Hostel: Where Did Eli Roth Come From?

Hey, who is this Eli Roth fella, anyway? His little gross-out movie Cabin Fever came out of the blue (or rather, the shadows) back in 2003 and all of a sudden he’s the new horror whiz kid, the guy who had the balls to bring back sex, nudity and extreme gore to the horror genre. He’s been credited with being the godfather of “torture porn,” or “gorno,” the horror subgenre that uses excessive and graphic violence to arouse the audience into a dizzy freakin’ frenzy.

So who is this guy? Whence did he come?

In his final years at NYU (circa ’93, ’94), young Eli Roth wrote and directed a student film called Restaurant Dogs. You can probably guess what movie inspired such a project. Anyway, Restaurant Dogs was nominated for a Student Academy Award and won its division. It also foreshadowed what would eventually be a beautiful friendship with Quentin Tarantino.

Prior to that, Roth had interned with producer Fred Zollo, who introduced him to David Lynch. Roth remained in contact with Lynch over the years and eventually produced content for davidlynch.com in the late ’90s. He also met iconic film composer Angelo Badalamenti through Lynch, who would later go on to score Cabin Fever.

After moving from NYC to LA in 1999, Roth created a series of animated shorts called Chowdaheads for Mandalay Sports Entertainment. The shorts were supposed to air during WCW Monday Nitro, but the CEO of WCW who greenlit Chowdaheads was fired the weekend before the series was set to launch. Unfortunately, the shorts were never broadcast.

In mid-2000, Roth produced a series of stop-motion shorts called The Rotten Fruit, which were funded by the website, Z.com. Most of the work on the shorts took place at Burbank’s Snake Pit studios using miniature sets, clay and foam figures, a couple of digital still cameras and a Mac. Z.com shut down shortly after several episodes were completed.

Eli Roth then starting taking matters into his own hands started production on Cabin Fever in 2001. Roth had written the script back in 1995 with an old NYU friend, Randy Pearlstein. The horrific tale of a flesh-eating virus that lays waste to attractive young people in the woods was based on Roth’s own encounter with a skin infection he contracted while training horses on an Iceland farm back in 1991 (what Roth was doing training horses in Iceland in 1991 is anybody’s guess).

Cabin Fever was made on a budget of $1.5 million raised from private investors and was sold to Lionsgate at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival for $3.5 million. It earned over $35 million in worldwide box office during its theatrical run in 2003 and made Roth the new horror all-star. In his 2004 interview with Premiere, Quentin Tarantino said Cabin Fever was his new favorite film and called Roth “the future of horror.”

Eli Roth could pretty much do whatever he wanted from there… sort of. His follow-up film, Hostel, was made in 2005 with a $4 million budget. Roth apparently turned down several studio gigs in order to make Hostel and took a directing salary of only $10,000 to keep the budget as low as possible — and maintain creative control. The film, which follows three college students traveling in Slovakia who uncover an underground organization that provides sadistic pleasures to rich (and very sick) businessmen, grossed over $80 million in worldwide box office.

Eli Roth went on to direct Hostel Part II (2007) and the “Thanksgiving” mock trailer in Grindhouse (2007). He’s also taken up acting, making a memorable turn as Sgt. Donnie “The Bear Jew” Donowitz in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009). Roth also appeared as the lovesick Dov in Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007) and pops up in cameos in other horror films every now and then, including Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D (2010).

Roth was set to direct the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Cell but has since dropped out. He has several projects in development but hasn’t made any of them official yet. We shall see.

So, that there’s Eli Roth, and from whence he came.

And it’s unknown if Quentin Tarantino has seen Restaurant Dogs, though he probably has. And he was probably drunk.

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