You can tell why Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino are friends--both share a fanboy’s enthusiasm for movies. We caught up with Roth just as his director’s cut of Cabin Fever
debuts on Blu-ray and he is busy basking in the awards-season glory of Inglourious Basterds
, in which he played Sgt. Donny Donowitz, the “Bear Jew.”
Is it true that a real encounter with flesh-eating bacteria inspired Cabin Fever?
Roth: Yes. I was in Iceland when I was 19 and I got this skin infection. I scratched my face and ripped chunks off. I shaved my neck the next day, and I took off half my face with my razor. It didn’t even hurt—it was just really itchy and it felt good to scratch it off. The hospital was able to save my face. [laughs]
What did you get to put back in this unrated version of Cabin Fever on BD?
Roth: I know the box says “unrated,” but this version actually got an R rating. I don’t want people to think they are getting a much gorier version. They’ll see the gore much better because this version is high-def. But there were a couple of scares taken out for time that really hurt the movie. I wanted to make a ‘70s-style horror movie where you really get to know the characters before things go wrong.
Cabin Fever was your first real acting role. How did that small part lead to playing the Bear Jew in Inglorious Basterds?
Roth: I played the part of Justin in Cabin Fever at the last minute. The cast encouraged me to do it because I had been reading it in all the rehearsals. When Quentin [Tarantino] saw it, he loved it. He said I played his favorite character in the film. So he put me in Death Proof . Then he put me in Inglourious Basterds because of Death Proof and Cabin Fever. So in a strange way being the Bear Jew helped get the Cabin Fever director’s cut out there.
What are the chances of seeing a full-length Thanksgiving, the trailer you directed that was shown in between the Grindhouse features in theaters?
Roth: I would love to do Thanksgiving. It’s something I’ve been working on with my co-writer, Jeff Rendell, who played the pilgrim in the first one. Jeff and I are batting around ideas, but we’ve know each other since kindergarten. Conversations turn into, “OK, which girl from eighth grade would you have sex with now if you saw her at the 20-year reunion?” It’s kind of sad, but also fun at the same time.
You are developing a sci-fi epic called Endangered Species. Is the director of Hostel really gunning for a PG-13 movie?
Roth: I’ve stopped putting ratings on myself. Wanting to make it PG-13 was restricting how I was writing. My goal now is to let the characters speak and write the best movie possible. If it comes out PG-13, it’s PG-13. If it comes out R, it’s R.
The stories I was telling in the past were hard-R stories. All the movies leading up to when Cabin Fever came out were PG-13. You only had characters that were politically correct, that took showers with their clothes on, that had sex with the sheets up to their neck and I couldn’t stand it. I wanted an authenticity to my characters and for them to talk how they’re going to talk.”
Are you more interested in acting now after the success of Inglourious Basterds or are you still more at home behind the camera?
Roth: I always loved acting—it was always really fun to me. But I like doing one scene or one shot. I never considered that real acting. I wanted to do acting like Hitchcock, where you just have a walk-on and people who catch it, catch it. Inglourious Basterds was my first real acting challenge and it was Quentin who pushed me to do it. I loved it, but there is nothing as deeply satisfying as scaring an audience as a director.