Eli Roth interview: The Last Exorcism, Evil Dead and protection prayers

With The Last Exorcism out now on DVD and Blu-Ray, we chat to producer Eli Roth about filmmaking, possession and protection prayers…

With The Last Exorcism recently released on Blu-ray and DVD, we managed to catch up with its producer, Eli Roth, to talk about his involvement with the film, as well as when we’d see him back behind a camera as a director (his last film Hostel 2 was released in 2007).

Since Hostel 2, Roth has turned more towards acting, most notably appearing as ‘The Bear Jew’ in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and, most recently, making a brief appearance in Piranha 3-D as a wet t-shirt contest host, as well as having a slew of new horror movies in the works as a producer.

You must be really pleased with the success of The Last Exorcism.

I’m very proud of the movie and I think the director, Daniel Stamm, did an amazing job and, obviously, the film was a huge hit in the UK and the fans really loved it. I mean we wanted to create something that was fresh and original and very obviously completely different from The Exorcist and I think that Daniel, the director, did a terrific job and the fans really came out and supported it, which is terrific, because, you know, you gave a new director a chance and a new cast a chance and people really responded.

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You seem to be very selfless in the way you’ve taken your success and used that to help a new director get started. How did that come about?

Well, you know, I always wanted to help new directors get their break, in the way that no one ever gave me and now I’m in a position to. I remember how, with Cabin Fever, when there were directors like Peter Jackson who came out and supported me and Quentin Tarantino, how hugely important that was and so, I think even when you make a film that’s in theatres, it’s hard to get noticed.

I remember seeing the quotes on the poster for Evil Dead from Stephen King and that was what got me to rent Evil Dead. No one knew who Sam Raimi was, but we all knew who Stephen King was, so we all wanted to see it. So, I think it’s in the tradition of horror. The only way to continue the growth of the genre and the vitality of the genre, is to continually bring in new blood and bring in new people with new ideas that are going to continually reinvent the genre and push it forward.

I felt that Daniel’s whole approach was so smart, as to how he was going to direct the film and he did it with such care and really, really focused on making a very strong performance-based film. It’s really not a possession movie. It’s much more a psychological thriller about a girl who might be possessed, or might be crazy, and about the clash between science and religion and who’s right and who’s to say who’s right.

He did just a magnificent job of showing these different sides and just creating this wonderful, great, really interesting, tense, thought provoking film and one that takes a lot of risks and doesn’t end in a conventional way and doesn’t answer everything. It really leaves you, actually, with a lot of questions and a lot to think about and it’s the kind of film where there’s an immediate feeling that you want the satisfaction of knowing what happened, but as time goes on you find yourself thinking about it more and more and more and you like the fact that it opened your mind to different discussions.

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The subject of the Last Exorcism is based around the theme of possession, which is quite unusual in the genre, which sees endless amounts of vampire and zombie movies, for example. What was the appeal of the theme?

Obviously, it’s like sharks. There’s that one movie (Jaws) and then there’s everything else. I mean how do you make a film scarier than The Exorcist? And the answer is you can’t. [laughs] No one ever will. But exorcism, like werewolves, or vampires, or zombies is such a rich subject matter and it’s something that’s still very relevant and very much a part of modern society.

You can see that the Vatican did open an exorcism academy. They are training new exorcists and that either means that the devil’s on the rise, or fake exorcisms are on the rise and it’s something that’s practised in religion, not just Catholicism, so we wanted to show that there were more stories that could be told in that space.

How has working as a producer for other peoples films varied from directing your own movies?

As a producer you’re there to creatively support the director and to protect them. I have some very good producing partners at Strike Entertainment. These guys did Dawn Of The Dead and Children Of Men and we’re all very like minded about the elevated genre films we want to make. But I’m there to give Daniel the resources he needs and to help him, if he’s stuck creatively, to find another solution.

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There’s just a lot of things that, having made three movies, I can see and there’s certain people that I can bring in like the effects guys, my composer, Nathan Barr, but I can also see creatively that it’s very difficult to cut for scares and cut for tension and I can see when he’s (Daniel Stamm’s) over cutting, because I’ve made the same mistakes and sometimes you just need to hold back and let shots breath a little bit more and it’s the absence of music that makes it scary and all these different things that you know from having done it.

What was fun about this movie is that it’s effectively a pretty bloodless film. You know it is a 15 movie. It’s not Hostel 3, because of the subject matter, and for me it was fun to make a movie in that space, to make a film that was much more of a compelling, disturbing, creepy drama and not just different ways of chopping people up, which I love, but which absolutely is not appropriate for every story.

So, you know, all I can do is help and then in the promotion I can certainly help, but the movie has to get people to sit in the theatre. I don’t think anyone will go and see it because my name is on it, but I think that my name can get it a certain amount of attention so that people go, “Oh, that looks good.”

But I do think that ultimately people go to see movies because of the subject matter, more so than anything else, and I think that the subject matter of exorcism and possession is so interesting. The script from Huck Botco and Andrew Gurland was so smart and so original and so different, I just said this is a film that I think will open people’s minds to making other types of possession films.

Do you miss directing? In which case, do you have something next in mind? Or are you happy producing?

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No, I love directing, but to me it all feeds each other. I’m about to go to China next week because I’m producing RZA’s movie The Man With The Iron Fist, with Strike Entertainment and I wrote that with him and it’s really fun. I mean I never wanted to direct kung fu movies, but RZA did and we had a great story and we worked on the script together and it’s exciting for me to help him bring his film to life, because I think he’s gonna make a great, great movie.

I’m definitely itching to get back into the directing chair, though, but I want to make sure my script is ready to go and I’ll get shooting next spring and that’ll be my sci-fi movie.

Well, thank you for your time!

Alright, great. Enjoy the DVD as there’s a protection prayer on it! We had some very creepy things happened during the making of it. People think I’m making it up, but people were quitting working on the DVD because strange things were happening. Like one person who was working on it was claiming that there was a ghost in their house and their house was possessed and they quit.

You can ask Lionsgate about it. Everyone thinks it’s another publicity stunt. Nothing weird happened during the making of the film, but we have a real possession victim whose voice is obscured, her identity is obscured, but she plays the tapes with the sounds of the voices she heard and it’s really very creepy and it’s her experience and when she’s talking about it, it’s creepy.

People were quitting. A sound person quit working on the DVD. We finished it, but the person would only do the interview if we provided a protection prayer that we could play aloud before the interview. That was her request. That was the only condition under which she would speak.

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Good grief!


I’ll try not to run around work with copies then!

Exactly. [laughs] But you’ll be protected, so long as you said the prayer!

Eli Roth, thank you very much!

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