LE FIGARO. – Hello Eli. How goes your stay in Gérardmer?
Eli ROTH. – I have come to live an incredible adventure at the moment.
What kind of adventure?
An adventure Gérardmer! I went to lunch at a restaurant in the mountains. Our car got stuck in the snow. I am down to push it. Then, we restart before we stop again in front of a procession of the “yellow vests” that blocked the road. I went down to the foot, and I walked through the entire event by doing the american tourist, thumbs up and smiles, saying, “Bravo. Super. I am of any heart with you”. As a true tourist [laughs]. The people who were blocking we were told that we couldn’t go. It had to be that it bypasses their dam. I redid the tower, and the door of the hotel was closed. I was outside with the protesters to make signs to the people inside to let me go… Someone has come to recognize me and open the door. But it would not open properly because of a problem with the ceiling that threatened to collapse. He had to have someone hold the ceiling while opening the door to return safely. It was an adventure. In short, a Saturday like any other at Gérardmer [laughter].
Your first two films, Cabin Fever and Hostel , were projected to Gérardmer in 2003 and 2006. What is this you have done it, come back here, fifteen years later, and receive a tribute?
When I was asked if I wanted to come for a retrospective, my first reaction was to ask me if I was going to die soon [laughs]. I never thought I would be old enough or have done enough films to be entitled to a retrospective. But the idea made me very excited. I love Gérardmer. I spent a good time of the year where I’m come present Hostel, and I keep a very good memory of the festival.
Thanks to Hostel , have you managed to make a reputation as a film director gore. Have you always wanted to achieve this kind of movies?
originally, I wanted to do film animation. I always dreamed of doing Buggs Bunny. At nine years old I learned how to do animation cartoon, animation with plasticine, or stop-motion. A few years later, I began to imagine scenes of dismemberment. I’ve tried a lot of things: comedy, horror, science-fiction… More than the horror, I was obsessed with the idea of making movies.
“originally, I wanted to do film animation. I always dreamed of doing Buggs Bunny”
what makes a good horror movie?
the originality and creativity. But it is very difficult to answer this question. It is as if someone asked you what makes a joke funny…
So, let’s say rather how it generates the fear?
there are fears the universal we all have. The button that appears on the body and that could be a cancer, everyone knows this fear. Or the cough that lingers… All the fears are variations of the fear of death. This is the way you choose to express this feeling, which is interesting. Paranormal Activity , it is a kind of Poltergeist with surveillance cameras. But the way in which they are used makes the whole thing terrifying. Take a film like The Grudge : it happens during the day, there was a kid strange, a dirty house and a cat. What are the circumstances which lead to the terrifying situation. We wonder where is the mother of this child. Why Toshio is not at school. Then, the child starts to make this horrible noise [he mimics the sound guttural of Toshio].
Your imitation is very convincing.
The horror is something personal. For Cabin Fever , I was inspired by a skin problem that had me terrified. Takashi Shimizu, the director of The Grudge , explained that his girlfriend was a look horrible when she was angry. It is this gaze that makes the ghost in his film. Ditto for It Follows , that was just a dream of David Robert Mitchell… The greatest works of horror have always something very personal.
To turn The Green Inferno , you are actually afraid in going to turn into a remote area of Peru. Can you tell us more about this experience?
I wanted to go far in the Amazon. Where no one had yet been. Experience John Huston and Werner Herzog. We found a village along the river baptized Pongo Aguirre, according to Herzog’s film. My producer and I went. He had to drive an hour to get to the river. Once there, he had to climb into a small boat and go up the river for 90 miles to fall on this small isolated village where people live as farmers. No one has ever seen a movie there. There was no electricity. It took back a generator and a tv, and then we showed a film to the whole village in order to convince people to turn in ours. They found it funny and have agreed to turn in The Green Inferno .
What film had you shown up?
I was not there when they looked. I called my producer and asked if he had shown E. T , The Wizard of Oz … That was Cannibal Holocaust [laughter].
“The horror is something personal”
What films and filmmakers you have marked?
six years, I have seen Star Wars . It has changed everything. All the movies I watched were then judged through the prism of Star Wars . Then, I saw Alien to the cinema in eight years. It was this film that made me want to become a director. At this age, I was reading the credits and identified the films as a function of the filmmakers. Then there was Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and Monty Python. At the age of eleven I discovered George A. Romero, Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Sam Raimi, also. I was thirteen years old when I saw Evil Dead . Him, and had turned 21 only. I also really liked the French films: diabolical have been a big source of inspiration for me. The Belgians, with The planet wild . There has been a lot of these films had arrived and changed everything. Those of Stanley Kubrick, for example. And then Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, with whom I have had the chance to work.
faisiez with David Lynch?
I was just in my career. I was 20 years old. I was doing research on Nikola Tesla for a project with David, and the producer Fred Zollo on Broadway. It has never ended. When I moved to Los Angeles, I called him and he offered me to work on davidlynch.com. He spoke to me about these ideas and we were filming together. If you are looking for “Pierre and Sonny Jim” on YouTube, you will see the kind of things we did. Anything that passed through the mind. Shooting balloons and then we put our voices over that of imitating sounds of farts… It was so funny.
What have you learned as a director working with him?
Before making my first film, Cabin Fever , David told me not too cling to my ideas. If one is too focused on what was in the head, we may miss what is in front of us. The best advice he has given me is to “look at the donut and not the hole. On a shooting, the donut that is the information that passes in front of the camera. This is what counts. The hole, it is the ego, the arguments, the betrayals… It is like a vacuum cleaner: so dangerous that you can easily make you aspire to. Person, watching the film, there will be aware of it. All that the spectators will know, that is what the camera shows.
What is it with Tarantino?
Quentin has no story-boards, it is not attached to a mental image. He rehearses with the actors in the space, such as a piece of theatre. Everyone appropriates the scene. Then, he tries different things. The movement of the camera will depend on those of the actors. At the beginning of Inglorious Basterds , the two characters are sitting at a table. It all starts with the actors. This is what he taught me.