After watching both “Green Inferno” and “Knock Knock” in the span of a week I decided that although Eli Roth is a creative force in the horror industry, he might not be the creative genius or horror icon that many have given him the mantle of in recent years. To prove, or disprove the genre’s take on this much revered director I decided to run-down the list of Roth’s movies and in doing so create an all-new editorial on the site: Horror Score Card. With Horror Score Card we take a horror personality and review each of their properties in a manner that, by the end of the article we have compiled a grade. Some will pass, some will fail, but ALL WILL BE JUDGED!!!…ahem.
First up is Eli Roth. After achieving overnight success with Cabin Fever (due largely in part to a very quotable blurb from non other than Peter Jackson), Roth became horror’s “it” boy and much more, he became a horror personality. A poster boy for the genre, Roth has since partnered with Quentin Tarantino and recently brought the world the controversial “Green Inferno”, his tribute to the cannibal exploitation subgenre of horror popular throughout the 70s. His contribution recognized, I think its only fair that we ask the question, “is Roth just a product of the hype engine that made him famous, or is he a bonafide horror genius. Well we’ll be the judge!!!
1. Cabin Fever (2002) The movie that made Roth a household horror name takes a group of young people (no novelty here) and puts them in a remote cabin where they must fight to stay alive and infected in the wake of terrifying degenerative flesh virus. Admittedly, I was sold on the trailers and accolades from respected horror icons (again, it doesn’t hurt that Jackson went to bat to praise the film). The main problem with Cabin, and a very major one, is that the film itself was uneven as hell, mixing gritty horror with what at times felt like a very obvious nod to b-horror and throwing in the occasional slapstick comedy element that left a lot of moviegoers scratching their heads. Although we did get some memorable moments (including the worst way to earn your red wings, and an autistic Bruce Lee) the movie itself felt more like an uncertain, indecisive film student getting his toes wet than the emergence of a pop cultural phenomena, and for that failed to earn itself as a worthy entry into the annals of horror filmmaking. Final Grade: 56% F
2. Hostel (2005) Three years later Roth introduces us to his take on the every growing subgenre of horror now commonly referred to as “torture porn”, Hostel. The film preys upon our ethnocentric fears of having our foreign naivete taken advantage of while traveling abroad and puts two young Americans on the receiving end of a sinister organization that allows the word’s elite rich to kill hapless travelers in a variety of brutal, albeit inventive ways. Roth managed to keep the tone consistent and the story simple and it worked to his benefit. Even with characters largely based on archetypes reserved for the usual teen sex-comedy romps we managed to care about their fates and by the end of the film we were emotionally invested in their struggles. Hostel showed a competent filmmaker that could not only twist a trend to produce a good movie, but also bring the horror when it counted. Final Grade: 88% B+
3. Hostel 2 (2007) Well, hey, I’m not gonna slight the man for being a bit of an opportunist. After the success of its predecessor, Hostel 2 was sorta a foregone conclusion. The second film puts a female troupe of tourists at the heart of the story and also gives us a subplot revolving around 2 of the would be participants in the pay-for-play murder syndicate, showing viewers both sides of the gruesome game this time around. Although the first film could definitely be viewed as a one-trick-pony, Roth managed to expand on his universe, successfully swap the genders of our protagonists and give us insight on the nature of our antagonists, blurring the line between between hero and villain. Roth showed us that the landscape of his ideas was broader then the scope of on film and gave us a disturbing mythology to play with. Final Grade: 86% B+
4. Green Inferno (2013) Just when you thought your student had finally learned something, along comes Green Inferno. Inferno, long trapped in distribution and development hell, finally saw the light of day in 2015. Fans were eager to see the latest Roth directed vehicle about cannibalism along the Amazon and the earlier issues with the film being too graphic to find distribution only fueled the fire. To say that Inferno is a disappointment is not only being a tad too apologetic for its shortcomings, but is glaringly turning a blind eye to the fact that this just isn’t a good film in nearly any respect. All of the artistic nuances present in Roth’s two prior films are stripped away here, but instead of seeing a gritty, brutal cinema verite film ala the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre, we are treated to bad choices in shots, painful dialogue and some serious WTF moments that make you wonder if Roth didn’t just throw his hands up in the air and turn the reigns over to an intern mid-production. Inferno, quite simply is a HUGE step backwards for Roth in terms of technical film-making and as much as it might be an homage to films of the same ilk (Cannibal Ferox, etc.) it doesn’t shock the audience quite as much as expected, only if you don’t reel in your-face palming during the masturbation or pot scenes; both of which are better alternatives than pressing play on this one. Final Grade: 28% F
5. Knock Knock (2015) Who’s there? Fuck me. It’s Keanu Reeves. I’m no Keanu hater either, but if you’re looking for a reason to substantiate Reeve’s sometimes questionable acting, look no further than Knock Knock. Roth returned with a more intimate story about about a night of passion gone wrong as two seemingly lost females arrive at Reeve;s door while his wife and kids are out of town. Not thing leads to another and Reeve’s winds up fighting for his life as the pair return to teach him a lesson about infidelity. With a premise and cast that looked quite promising, this was a concept you would really have to work at to make it as bad as the final product. Roth directs Reeve’s into a performance that borders on embarrassing and the plot devices become so silly and trite that by the end you’re writing the Riff Trax guys with some wonderful new suggestions. The entire film not only seems like a pointless exercise, but one that barely registers as a successful use of the filmmaking craft that Roth displayed earlier in his career. Final Grade: 12% F
Final Averaged Score: 260/500 D-