Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno has finally got release dates, after the usual Festivals screenings in 2013, the film had been set for a September 5 release date the next year, but then suddenly it was pulled from the schedules over internal problems at financiers “Worldview Entertainment”. When Christopher Woodrow, who was CEO, left the company with little warning in June 2014, the company’s new management did put a halt to spending based on deals made by the guy who used to lead “Worldview”, the company was committed to paying some of the big costs associated with theatrical distribution, as a result The Green Inferno release had been delayed indefinitely and it’s been in limbo ever since, but is now finally set to emerge thanks to a new deal with Jason Blum‘s distribution label “BH-Tilt”.
Eli Roth’s tribute to Italian Cannibal movies and Ruggero Deodato will now make its debut on a thousand US screens on September 25, while in Italy it will have its premiere one day before, on September 24, thanks to “Midnight Factory”, the new “Koch Media” branch focused on Horror movies. After all the trouble concerning The Green Inferno distribution, it’s unlikely that the planned sequel: Beyond the Green Inferno, to be directed by Roth’s pal Nicolàs Lòpez, will ever enter production.
Director, producer and actor Eli Roth seems to have found his personal Hollywood in Chile, after he met Chilean director Nicolàs Lòpez at the Los Angeles Film Festival about four years ago, where Lòpez was screening Promedio Rojo, the two teamed up both professionally and personally, building a solid friendship and a fructuous collaboration which first originated Aftershock, a disaster movie hybridized with Horror, based on true events of the real 8.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Chile in 2010, directed by the Latin-American filmmaker and produced by Roth, who also starred in it, and then the recent The Green Inferno, a surprisingly palatable revival of the shocking cannibal sub-genre that gained notoriety in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
The Green Inferno marks the return to the director chair for the author of Hostel, after a six years hiatus during which he has been busy producing (The Last Exorcism; The Sacrament), writing (The Man with the Iron Fists; Aftershock), and acting (Inglourious Basterds; Que pena tu familia). Obsessed with the movies made by the Italian Masters of Horror, particularly Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi, whom he discovered when he was nineteen years old, and paid homage in the end credits, that list most, if not all, of the films in this sub-genre that one should probably see or at least be aware of, with The Green Inferno Roth, takes once again a group of American college students in an outlandish place (the middle of the woods in Cabin Fever, Eastern Europe in Hostel), the Amazon jungle, and makes them face an unbelievable horror.
Co-written by Roth and Guillermo Amoedo, the basic premise of the script finds young college girl Justine (Lorenza Izzo), the privileged daughter of a high-powered lawyer for the United Nations, drawn to join a on-campus group of environmental activist’s attempt to prevent deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Led by charismatic Alejandro (Ariel Levy), the group infiltrate a clear-cutting operation deep in the Peruvian forest and chain themselves to the land developers bulldozers, in order to protest and show the world, via satellite linkup with their iPhones, the eradication of the land and its habitants which goes unnoticed there. The mission is successful, but the protagonist’s plane, that is supposed to fly them back to civilization, is sabotaged and crashes into the forest, killing roughly half of them. Those who dies are the lucky ones, as the survivors are found and captured, ironically, by the same local tribe they wanted to save from deforestation, and taken to their camp, where they will become the tribe main dish.
Shot around the same location where Werner Herzog filmed Aguirre, the wrath of God, with some amazing footage thanks to cinematographer Antonio Quercia, with bright, urgent colors that pop, and compositions that create a sense of caged terror, and casting a real tribe from a remote area of Peru, The Green Inferno benefits of the impressive make-up effects provided by the “KNB” team, led by legendary Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, who are regulars on all Eli Roth films, and takes advantage of an unusual, for the Horror genre, full orchestral soundtrack, written by Manuel Riveiro. But while Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, to whom the movie is dedicated, pervaded his most notorious title with such a realism that the audience and the Italian police believed they were watching an authentic “snuff” film, and that some of the actors were really killed onscreen, thus arresting him with the accusation of first degree murder, Roth tends, in many scenes, toward comedy, and it’s almost impossible to take the story seriously when it’s constantly diffused by black humor and funny gags, besides, even if he and Lòpez declared that they took great care in representing the cannibals, studying all about these aboriginal tribes,the script is filled with too many anthropological inaccuracies and the natives are rendered in a cartoonish way, dining on human flesh, carving up and cooking victims like Thanksgiving turkeys.
Through the Black Hole had a chat with Roth at The Green Inferno European premiere, during the Sitges Film Festival:
After over ten years of filmmaking how do you approach making a movie today?
Eli Roth: I’ve always made movies for the widest audience possible, and the way that I do that is I stay true to what the story is and the appropriate level of violence for that story. Hostel was very much about people getting off sexually with power over another person, and The Green Inferno is very much about the clash of two cultures and these modern kids with their phones against people who’s never seen modern men, showing what happens when these two cultures meet. I feel that I always want people watching a movie to see what happens next and wondering about what will be the next twist, so I always try to make a movie that will play to the largest audience possible, but I do that by never watering down the story and trying to stay true to the subject.
How did you build up the script for the film?
E.R.: I love cannibal movies, especially the ones made by Ruggero Deodato, and I always wanted to do one, I feel like they are due for a comeback, but I wanted to do it for a really good reason, and I didn’t really have that story. So it was something that was percolating. Then I was thinking about student activism, where people want to do the right thing, but they don’t want to inconvenience their own life, it’s so much easier to hit the re-tweet button on your smartphone and say: “OK, I am a good person”, rather than actually take a position for this particular cause. I mean, how much in your Twitter feed is whatever’s going on that week, whether it’s something as serious as
Syria or “Free Pussy Riot”? These kids get so caught up in a cause because it’s sexy, they don’t even really take the time to learn what it’s all about. Looking at students getting involved in causes over Twitter or Facebook, looking at how people are re-tweeting: “Save the rainforest” and “Save the dolphins”, I began writing the script. Actually it was right about that time that “Kony 2012” happened, the viral video to help take down the African warlord Joseph Kony broke every records with more than 100 million views in less than a week, and I was like ‘This is it. This is what my movie is about”. You think of all these 100 million YouTube views, and all these t-shirts sold and all those mugs, and then the guy’s jerking off in the street and Kony is still out there, and the whole thing didn’t mean a shit. Nothing, absolutely nothing, it was completely useless. OK yes, it raised awareness, but so what? It didn’t catch him, it didn’t stop him. I think that people want to fix things instantly, and they can use their phones to do that now. I wanted to express my belief that much of modern activism is lazy and insincere, it’s what I call ‘slacktivism’ or ‘reactivism’, people now have the power to have a voice and they love to get caught up in these causes, but everyone’s doing the bare minimum amount of work. I really wanted to write about students who were very smart, very intelligent, as Justine’s character, played by Lorenza Izzo, her father is a lawyer and does things by the law, but there is a whole generation that wants the shortcut, and want to do things instantly and I wanted to show what happens to this kids when they get involved in a cause they don’t really know, they don’t know everything about it and probably have no business getting involved. So I wrote about these student activists who want to save these tribes in the Amazon, where these corporations are looking for natural gasses and go in, kick out the tribe, kill them or move them out of there, then just destroy the village and take out the gas which is in the ground.
These students want to stop all that, they chain themselves to the trees and protest and stream it and hash-tag, and it works, it actually shuts down the operation. Then on their way home, their plane crashes, and the very people they saved are like “Ah, food, that’s great!”. It’s like a free lunch, and the kids are brought back into the fold of absolutely barbaric, primitive men, people that have had no contact with the outside world. I thought this was a great way to tell a modern story where you’re taking these kids from New York City, the most high tech world, and you’re stripping them down to the barest elements of mankind. They’re in the jungle with people that will just see them as meat and their phones don’t matter, they’re stripped away to absolutely nothing.
Talking about Ruggero Deodato, he told me you are good friends, but “The Green Inferno” is very different from his Cannibal movies….
E.R.: Yes, I discovered “Cannibal Holocaust” when I was nineteen years old, in a laserdisc store and I was shocked that I didn’t know about it, the only one that made it over to where I lived in Boston was a film called Cannibal Ferox, directed by Umberto Lenzi, and that in United States was titled Make Them Die Slowly. I remember as a kid watching these movies and feeling like they were made by convicted criminals that actually killed people. Watching Cannibal Holocaust, I was totally convinced they had a dead girl impaled on a pike with a spike coming out of her mouth! Ruggero Deodato was Roberto Rossellini’s Assistant Director and really learned from him and worked on Rome Open City. He basically took Italian neorealism and applied it to the horror genre, to the Cannibal genre.
If there is any way for me to express my love for the shocking cannibal sub-genre that gained notoriety in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was to make this movie, it was a type of Cinema that I thought it was lost, these films were very dismissed by critics for many years, yet today in America you still see twelve years old kids with Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox t-shirts, there is something about these movies that it lived on and on, and it’s still shocking, and cool and exciting, and have that element of danger for today generations, so I wanted to make a film that could stay alongside that classics on the shelves in the video shops, I love Cannibal Holocaust, it’s one of my all-time favorite movies, but I really wanted to do something that was much more like a Werner Herzog picture. I wanted it to look like The New World, The Mission, or Aguirre: The Wrath of God, I also was inspired by Fitzcarraldo, it’s the clash of two cultures, two different worlds, I didn’t use the abused gimmick of the “found footage”, and I added some tension relieving comic moments.
I know you cast a real Peruvian tribe, how difficult it was to shoot in such a remote part of the world?
E.R.: I wanted to film somewhere that was really in the Amazon, really, authentically off the grid. We scouted in the summer-time and went up the river for hours and hours, we went in the Amazon deeper than anyone has ever shot a movie before and found this village where there was no electricity, no running water, grass huts, ten people in a shack, and they never before had seen a movie or television, they had never seen ice cubes, and it looked incredible, it looked like a village from another time. I wanted it to look like a Werner Herzog film, they call the river Aguirre because the last film filmed there was Aguirre: The Wrath of God, and we went even further beyond where they went. So it really looks like a Terence Malick film, or Apocalypto. We showed up there and I said to my producer: “Can we film here?” and he said: “We have to tell them what a movie is. They’ve never seen a television, they’ve never heard of a movie”. I showed them my camera, it was the first time they’d ever seen one, we had to conceptually explain to them what we were doing, so we came back with a television and a generator and showed the entire village Cannibal Holocaust, so there’s five years old kids and their only frame of reference for a movie is Cannibal Holocaust. And the villagers, thank God, thought it was a comedy, the funniest thing that they’d ever seen, and they wanted to play cannibals in the movie.
So we had the entire village acting in the film, and they speak Quechua, which is like another language from another time, and it was so nice to talk to these kids, every kid in the village is in the movie and you bonded with all of them, we became friends with all the kids and all the old people, and then by the end they were all playing with iPhones and iPads. We’ve completely polluted the social system and fucked them up. It was a really amazing experience to live there for a month. It was five hours of travel every day, and it was no joke. We could have died many number of times, there were floods, and rock-slides, there were tarantulas, snakes, animals walking through shots. It was insane, there were wild horses that if you got near them would kick you and bite you, and the bugs attacking you, and it was 43 degrees centigrade, it was brutal! Lorenza, whom starred also in Aftershock, she got devoured by bugs. You’d wake up and mosquitos and ants had bitten your face, you had to sleep completely covered from head to toe or you’d get devoured. Everybody had to get de-parasited after we got back, but the footage was incredible. Yet it was this jungle adventure, we had cameras and everyone was just so up for it.
Everyone got up in the morning every day at 4.45am and got in the Land Rovers and shipped our stuff, lugged it to the boats, went up the river, lugged it to the village, and going deep into the jungle to film these sequences. We strapped cameras to remote control helicopters and ran them over the Amazon, the footage looks jaw-dropping, there have never been cameras where we were. So we start in New York City and go all the way to the end of society. You don’t think these places exist until you get there, and you can’t believe it. But we also housed every hut in the village, we gave them metal roofs, we put corrugated metal on all their roofs and that was all they wanted, because if we had given them money they wouldn’t have known what to do with it, how to spend it, they live in straw and it rains, so that really changed things for them.
The first victim of the cannibals dies in a very gory way, but at the same time it’s so excessive that it almost makes you laugh. How did you build it up?
E.R.: I think that, with a movie like this, everyone is waiting for that moment, so I delayed it as long as I could, with the first part of the story taking place in New York, in a safe place, so you know it’s coming. It’s like the most powerful scene, it has to shock you and to carry you to the rest of the movie, so we researched what real tribes do, when they have invaders, also there are Amazonian tribes that would kidnap workers from the gas and oil companies, and hold them hostages, to use them for negotiations, we looked at different tribes and at the rituals that they do, and they often kill the biggest person in the most brutal way, in order to scare the rest of the group, but we also did look at National Geographic. Often I did the dialogue scenes in an afternoon, and I watch it know and I say: “Why didn’t I watch the dailies? I could have done it better!”. But for the gore stuff I know that they are a very important moment of the film, because they are what people pay for, so I do that very carefully and it took me two days to get that gory death done.
Are you always having the same fun shooting the dismemberments and the splatter scenes?
E.R.: I am always happy when I’m filming gore, even if I am a bit nervous because I know they are the biggest moments of the movie, but working with KNB Effects team it’s great, these guys are amazing, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger always deliver fantastic make-up effects, Greg is now directing some episodes of The Walking Dead TV series, they worked on all Tarantino’s movies and they knew that I wanted the violence to look really real.
Is it a sort of metaphor that in the village all the animals, like pigs, are running free and the cannibals just eat humans?
E.R.: Well, I actually am an animal rights activist, and I love the Italian cannibal movies even if sometimes there are animals getting killed, so I thought it would be great to make a film where the animals are treated better than the people. That’s why the pigs are thrown out of the cage and the humans are imprisoned there, with the pig shit, besides, in the village where we filmed, the animals walked free everywhere.
Having a woman, a sort of a Witch, as the chief of a Amazonian village is quite unusual and incorrect…
E.R.: As I said, we researched directly out of National Geographic, we saw a combination of Brazilian tribes, Venezuelan, Peruvian, different areas, different cultures, and we saw the make-ups, the hierarchy in the villages, how the villages are built, so especially the make-up is absolutely authentic, it’s coming from different kind of tribes but it is genuine. Then we found this fantastic actress out of Lima, who was terrific and perfect to play the elder of the tribe, but all the colors, the costumes, the make-ups, the rituals, the way in which they kill, the way they do to intimidate others, the eyeballs and the tongue stuff, it all came from our research.
Are you frustrated by criticism of the film’s racial politics?
E.R.: Everyone gets so stupid and self-righteous because they have a Twitter account and everyone wants to call everything racist. When people come out of the theater and they’re trying to act like: “I don’t want to endorse the movie!”, it’s all about them not wanting to be seen as racist, that’s the point of the movie. These idiots, and the characters, aren’t doing that because they believe in a cause, it is because they want to make themselves look like good persons, they do it in very subtle ways like: “I am a cool guy and I like controversial things, but I don’t like the way the natives were portrayed”. None of those people could point out where Peru is on a map, and that’s the whole point of the movie.
Will you ever come back directing another chapter in the “Hostel” saga?
E.R.: No, Hostel is a certain period of my life, it’s how I felt when I was 32 years old, the same as Cabin Fever was how I felt at 22 and The Green Inferno is how I feel at 40. It was a rare thing for me to do Hostel 2, but I wanted to continue the story as I thought I had something more to say. But if other people want to continue with the franchise it’s fine with me.
Nevertheless you are already planning a sequel to “The Green Inferno”?
E.R.: Yes, it’s titled Beyond the Green Inferno, but this time Nicolàs Lòpez will direct it, we switched chairs like we did with Aftershock. I will present and produce the sequel, based on a script I wrote with Nicolàs and Guillermo Amoedo. After writing and scouting all over Peru, we realized that The Green Inferno had an expansive universe and that we would love to visit it again and go deeper into the jungle. Our plan with Beyond the Green Inferno is to make a sequel in the tradition of Aliens, where the creative team went bigger, darker and scarier into the unknown. We quickly learned there’s an entire world of stories, legends, myths and monsters in that jungle, it’s endless. Living in isolation, we saw firsthand just how far and deep we could take the world of The Green Inferno. I’m thrilled to hand the directing reins to Nicolàs, who has been a key part of my creative team from the beginning of this project and I know will make an incredible film. We have set the groundwork for an entire universe of stories we’re both incredibly excited to tell. We don’t want to give away any plot secrets, only that we want to take the story to an even darker and scarier place on all levels. Shooting will begin when the rainy season ends and it’s safe enough for us to return there with another adventurous filmmaking team. We’re thrilled to produce the film with “Worldview Entertainment”, who has been an incredible, supportive partner right from the start and also co-produced The Green Inferno.
Have you been inspired by working with Quentin Tarantino and by your friendship with him?
E.R.: Of course, I mean Quentin inspired me in many ways, one of the best thing about him is that he directs without a monitor, he doesn’t sit in a chair looking at a television screen, he is next to the camera. That influenced the way I directed The Green Inferno, there were no monitors, no director chair, none of that, I was holding a camera, running through the jungle filming right alongside the other cameramen. I always admired what Tarantino did when he took his favorite films and gave them a modern spin, like Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction with crime or how he took Sergio Corbucci’s movie and turned it into Django unchained. So I have been very much influenced by him, we share the same love for genre Cinema and Italian genre movies, and so we both like Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi, Enzo G. Castellari….
In Horror films we know that the monsters, like Vampires or Zombies, are a metaphor for something happening in our society. With cannibals, what do they stand for?
E.R.: Well, I leave that to you, I mean usually it’s the audience or film critics that find meanings and sub-texts in what we do. Actually I think that now, we have become so technologically advanced that it feels like there is no part of the world which is undiscovered anymore and in real life if you go in “Yahoo”, you can see the last images of isolated men, they have been shot with satellite photos and there are YouTube videos of these tribes, so this worlds have finally met. I really wanted to show that. I think cannibals is the last unthinkable thing, you know humans have done everything, the most horrible tortures to each other and it’s actually accepted, strangely, and that’s normal, which is scary, but the one thing that is still unthinkable, it’s cannibalism and if we all go over that, we can solve the world hunger! I am joking of course.
You like to often put a political subtext or a message in your movies, and you said that sometimes you do it unconsciously, can you explain that?
E.R.: I believe that is what makes Horror movies great, I’s when there’s some underlined message. I want to be scared when I see a film, but a haunted house is never scary the second time through, instead it’s really great when you can watch a movie again and again and again, and find something that you didn’t notice the first time. So, it’s wonderful when a message is laid in the background, I think it’s a great way to get people to think.