Sunday, April 01, 2007

Get Thee Behind Me, Eli

I came to a decision yesterday.

I am done with Eli Roth.

I will never watch another one of his movies.

This is not an April Fool's joke. I am very serious.

I realize that I am probably revealing my bias with these proclamations but in my own defense, and before anyone attacks my stance as being "ultra-conservative," question my commitment to cinema or doubt my identity as a movie-lover, I can freely admit that horror movies are not my favorite type of entertainment. Nevertheless, I'd like to think that I can appreciate a great film whatever it's genre may be. In fact, some of my favorite movies fit quite comfortably in the "horror" category (Psycho, Jaws, The Exorcist, Seven, Alien, etc). Nobody likes to think of themselves as being self-righteous, hypocritical or just generally "close-minded." In fact, I'd like to think I'm a pretty "open-minded" cinephile, always trying to find the redeeming value in something rather than just looking for things to criticize. When it comes to movies, I believe I'm pretty liberal with what I allow myself to see/not see (with regards to quality as well as content); much more so than a lot of people I know.

Furthermore, I am not, typically speaking, one who chooses easily to avoid (I could perhaps say "boycott," but I don't particularly want to as it is such a "loaded" term) certain films. Like Emperor Joseph II says in Amadeus: "I am a tolerant man. I do not censor things lightly. When I do, I have good reason." Understand, of course, that I am not talking here about censorship (except perhaps "self-censorship"). I am not saying that nobody should watch Eli Roth's movies nor am I trying to ensure that nobody can. I am speaking only for myself. I mention the Amadeus quote merely because the sentiment is the same: my decision is not based on a knee-jerk reaction to recently viewing a film of his (in fact, I've only seen one of his movies and that was a while ago). No, I arrived at my conclusion based on a combination of two things: The first I will get to in a minute. The second was something I read regarding what is contained within the trailer for the fake movie Thanksgiving he has made for the upcoming Tarantino/Rodriguez film Grindhouse. Although I am not a terribly big fan of Tarantino (Rodriguez a little bit more), I will admit that I've enjoyed most of his movies and am curious to see Grindhouse, but given what I've heard about what is contained within Roth's section of the film (and no, I am not going to go into any detail here; you want to find out what I'm talking about, you can do so elsewhere), I'm not sure I want to see it. I was already deciding to use the time that Rob Zombie's fake trailer comes on to take a bathroom break. When it gets to Eli Roth's four minutes of the film, I may choose that moment to get a refill on my popcorn.

The thing that most recently got me thinking that Roth was a filmmaker whose work I really have no more interest in, was a statement he made regarding violence in movies (which you can read about here at Cinematical). On the surface his idea may seem relatively innocuous, but in my mind they more or less confirm something that I've suspected ever since I BARELY made it through Hostel and listened to his comments on the commentary track. Eli Roth seems to be lacking something that I think is important for a great horror filmmaker (or any great filmmaker really) to have: some kind of inner moral compass that allows his films to have purpose or meaning outside of the mere desire to shock, titillate or disgust. I don't think he has this. I do not get the sense from him or his movies that he is a responsible filmmaker, that he ever asks himself whether or not he has "gone too far" in what he puts up on the screen. I find his ideas (and consequently his work) to be cynical, apathetic and nihilistic (which might perhaps explain why it appeals to so many young people since, as I would argue, these terms seem to describe the general direction our culture is taking) and I think his disregard for whatever consequences his films might have is at best discouraging and at worst frightening and dangerous.

This is all tied in with something about which I've been doing a great deal of thinking lately, and that it is the disturbingly increasing tendency toward sexual sado-masochism in the general culture (movies/TV/music) but particularly in the horror genre (an approach which has spawned its own "sub-genre" of horror films labeled by David Edelstein as "torture porn" and, in some circles, "gorno"). It may prove to be the subject of a future post or two here on Windmills. In the meantime, I'll simply say that, like his fellow "splat-packer" Rob Zombie, I have sworn off any more of Eli Roth's movies. Hostel 2 is coming out soon and will no doubt have hordes of young "gorno" fans flocking to the theatre to experience it (I hesitate to use the word "see" because I wonder exactly how much of the time their eyes will be directed at the screen). I can assure you that I will not be one of them. Unless Roth undergoes some sort of "religious conversion" tomorrow and suddenly decides to start making movies about sweet little girls and cute puppies (where the girls aren't raped and tortured and the puppies aren't dismembered and eaten), he can go his way and I will quietly go mine. Thank you very much.

Nothing personal. Have a nice life..... you sicko.*

*Sorry, couldn't resist.

23 comments:

Jonathan said...

Eli's Comin'.

Sorry, couldn't resist. The only thing I've ever seen of Roth's is that Thanksgiving faux trailer, and I'll admit, I thought it was great. That being said, I knew plenty about his other movies and I have yet to see one because, well, I don't know if they'd appeal to me.

I have no desire to see Hostel, though I've heard some stuff about Cabin Fever which leads me to believe that it's more than just a shock/splatter-fest, but rather somewhat of a semi-campy tribute to gory horror films of the past. Basically, it seems smarter than other horror films, and it seems smarter than (what I've heard of) Hostel. So if I were to see a Roth film anytime soon, it'd be Cabin Fever, and then we'd take it from there.

Though, again, I haven't really seen any of his stuff, so I can't say any of this certainly.

Dan E. said...

Sometimes you just hit the nail on the head, Damian. I'm not a big horror fan, but I can certainly appreciate the greats. Usually, I find that there is something more to the film that appeals to me than just the horror, such as the gorgeous cinematography in Carrie. I've heard there is some redeeming value in Cabin Fever, but I can't imagine something worth watching in Hostel.

As for Grindhouse, the oversaturation is really getting to me. At this point, I'm more excited about the fake trailers than either Tarantino's or Rodriguez's movies. Just let the movie sell itself a little, people. It doesn't need any more publicity when everyone has heard of it and seen the trailer.

Damian said...

Jonathan:

I'll admit that Cabin Fever was a film I was curious about for a while. I had heard mixed reviews of it (some people thought it was a great horror film, others positively despised it), but that's pretty common of scary movies. I was also, I admit, intrigued by the fact that Roth suffers from the psoriasis and that it was that which served as the inspiration for the fleash-eating disease in Cabin Fever. In that case, much like how Wes Craven bases a lot of his script ideas on his dreams or Spielberg drew on his own childhood fears for Poltergeist, Roth could be considered an artist who uses his films as a catharsis or means of therapy.

I did not, however, know that Hostel was directed by the same guy who did Cabin Fever until I heard him and Tarantino discussing it on the commentary track. After going back and talking to some of the same people again I found that many of the same criticisms I had for Hostel (overabundance of sleaze, general lack of suspense, unlikable characters, too much gore, etc) they also had of Cabin Fever. That was when I was first started to wonder if Eli Roth really had anything to offer in the way of good storytelling that would make me want to actually spend 90 minutes of my life with the characters and events in his movies. Recent things that I've heard him say (and things I've heard about the Thanksgiving trailer) have pretty much confirmed that for me.


Dan:

If you're interested in seeing Roth's trailer for Grindhouse, you can do so here. Personally, I just couldn't do it.

Squish said...

Well defended Damian, and well writ. I love Horror, and I found Hostel to have so many boobs in them that I got bored of them, asking 'when's the killing gonna start'? This my friend, should never happen. However I do disagree with the following statment you made: "...increasing tendency toward sexual sado-masochism in the general culture (movies/TV/music) but particularly in the horror genre." You declared that you're not a big fan of horror, which I suspect would keep you in the dark to the far darker horror films like I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980). I agree that film, as with all things in our society, is getting more and more brazen in its limits, but simply because you may not have heard of the titles I mentioned, it doesn't mean they weren't out there for a long time. Perhaps they never played in the mainstream cinemas but I want you to know that there's far worse and more distubring out there, and it's been there for a long time... unless your timeframe included the last 30 years... oh and the only thing that separates the degree of violence in other films of the 80s like the Friday the 13th franchise, was the censor board. They slashed the hell out of the gore in those. It's a double-edged sword, with censorship on the one side...

Piper said...

Here here Damian.

I saw the trailer for Thanksgiving. It was funny, but gross.

I have rented Hostel but did not watch it. I couldn't. And as a father of two, I even feel kind of guilty about it.

There's a bigger story here. Gore for horror. Gore doesn't make something scary and I don't like where he's taking it. Every film he makes or Zombie or whoever makes it harder and harder for us to return to the glory of Halloween where we barely saw any blood.

Damian said...
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Damian said...

Squish:

To address your disagreement with my statement regarding "the disturbingly increasing tendency toward sexual sado-masochism in the general culture," first of all, let me say that I actually have heard of both Cannibal Holocuast and I Spit On Your Grave (the latter of which we have here in the video store; I feel a little dirty everytime I walk by it) but my point is that both of these films were, for their time, "underground" products. They were more the exception rather than the rule. You may note that I never use language like "the recent birth of sexual sado-masochism in movies," because I realize that it has always been there (or at least it's been around for 30 years), but you have to admit that its appeal seems to have increased at an almost exponential rate simply in the past few years. It is becoming more "acceptable" in big-budget, studio-backed pictures which play in our multiplexes. This has to mean that the general tolerance for such material is getting more widespread and less taboo.

This is all stuff I was planning to address in my future blog on the subject, but I notice this phenomenon in the general culture and not just the movies. Graphic autopsy shows like CSI and programs like 24 which prominently feature intense torture sequences are also reflections of this. I don't like to use the term "de-sensitization" as I think it's become a bit of a "buzz" word, but our society does seem to be less bothered by images of unspeakably inhuman treatment. The less bothered we are by it in our art, the easier it is I think for us to simply wink and nod at in reality. It is little wonder to me that fewer people are having difficulty with our government employing torture as a legitimate means of counter-terrorism.

Anyway, I am not trying to preach or stand on a soapbox here. I leave it up for others to decide whether this is ultimately a good or bad thing, but I confess it does worry me a bit and also makes me wonder. It's sort of like asking the question, "If pornography goes mainstream, is it still considered pornography?"


Piper:

I think you're absolutely right. Fear and disgust are two completely different type of sensations and most modern scary movie-makers don't seem to understand this. I find it takes less talent to be shocking than it does to create an atmosphere of genuine suspense and dread. Being put on the edge of your seat (trying to move closer to the screen in anticipation of what is going to happen) is quite different from being pushed back into it cringing (being repulsed by what you are seeing on screen). 30 years ago the "money shot" of a major horror movie was a knife entering a body followed by a spurt of blood. Oh, how I long for the days of Psycho where the "violence" was primarily left to the imagination.

Squish said...

I Spit On Your Grave IS dirty and nasty and you should never see it... ever. "the general tolerance for such material is getting more widespread and less taboo." well that doesn't even need to be said :P

oh and regarding "If pornography goes mainstream, is it still considered pornography?" - using three off the top of my head examples - Brown Bunny, Shortbus and Nine Songs - I'd say no, it becomes art... and art I've never seen nor intend to...

cineboy said...

Damian,

I applaud your taking a hard line here. As you know I tend toward not drawing a line too firmly when it comes to watching or not watching films. This tendency of mine finds it roots in addressing the over reactionary movie viewing trends within mainstream American Christian sub-cultures. However, there does come a time when one has to take a moral stand and call something what it is. I think it is still a good practice to ask the question, "what is the purpose of this film?" and see if you can come up with a good answer. If, for example, the answer is something like, "the pupose of the film is to feed the desire of some people to watch the brutal torure of other human beings," then I would say that film maybe should not exist, except as a cultural artifact the way a museum of medieval torture exists. And even then the repsonse should be something like, "how awfull that human beings did these kinds of things, and even enojoyed doing them." Anyway, I'm blathering. I think ou know where I'm coming from.

Damian said...

I do know where you're coming from, Tuck, and I totally sympathize. Having come through the "over-reactionary Christian sub-culture" myself, I also don't like closing myself off to any options when it comes to watching movies. For the most part I am willing to give things a try (even things that I know I probably shouldn't) and then decide what I think about it. I can guarantee that most Christians would never even attempt to watch Hostel before making up their mind up about it.

Having said all that, I do think that there comes a time for each individual person where they have to draw a line in the sand and say "I just can't do this anymore. It's not right." Where precisely that line falls is something that everyone has to decide for themselves. In the case of Eli Roth, I found myself starting to have actual conviction about some things and thinking that maybe I should try refraining from watching any more of his movies... at least for a while.

RC said...

interesting post here...

i hadn't read that cinematical article...

you make a good point...i have long been not-interested in this type of movie...

i too have no desire to see hostel or any movie who's main goal is to make me feel uncomfortable like that.

Steve said...

As far as I know, very few serious horror fans really take Roth for anything more than a fanboy with a camera. As opposed to, say, Rob Zombie (who possesses a sharp sense of tone, humor and understanding of the loaded material he uses) or Tarantino (who is able to recontextualize his pop-culture thefts and integrate his influences into his unique worldview), Roth doesn't really have anything to say -- he just wants to make the AICN crowd cream their jeans. Cynical? Sure, but exploitation (sex/gore/horror) has long been the province of hucksters and rip-off artists. Does that make Roth more acceptable? Of course not -- he's still an obnoxious, marginally talented blowhard. At least H.G. Lewis was honest about his hucksterism. (I wish I knew what Tarantino sees in Roth.)

But it could be worse. At least Cabin Fever and Hostel offer some entertainment, no matter how mediocre or brainless the end product is. As a devoted fan of the genre, as well as one who recently paid to see The Hills Have Eyes II for Lord knows whatever reason, Roth's just the tip of the ugly iceberg.

I don't have a problem with sadism, torture, discomfort, etc. What I have a problem with is people who aren't using these things for any ends other than their own existence. It's then that the film stops being horror and becomes a geek show. What's worse is that, when you're buried in a landslide of films like this, it's easy to overlook and/or unfairly tarnish the films (Land of the Dead, The Devil's Rejects) that use extreme content to a purpose. To tie in to where Squish was headed, it's like the difference between Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox. The former is trying, however clumsily or distastefully, to say something; the latter is just wallowing. (Not that I'm about to defend Cannibal Holocaust, one of the most morally conflicted/compromised films I've yet seen, but hopefully you get my point.)

Steve said...

Also:

I have no desire to see Hostel, though I've heard some stuff about Cabin Fever which leads me to believe that it's more than just a shock/splatter-fest, but rather somewhat of a semi-campy tribute to gory horror films of the past. Basically, it seems smarter than other horror films, and it seems smarter than (what I've heard of) Hostel.

You'd be wrong in that assumption -- Cabin Fever is dumber than a box of rocks.

Damian said...

Wow. This post has actually kicked off a rather interesting discussion. I never anticipated this but I must say that I am pleasantly surprised. I am also surprised that several people have expressed sympathy with my opinion. I thought I was going to get a serious tongue-lashing by true cipehiles for "cutting myself off from great cinematic possibilities" by refusing to watch any more of Eli Roth's movies or perhaps get attacked by horror film connoisseurs for "not appreciating the genius of Eli Roth who happens to be the greatest thing to ever happen to the horror movie genre blah, blah, blah." It's nice to know there are people out there are "seeing what I see," so to speak.


I don't have a problem with sadism, torture, discomfort, etc. What I have a problem with is people who aren't using these things for any ends other than their own existence. It's then that the film stops being horror and becomes a geek show.

Precisely, Steve. It is not the level of violence (or even the "kind" of violence) in Roth's films that bothers me. I have a pretty string stomach. I can handle quite a bit. What bothers me is that he is not using the violence as a "tool" for any artistic purpose or meaning. It is there merely for it's own sake. As you say, it is not a means to an end, it is an end in itself.

Campaspe said...

This was exceptionally well done. Not only have you confirmed my adamant refusal to SEE Mr. Roth's movies, you have also, with this cogent, nicely argued and admirably un-prudish post, rendered it unnecessary for me ever to try to WRITE about Mr. Roth. Kudos. I will be bookmarking this.

Incidentally, I have a number of evangelical Christians in my life, and by no means would all of them rule out seeing a film like this. (Explicit sexual content is, as you may suspect, another story.) Some of them are big horror fans. I don't even find that particularly odd; in its own weird way, the overall horror genre is strikingly didactic, even if Roth apparently is jettisoning all pretense of that.

Damian said...

Thanks, Campaspe. Back when I wrote this piece I was actually fully prepared for a barrage of attacks, criticisms and epithets because of my willingness to finally take a definitive stand on Eli Roth and the movies he makes. It has been encouraging to me that almost the exact opposite occurred. A number of people supported my decision and expressed their agreement with me. It makes me feel not quite so alone in my convictions regarding Roth and his work.

Incidentally, you are right in that while most Evengelical Christians wouldn't touch a film like Hostel II, there's still a portion who are open-minded enough to at least give the film a try and perhaps even find redeeming value in it. I myself am a Christian (though I wouldn't characterize myself as "Evaneglical") and I sometimes get a lot of flack from my fellow bretheren because of the things I allow myself to see and, what's worse, that I atually approve of.

Edward Walton said...

Fantastic! I could not agree more. As an L.A. artist I was recently approached to paint such material for an illustrated novel containing content that the author thought was in keeping with my "dark" sensibilities. I quickly realized however that his work did not mirror my artistic intention as moral indictment. It became obvious that his intention was simply perverse shock. I declined the gig. Please take a look at my web site as this subject wieghs heavily upon me. Edward
WWW.EDWARDWALTONWILCOX.com.

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