Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
Roughly two weeks ago now I had the chance to take part in a series of round table interviews with the cast of Daniel Stamm's The Last Exorcism as well as producer Eli Roth. The cast interview is available here and now we've got our conversation with Eli ready for you as well. Read on!

Q: The Last Exorcism wasn't as bloody and visceral as I thought it may be. It was much more cerebral.

ER: Yeah. Well I've made it very clear to people that the film is about possession, not powertools. This is not HOSTEL 3, so people should not go in expecting a gory bloodbath.

I think every story has it's own appropriate level of violence. PIRAHANA 3D is a magnificent bloodbath. It's beautiful, it's spectacular, it's the most blood ever in a movie and it's wonderful, but that's because it's appropriate for that movie and that story. This movie, at its core, is truly a psychological thriller about a girl who might be crazy or might be possessed. It's really about the clash between religion and science.

What I loved about the script was the scientific approach is all coming from the reverend who never believes in God, doesn't believe in any of this. He's the one telling the father, "We need to get your daughter to a psychiatrist. She needs help." Even when the father who is so devout and religious is going "You have to get that demon out of my daughter or I will save her soul myself," he goes to Pastor Manley and asks for a psychiatric recommendation. It's really and truly an interesting clash of these two ideologies: both of them want to help this girl, but they are completely unwilling to bend and see any point of view from the other side. Louis is so devoutly faithful to a fault, he believes everything Reverend Marcus tells him. And Cotton Marcus is so scientific, he never believes she's possessed until it's too late. Once it's too late, that's not true faith. His faith is continually tested in a number of ways and he fails at every turn.

When I read the script, I thought it was so smart and interesting and truly compelling as a psychological drama and also in the space of being a possession-horror film. We never shot it to be PG-13: we just filmed it to make the scariest, smartest movie, and it just wound up the rating it was given was PG-13.

Q: How did you get involved originally?

ER: Originally, the producer Eric Newman who I partnered with, we started a company called Arcade to produce genre - he made CHILDREN OF MEN and the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake - and Eric had the idea about 4 or 5 years ago to make a pseudo-documentary about an exorcism that goes completely wrong. He hired Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland who made a terrific dark comedy called MAIL ORDER WIFE. It's one of my favorite sick comedies. It's so good. Again, it's like "Oh my God! I didn't see that coming!" They were set to direct this movie. But their movie THE VIRGINITY HIT got greenlit - it's a terrific comedy coming out in September - and it was actually shot in the same town as LAST EXORCISM. Yeah, they had two movies going at once.

So while I was in Berlin [for Inglourious Basterds] finishing up shooting there, that was where we started the search and found Daniel Stamm. That was the luckiest break we had because he had such a smart approach to the film. Daniel's favorite director is Lars Von Trier. So where I would approach the movie from a horror point of view, Daniel's truly approaching it like a Von Trier film and wanted to make it real and about the horribly painful, uncomfortable moments between human beings. That's what makes the first forty-five minutes so compelling. It starts off so smart, watching this guy spill his guts about how he tricks people. It's so enjoyable because you know he's going to reveal it and you know the people he's tricking are eventually going to see it and he'll have to return that money. But then when things turn and now it's at the motel, you see he's trying to help and he really feels like he's gotten this poor girl into trouble and he's going to get her killed from the stupid things he said. His schtick is actually going to hurt someone.

It was so fun to watch how Daniel got these amazing performances out of these terrific actors who were clearly ready for it. But the nice thing is once I came on board StudioCanal said "We'll finance it. If Eli puts his name on it, we'll finance it." So I came on as a producer and then we were free to do whatever we wanted: any actor we wanted, any cast members we wanted. As long as my name was on it, that was all the security we needed.  Which is great, but I kind of worked to get to the point where we had that kind of a relationship with the distributer and the fans that they trusted us. We didn't want to cast name actors: we wanted the best people, and Daniel said they have to be unknown. You want people believing that when they watch it and coming out of the theatre going "Oh my God, who was that?" and then going on imdb and going "That guy was on Saved By The Bell, The College Years? What?!" (Laughs)

Q: Early in your career, you were lucky enough to be on the receiving end of that kind of relationship, with Tarantino coming in and putting his name on HOSTEL as a producer. Was that part of your motivation to get involved in productions?

ER: That was on my second film. My first film was CABIN FEVER. After I made that film, Peter Jackson gave me a quote. That's what really made people pay attention was him loving CABIN FEVER and giving me a quote for publicity. But that was after I made the film. It took me six years to make that movie and just to raise the money. The whole thing was an eight-year process. I never had anyone giving me that break: I had to fight tooth and nail. Thank God for the Toronto (International) Film Festival because I sold it here eight years ago and that's why I love Toronto. I'll never forget: we sold it in this hotel, the Park Hyatt, right here is where the deal went down with Lionsgate. It's great to be back here eight years later with another horror film with Lionsgate. But part of me feels you know what, it would have been great ....

When Quentin helped me with HOSTEL, he came on after the movie was done. It was tremendously helpful, but it was still me going out and making a movie. I thought there are directors - I'm now in the position now to help directors and to get movies made. There are a lot of really smart, interesting directors out there that could use a break. Now that I have that weight to help get movies made, I just want to help make movies that are interesting and different and smarter. People always think it's going to be....it's smarter than they think it's going to be because people have such low expectations for a horror film. I think DISTRICT 9, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, CLOVERFIELD: if you're going to do one of these first person movies, you really have to make it smart and different and scary. I feel like with Daniel - who's going to want to make many films - and Patrick and Ashley, I feel very proud of being part of a defining moment in their careers.

Q: What sold you on the idea that Daniel could do horror? His previous film obviously had that moc-documentary feel to it...

ER: Yeah, A NECESSARY DEATH. He spent three years making it and made it for $2000 and it's very creepy and uncomfortable. It's a pseudo-doc following this guy who wants to make documentary and wants to follow someone who's going to kill himself. And of course they find a guy who has terminal brain cancer and shows them the medical tests and the crew starts to feel terrible and the sound girl starts to fall in love with him. It very quickly spirals into this uncomfortable film and we thought "Oh my God - this is almost exactly the tone of what we're looking for. Can he apply this tone and this aesthetic to this script?" Well he took the script and ran with it. We knew that he was the guy.

And that's what I was there for: to help him out in areas that weren't his area of expertise like cutting a very scary scene. Dan can cut the dramatic tension no problem, but if there's some kind of scary scene - I bet I'd do a scene 50 or 100 times before I got it right, and I'd been through that many times. So I could look at the footage and the way he had cut a scene and be like, "I know what you're trying to do, but you're actually throwing it off because you shouldn't have your music here, or this and this." I could get involved in the editing room and help him sculpt the last 20 minutes of the movie, and he could do the dramatic flow of it. It was certainly Daniel's film, but I was there as a resource for him to really help him bring out the terror where needed and the drama where it was needed. It was all there from what Daniel photographed.

Q: Do you have any interest in doing something that's not horror or extreme?

ER: Yeah.

Q: Like what?

ER: Well this isn't extreme -

Q: Well HOSTEL is.

ER: I know, but this isn't. You just asked if I wanted to -

Q: No, outside of horror.

ER: I just wrote a kung-fu movie with RZA from Wu-Tang Clan. It's called THE MAN WITH THE IRON FIST. RZA is going to direct it and star in it. We're looking to shoot that in China in the Fall. It's a spaghetti western/martial arts movie. Totally its own thing. RZA's dream is to direct this movie and he wrote something that's so creative and spectacular and fantastic. It's going to be its own universe. Then I'm writing a science fiction film. But I have many ideas and I love horror. That's why I wanted to really develop my career as a producer: so I could just continually make horror movies, even as a producer. Even if I don't direct something outside of horror that's a different genre, I will - like the way Sam Raimi has GHOST HOUSE - I always want to have my hand in making interesting, different kind of horror films.

Q: Since you mentioned PIRHANA, what's your take on the new slate of 3D films? Will you ever direct one, do you think?

ER: Well, I'm producing the remake of FUNHOUSE, which is going to be in 3D. That will be fun. I think 3D is another element like CG, like HD, that really depends on the story. THE LAST EXORCISM wouldn't benefit from being in 3D. It's about the look on her face. It's about seeing "Is this girl crazy? Is she possessed? Is her father going to shoot her?" It's about these performances and seeing these characters go through this that really makes it compelling.

PIRHANA 3D was originally called PIRHANA 3D for a reason: you want to see the fish popping out of the screen, with guts and eyeballs being thrown at you. That's the fun of that movie. It fully embraces that. I really think it depends, movie to movie.

I think that's what happened is this sort of retro-fitting trend is actually poisoning the waters. What happens is you have a film like LAST AIRBENDER which has quite beautiful photography and effects, and the conversion was - with PIRHANA 3D I was there on set, and they literally had the guy on camera from the 3D company going, "This light isn't going to match. Wait for that cloud to pass. Okay, this light is good for 3D. You can't have them come this distance to the lens: measure it. Don't come any closer than that." There's an expert that understands scope and what will work and what - when you shoot on film - you're able to convert. If you're going to take a movie and retro-fit it, you can spend a year converting it to really get it right. It's not an exact science. You're taking a movie that was never intended to be that, you're putting it into a computer and redoing every shot for shot. When it's rushed, it looks bad, and THE LAST AIRBENDER was terrible. So then people come out of it going, "I have a headache, it looks so dark, it looked terrible. 3D - I thought the technology was so good." And suddenly you have beautiful 3D like in AVATAR and then there's THE LAST AIRBENDER. But the average consumer doesn't know the difference. I think it really depends story to story. If you decide to convert your movie to 3D after the fact, you gotta spend time getting it right.

Q: They're saying that public interest in 3D is going down already.

ER: Well, I imagine it is. Look at it like this -

Q: That's because there's been like three releases that were actually shot in 3D.

ER: Exactly! TOY STORY 3D was beautiful. Plus they don't factor in things like families don't like paying higher ticket prices and kids don't like wearing the glasses. Kids do not like wearing those glasses. They found the TOY STORY in 2D was out-grossing the 3D screenings because kids hated having those stupid glasses on their face. It sucks that they don't think about it like that.

There's also been a saturation. Think about CG. After TERMINATOR comes out or any kind of new technology... Remember when digital coloring came out and you watched O BROTHER (WHERE ARE THOU) and movies like WHAT DREAMS MAY COME? People were like "Oh the color in WHAT DREAMS MAY COME was so lush!" And I was like "What? That stupid Robin Williams movie? I'm not going to sit through that again." The color in that movie - people went to the theatre. That movie made so much money because people were like "The colors were magnificent! It was like a Van Gogh." It's so ridiculous, so lame to think of that now. But now it's standard that the colors are going to look like that.  That's just technology. With any kind of new technology, there's a saturation of it. Eventually, I would have to go "Okay, it's no longer a gimmick, the gimmick has worn off. Now if we're going to do it, we better have a reason to do it. We better do it well." Like CG.

Q: You're also going to be moving on another with a film with Huck and Andrew.

ER: Oh! Yeah. Well, actually, they're writing FUNHOUSE for us right now. Their schedule is kind of up in the air about the other one. We have to see what happens with the other one. We're not sure. Right now, we're just writing FUNHOUSE and we'll see where they are when they're done with that. I love those guys.

Q: Aside from the tone of THE LAST EXORCISM, was there anything about the subject matter that appealed to you?

ER: Oh sure. I remember when we were selling the movie, - preselling territories to finance it in 2008 - the Pope came out with a speech saying, "We're now going to open an exorcism academy." Thank you Pope! Three years ago, there were 25 sanctioned exorcists in Rome: today, there's over 300. So that either means one of two things: either Satan is on the rise, or fake exorcisms are on the rise.

In America, these stories keep coming up about exorcisms. My father is a psychiatrist - recently retired, but was a professor at Harvard - so I grew up in a psychiatric, psychoanalytic home. I saw THE EXORCIST when I was a kid, and I was like, "Woah! What's all this?! You didn't tell me about that." And they're like, "Oh, we're Jewish, we don't believe in the Devil." And I was like, "Well I do! (Laughs.) The fact that you're not telling me is because it's real! And now I'm even more terrified that you've been hiding this whole Satan thing from me." They're like, "No, no - we believe in dibbuks. You don't have to worry about him."

I'm very interested in the clash between religion and science. What fascinated me was, having grown up in a psychiatric household, seeing people that approach it from a completely different place. Something fundamentally different. And who's to say who's right? So I love that the movie fairly shows both sides and truly shows both opinions. If you are devoutly religious you will probably listen to the father and think, "I agree with him. He's correct. That's right." And if you're an atheist or don't believe in it or maybe you're religious but don't believe to that extent you go, "Yeah, Cotton's right. This girl needs a psychiatrist."

It was terrific, it was fun to play with the audience's expectations - to lead them in one direction and then give them something else so they'd think that maybe it's not what they though. But looking at the deep south ... one of our crew members, a driver, his brother is an exorcist. And he was on set saying, "Yes, that's right. You would do that, you'd stand like that, this is what you'd say." He was fact checking on our set and this was so normal to him, this is something he did every day. Seeing an exorcism to us is this crazy thing but to this guy in Louisiana it was like, "No, of course, you get the demon out."

This is a real thing. It's in every culture. It's in every religion. It's in every language. Possession and exorcism is something that's very current in the modern world. Fifty or sixty years ago evil had a face. You could look at Mussolini or Stalin or Hitler. There was a face you could put on evil. But today there's evil in terrorism, there's evil in Wall Street. There's insurgency, there's greed, there's just a general feeling of evil in corporate America that has taken over and religion is one thing that people are really turning to more than ever as a way to fight that and, with the devil, putting a face on evil.

Forty two percent of Americans believe in the devil. That's real. Most people in America believe in creationism. It's a very religious country. I've always been fascinated in the two Americas - the America that I grew up in in Boston, around Harvard and the psychiatric world, and in the America where none of that exists and it's God and church.

Q: Do you look on that sort of thing as a weakness?

ER: No! I do not! I don't look at any of it as a weakness. I think that any kind of strict belief in one thing - whether it's science or religion or anything - if you only believe that one thing and you refuse to see or listen to anything else, that I think is a weakness because who's to say who's right? But there is a feeling that in America it's either science or religion and neither side will bend one degree to the other. Ever. And it's really interesting.

Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
Daniel StammHuck BotkoAndrew GurlandPatrick FabianAshley BellIris BahrLouis HerthumDramaHorrorThriller

More about The Last Exorcism

Around the Internet