Eli Roth didn’t believe that America was ready for his brand of vicious, unrelentingly graphic splatter. Inspired by gritty Japanese legend Takashi Miike and backed by a producer named Quentin Tarantino, the 35-year-old director was sure his sophomore effort (after 2002’s “Cabin Fever”) wouldn’t jibe with the safer, more tongue-in-cheek horror fare that had become the style of the day. (Think “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” or any of Wes Craven’s “Scream” sequels.)
But then, somewhat incredibly, “Hostel” topped the box-office charts in early 2006, knocking off the family-oriented “The Chronicles of Narnia.” And suddenly, people wanted more.
“I had no idea I was ever going to make a sequel,” Roth says. “The first film was so incredibly violent because I wanted it to reflect those Asian sensibilities, the Takashi Miike-style ultra-violence, and I had no idea American audiences were ready for that. So when ‘Hostel’ earned $20 million in its opening weekend, it was shocking.
“I decided that if I was to make a sequel, I had to do it right then, and style it after the very best sequels — ‘Aliens,’ ‘Evil Dead 2’ and ‘Road Warrior.’ I remember watching ‘Road Warrior’ and thinking that it used the best parts of the first film (“Mad Max”) as a foundation and expanded on them. That’s what I had to do. I had to make the horror sequel that sets the bar, with the greatest, most shocking ending of all time.”
The question is, can a low-budget slice of grind-house horror — such as “Hostel: Part II,” which opened over the weekend — survive, much less thrive, in the same shark-infested waters as “Spider-Man 3,” “Ocean’s Thirteen” and the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean”? Roth believes it can. He has seen what he calls the “bloated” multimillion-dollar competition, and he’s hardly intimidated.
“A great horror scene trumps everything,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how much you spend on special effects, a great kill that makes audiences scream trumps all of that. I saw ‘Spider-Man 3,’ and people were asleep. It sucked. Now I can’t give you wall-to-wall blood — that would be boring — but when [a film] isn’t gory, it has to be creepy. If you are going to ‘Hostel: Part II,’ you’re going for that sense of dread, those scenes of intense violence, and you want more of them. And that’s what you get — the next level of depravity.”
Roth acknowledges that graphic violence is an important element in his filmmaking, but says it’s not the most important, skeptical critics to the contrary. He believes there will always be an audience for extreme horror, as long as there are storytellers committed to making smart, quality movies.
He says, “It used to be that directors made horror films as stepping stones to something else. We’ve got a wave of directors now — myself, Rob Zombie, James Wan, Darren Lynn Bousman — who love these movies, who are dedicated to making classics. There’s a perfect storm of horror right now. The studios want it. We want it. And the public is ready for it.”