Before Eli Roth came along, the horror genre had fallen into a PG-13 malaise. But all that changed with the release of Cabin Fever and Hostel, the latter helping to coin the term for a new type of horror flick: “torture porn” or “gorno.” Filled with copious amounts of female flesh and graphic brutality, Eli Roth movies have offended the sensibilities of many critics and sent parental watchdog groups into fits of rage. But the buff NYU graduate could care less; he wears his “Splat Pack” moniker (along with Rob Zombie and Alexandre Aja) with pride.
In addition to the fake breasts and severed heads, Eli Roth movies also include liberal amounts of dark comedy. While Jason Voorhees may stalk his victims with nary a laugh, the madmen (and women) of the Eli Roth universe are frequently funny in a sick and twisted sort of way.
If you’re tired of watered-down movies being passed off as horror, give these Eli Roth films a try. While they may not help the Slovak tourism industry, they will provide plenty of titillation amidst arterial sprays.
Films Directed by Eli Roth
Cabin Fever (2002) – A group of college kids head up to a cabin for some sex and drinking, but their weekend is ruined by a flesh-eating bacteria that tends to bring out the worst in humanity. This was Roth’s entry into the world of feature filmmaking, and it doesn’t let the audience down. From nods to Deliverance to Cerina Vincent’s beautiful body, it’s a roller coaster of exploitation.
Rider Strong’s lead character of Paul hit home with me, as he’s the nice guy who’s constantly overlooked by the love of his life, Karen (Jordan Ladd). She’s more interested in Grim (Eli Roth in a cameo), a douchebag skateboarder who arrives with a bag of weed and a vicious dog named Dr. Mambo. But all romantic considerations fly out the widow when an infected hermit stumbles up to the cabin and begins the bloody chain of events.
Cabin Fever was a bold statement for Roth, as it threw caution to the wind and brought some old school balls back to the horror genre. Faces are eaten off by dogs, heads are blown apart by shotguns, and a mentally handicapped kid shows off his kung-fu abilities. I loved it.Hostel (2005) – Hostel and Saw helped create torture porn, but the latter only contributed the “torture” part. Hostel embraces both aspects fully, and the scenes of naked Eastern European women are damned impressive. A trio of American pals do the whole backpacking across Europe thing, but their trip takes a turn for the worse when they’re lured to Slovakia with the promise of hot poon and cold beer. Before you can say “never leave America,” they’re being chopped up and drilled into by a secret club of wealthy sadists.
I loved the quality and quantity of the nudity, and the gorehound in me was also impressed by the extreme level of bloodshed. I did not, however, care much for the lead characters, especially the obnoxiously blonde Josh (Derek Richardson). For that reason alone, I still prefer Cabin Fever over Hostel.
Hostel: Part II (2007) – More Americans head to Eastern Europe to get butchered, but this time a few new twists are introduced. First, the Americans are all female (Lauren German, Bijou Phillips, and Heather Matarazzo). Secondly, we get to know a couple of members of the twisted Elite Hunting club (Richard Burgi and Roger Bart), who also happen to be American citizens.
The new had worn off by this point, so I ended up liking Hostel 2 less than the original. That’s not to say that it stinks, just that it fails to shock the senses quite like the first. I did enjoy Burgi and Bart’s character arcs, and Lauren German was refreshing as an intended victim who proves just as dangerous as those pursuing her.
Thanksgiving (2007) – Roth directed this outrageous faux movie trailer for the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez project known as Grindhouse. In it, a killer dressed up like a pilgrim ruins everyone’s Thanksgiving when he carves up a whole different kind of white meat. A guy gets decapitated while he receives a hummer, a cheerleader is impaled though the vagina while jumping on a trampoline, and Michael Biehn is hilarious as the local sheriff who’s prone to overact. Easily the best of all the fake Grindhouse trailers, as I can only pray to the gods of gore that Roth eventually turns this slasher movie trailer into a full-length feature.
Nation’s Pride (2009) – Roth starred in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds as a Nazi-killing Jew from Brooklyn, but he also directed the propaganda film-within-a-film known as Nation’s Pride. In it, a heroic German soldier successful snipes wave after wave of American soldiers on behalf of the Fatherland. The body count of the film quickly becomes ridiculous, and one has to wonder how anyone could believe such a piece of cinematic nonsense. But that’s the whole point: How could anyone be dumb enough to fall for propaganda in its many forms?
Films Produced by Eli Roth
Once you’ve seen all the films listed above, you may find yourself still jonesing for an Eli Roth fix. If that’s the case, you can always watch the movies where he served as producer. While they may not be quite as good (or as gory), they’re still worth a look.2001 Maniacs (2005) – A remake of the Herschell Gordon Lewis splatter classic, 2001 Maniacs deposits a group of college students in a backwoods Georgia town for the annual “Guts and Glory Jubilee.” There are supernatural forces at work, of course, and it’s not long before the locals begin dispatching the dumbass tourists in a variety of graphic ways.
It’s better than Lewis’ low-budget original, but 2001 Maniacs pales in comparison to the technical slickness of Roth’s directorial efforts. Robert Englund is always a welcome sight in the role of the town’s mayor, while Cabin Fever vet Giuseppe Andrews co-stars as local ladykiller (literally) Harper Alexander. And I have to give the film props for casting Peter Stormare, one of my favorite character actors. Breast lovers will be enchanted by Christa Campbell, who’s more than suited for the role of Milk Maiden.
The Last Exorcism (2010) – While the ending feels tacked on, this found footage horror flick is otherwise effective at making everyone in the South seem like closet lunatics. Patrick Fabian stars as Reverend Cotton Marcus, a devoted minister and exorcist who’s become disillusioned by his role as a con-man-for-hire. Bringing along a film crew, he embarks on one last job with the intention of blowing the lid off his profession. But that’s when he runs into the Sweetzer family and the sweetly simple Nell (Ashley Bell).
There are a couple of holes in the plot, and those looking for graphic violence will come away disappointed. If you’re a fan of Paranormal Activity or The Blair With Project, however, you should be more than content with director Daniel Stamm’s atmospheric flick about faith and redemption. Fabian’s performance is especially nuanced and believable, and I’m happy to report that he hasn’t disappeared following the film’s release.
Eli Roth movies have helped bring the horror genre back to the forefront, but it remains to be seen if he will stick to his successful formula or eventually break out into other areas. While I doubt we should expect an Eli Roth rom-com in the near future, I’d be willing to spring for the price of a ticket just to see him put his uniquely offensive stamp on yet another genre.