think their aesthetic eased in and worked itself into your own work? Especially where Cabin Fever is concerned?
Eli Roth: I grew up watching Troma films. My favorite movie growing up was Mother's Day. I loved that film. It's a masterpiece. Lloyd Kaufman's brother Charles directed that. It is such a smart film. There are other directors such as Guillermo Del Toro, Brett Ratner, who love that movie as well. It's sort of a pet movie amongst certain directors. I was unaware of just how influential Mother's Day was on Cabin Fever. My film was very much structurally The Thing, Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There is some Last House on the Left in there. Dawn of the Dead. Two years ago, I had a screening of Mother's Day at the New Beverly. We had Charles Kaufman in attendance. There were these flashes of red throughout the film. There were so many things out of Mother's Day that had infiltrated Cabin Fever. I almost felt that Cabin Fever was a remake. Hostel: Part II was also influenced by Mother's Day. The film follows three girls that go on a trip. They get abducted. Then the narrative shifts so that you follow the two killers and the mother. You can empathize with them. They are so goofy and entertaining. You like them. The entire point of view shifts. I realized that structurally, that is what I had done with Hostel: Part II. It wasn't something that I did intentionally. It was just there in my subconscious. When I was working in production in New York City, my friend Gabriel Friedman got a job editing for Troma. He edited Citizen Toxie andTerror Firmer. They needed someone to do an audio commentary for Bloodsucking Freaks, and the director refused to do it. Gabe said, "Get my friend, Eli!" They called me 'Blood and Guts Expert' Eli Roth. So there I was, before I ever had any directing credits, or anything. I did a bunch of research and found a bunch of the old cast members, and I interviewed them. I interviewed people on-camera. And I did this audio commentary on Bloodsucking Freaks.
So the Troma stuff pretty much infiltrated the deep recesses of your brain to come out later in your work? You aren't intentionally paying homage to it, it's just a part of you as an artist.
Eli Roth: It just comes out. Cabin Fever was my first film. That was me paying homage and fetishizing certain shots from the 70s and 80s horror films. "Oh, there is my The Texas Chainsaw Massacre swing shot." Or, "There's my Evil Dead shot. And here comes my shot from The Thing." They put Blair in the shed in The Thing. We put Karen in the shed in Cabin Fever. I actually joke with Carpenter that my film was more of a remake of The Thing than the remake of The Thing was a remake of The Thing. In Hostel, I made a very conscious decision not to do that. I needed to find my own shots, and follow my head and my gut. You can't help but be influenced by the things you love. I find it best to let that stuff come out naturally. There are things that come out years later. And it's only then that you realize where they came from. For me, that is the most fun. Cabin Fever was very much about me openly sharing my love for these movies. At the time Cabin Fever came out, a lot of those 70s and 80s horror movies were really shit on by critics. People weren't talking about what great works of art they were. The fans were talking about it. But no one was critically revisiting the films of George A. Romero, Wes Craven, and John Carpenter. These films were looked at as B movies, schlock, and crap. Now people look back, and they are really start to see those films. They are looking at them with an artistic eye. They are seeing the craft that went into all of those movies. Another part of me putting those shots in my movie was that it gave me an opportunity to talk about those other films.
I want to talk about Giuseppe Andrews and his Deputy Winston character, because he's quite a polarizing force in this film. You either love him or hate him unabashedly. What were your thoughts back when you created him, and what are your thoughts on the character now that he has become so iconic in the realm of gore films?
Eli Roth: I don't know anyone that hates Deputy Winston. I find that he is the most quoted character. Cabin Fever is a love it or hate it movie. It is its own thing. It's not out to please everyone. If you hate Deputy Winston, why are you even watching the film?
I remember Roger Ebert's review. He loathed the character when the film came out. And I've heard quite a few people echo that sentiment.
Eli Roth: Roger Ebert? His book is called 'Your Movie Stinks'. The opening of Chapter C is Cabin Fever. For me, that is a review written by a dinosaur. He is someone that wants horror movies to be exactly what he expects a horror movie to be. He's not looking at the movie for what it is. He is trying to fit it into a box that it is not meant to fit in. I'm not saying there is no validity to Roger Ebert's review. I'm saying, honestly, who cares what Roger Ebert thinks about Cabin Fever? I care about what Peter Jackson thinks about Cabin Fever. I care about what Quentin Tarantino thinks about Cabin Fever. Those guys loved it. They were quoting it. Those are the filmmakers that inspired me. And they are the ones that I go back and listen to. You don't make a movie like Cabin Fever for critical acclaim. You make it for the fans. I love Deputy Winston. And I think it was Giuseppe Andrews that made that character so great. I really met a guy like that. I went to visit my brother in college. And there was this cop. He kept talking, "Oh, man. I know where all the good parties are. Do you guys want to party with me? Let's party, man." He seemed insane. But if he pulled you into a room, it wasn't a party. If everyone had beer in their hand, he somehow qualified that as a party. He was always saying, "I know where all of the good parties are at. You should stick with me. We will go party." We'd go to a gym, and there would be six people there and a keg. He'd look around and go, "It's a great party, huh? Everyone has beer!" Winston was a character that my brother and I had joked about for years. It's great when people quote him in the form of Deputy Winston.
You still haven't seen the sequel yet, right?
Eli Roth: No, I have not. I just now got a DVD of it from LionsGate.
Giuseppe gets the best lines in the whole film. They actually brought Winston back for that one.
Eli Roth: Yes. And they also brought in Mark Borchardt as Deputy Winston's cousin. I wanted Michael Borchardt to play my part in the original after Michael Rosenbaum dropped out. I tried to get Mike Borchardt because I am obsessed with American Movie. He just couldn't do it.
I wanted to ask you about that. You cast yourself in that because Michael Rosenbaum dropped out. Did you intend to continue your acting character from that moment on? Or was that solely a fluke?
Eli Roth: I was originally only going to do one Hitchcock-type cameo in the film, where I was on camera for a second. And that was it. I never intended to act in Cabin Fever. Rosenbaum got cast as Lex Luthor at that time, so he couldn't leave Canada. Smallville was blowing up. It was such a big hit. I was happy for him. Mike is a good friend of mine. But we were really stuck. So we tried to get Mike Borchardt. And that wouldn't work itself out. It was the cast, Jordan and Rider, saying, "Eli, you got to do it!" I'd been reading it in rehearsal. So I did the part. I put a crazy goatee on and spiked up my hair. I threw on some sideburns. I remember the crew rolling their eyes, going, "What? He's an actor now?" Funny how much has changed.
Right? They just didn't know you'd be appearing as one of the most popular characters in an Oscar nominated film a few years down the line.
Eli Roth: That role as Justin is what got me my part in Inglorious Basterds. And it was the success of that film that got the Cabin Fever uncensored director's cut Blu-ray released. It all goes in a cycle. It all supports the other.
Tarantino always has half of his films set in the same Universe, where certain characters can traipse in and out of different films whenever he sees fit. Do you look at your characters and universes the same way? Is it possible that Deputy Winston might find his way into Endangered Species?
Eli Roth: No. Look, Deputy Winston only exists in the world of Cabin Fever. That is a very specific world. I don't cross my characters between films. That is not something I have ever been interested in doing. I love that character. What is great about him is that he shows up, and there has obviously been someone murdered. The pieces are everywhere, but all he sees are the beer bottles. That's what makes him so funny. There is a part of him that is forever this nineteen-year-old kid. He never got to go to parties. Now he is in the position where he has to break them up. So, no. I know that Quentin will sometimes reference characters from other movies. They cross in and out of his film universe. But for me, the films are their own contained universes. The world of Cabin Fever is the world of Cabin Fever. And the world of Hostel is the world of Hostel. I have a whole bunch of new characters. I have a whole world of Deputy Winstons that are in my head, waiting to get out. I wrote Cabin Fever with Randy Pearlstein when I was twenty-two years old. I watch those scenes, and it feels like it was written by a twenty-two year old. That film is very much about being twenty-two as written by someone that is twenty-two. Whereas Hostel is a film about being twenty-two written by a thirty-two year old. There is a part of me that loves the character of Deputy Winston for what it is. But even today, I wouldn't write him in the same style I wrote him ten or fifteen years ago. Then, he wouldn't be Deputy Winston. So I am better off creating a whole new character entirely.
Can you talk specifically about some of the new characters you are creating for Endangered Species?
Eli Roth: Nope. No!
Will you be creating a role for Michael Borchardt in Endangered Species?
Eli Roth: I would be honored to work with Michael Borchardt at any time. I think he is a genius. I would cast him and Mike Shank in anything I ever do.
What about Quentin? Are you going to turn around and give Tarantino a good role in that film?
Eli Roth: Quentin and I had a discussion about this. I told him that when he is ninety-seven years old, and he is a crotchety old man, and I have been retired for ten years, I am going to bring him out of retirement as an actor. I am going to direct a movie where we are both two ninety-year-old guys that are bank robbers. We will go on a crazy killing spree having sex with as many strippers as possible. People will be so outraged. They will say, "These guys had such fantastic, long, distinguished careers. And they just ruined it. Because they wanted to be with a bunch of naked girls. That is my dream. For us to go out like Bonnie and Clyde. For us to make a movie when we are in our nineties and can barely walk. We have been demolished by Alzheimer's. We have no memory of our older movies. And we make this film that is filled with sex and violence, and its us in every scene. (Laughs)
It's weird that you bring that up. I was just talking about a film the other night that sounds sort of like that. It had George Burns and Art Carney as too old bank robbers. But I can't remember the title.
Eli Roth:Going in Style. We've joked about that. This is a movie that I want to make fifty or sixty year from now. It will be a film where people go, "I can't believe these two had these long, distinguished careers and they pissed it all away. They totally tarnished their reputations. Just because they wanted to see some naked girls.
Its too bad that I'm going to have to wait sixty years for that.
Eli Roth: That's the fun of it. It comes so far after the expiration date of appropriateness.
I've read many times in the past that you wrote a treatment for a Cabin Fever sequel that was a Song of the South animation hybrid which had Deputy Winston and his cartoon forest friends raping dead bodies and singing about it in the woods. Is that the inspiration behind the two animated sequences we see in Ti West's Cabin Fever 2?
Eli Roth: No. If you have the original Cabin Fever DVD, hidden in the menu selections are little sketches. You can watch them all in a row. It's an Easter Egg on the DVD. If you go to the last page, where it is scenes 25-26-27, and you let it play through two music cycles, the "Cough" bird will come out. When you see the "Cough" bird, if you hit enter, it will play all of the Deputy Winston sketches. And it ends with Deputy Winston and the "Cough" bird. If you look at the last scene, with Deputy Winston and "Cough" bird, that's what the entire sequel was. LionsGate saw that and looked at me like I was insane. The prequel to my sequel. The only connector between Cabin Fever and the sequel that I had in my head is this Easter Egg on the DVD. The original DVD. Not the Blu-ray.
Did you know there were animated sequences in the new film?
Eli Roth: I had heard that. I really have nothing to do with that new film. Other than I thought Randy Pearlstein should write it. And Ti West should direct it.
Last time I spoke with you, you made it sound like it was never going to see the light of day. I was surprised it got a release date. I thought this was going to be a buried film.
Eli Roth: Nope. It's great that it's finally in. Its great that fans can finally enjoy it. I haven't seen it. But I have heard that it's a lot of fun.
The uncensored director's cut of Cabin Fever on Blu-ray and the standard issue DVD release of Cabin Fever 2: Spring Break are in stores today.