“Cannibalism is the most taboo thing you can think of…” hmv.com talks to Green Inferno director Eli Roth
The Green Inferno has been a long time coming.
Eli Roth’s cannibal film debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2013. It received mixed reviews, with some accusing Roth, the director of explicit horror films like Hostel and Cabin Fever, of xenophobia and racism. Roth disagreed, saying that Inferno was a comment on the useless slacktivism of Kony 2012 and similar, social media-driven humanitarian campaigns.
The film, which arrives on DVD and Blu-ray today (February 22nd) follows a group of American college activists whose efforts to help an indigenous South American tribe descend into horror when the locals decide to punish them for their presumptuousness. That means cannibalism and gut-munching.
Roth talked to hmv.com about making The Green Inferno, its political implications and the difficulties of production.
Tell us about researching the South American tribes for Green Inferno.
“The tribe in The Green Inferno is an amalgam. I wanted everything to feel very real and authentic so I went right to National Geographic in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that photographed some of the first tribes in the Amazon. We looked at the hierarchy, how the elders paint themselves green. I found an image of a head-hunter who was painted black with a yellow face. We created a fictitious tribe, but I took all the elements of real tribal colours.
“I also did a lot of research on how tribes treat invaders and what they would do to an invader. And the heads on pikes and gouging out the eyes, cutting out the tongue, tearing off the arms, the way they punish people, the way they punish intruders - that’s what I wanted. These students, who are very self-righteous, think they’re going and saving the planet. They dress up like construction workers and crash in the backyard of these tribespeople who see them as invaders and treat them as such.”
Cannibalism is a universal cultural taboo. How would you describe the power of breaking that taboo? Why does it make for such fascinating subject matter?
“Look at zombie movies. They’re a modern form of cannibalism. Zombies are mindless, but they eat your flesh. And the idea that you’re with your parents and your parents get bit and they want to eat you… It’s a fantastic, supernatural version of cannibalism. And people watching The Walking Dead - it being the biggest show on television - you can feel people’s fascination with getting eaten or having the urge to eat. It’s the most taboo thing you can think of. But what happens when you strip away the supernatural element? It becomes one step closer. There are still places in the world that eat humans – Liberia. In New Guinea people wind up with shrunken heads. There’s a whole culture of it.
“And it’s the last taboo of humanity. If you think about all the horrible things that people do to each other, it’s almost like the one line that they can’t cross. That’s actually the worst thing that you can do. People wonder how that would change you, and there are people who fantasize about it. Imagine if that wasn’t an issue. Imagine if we could just eat each other and there was a way to do it that nobody had a problem with it. Well, you could cure world hunger. It’s really the last unthinkable thing that we could do to each other. And when you find people who have got over that fear, it’s absolutely terrifying. They become like a shark to you in some way.”
Your producers screened the classic horror film Cannibal Holocaust for the tribespeople from the village, and they thought it was a comedy. Talk about that.
“Basically the producers wanted to show the worst case scenario to the villagers, to make sure they had no problem with anything we might be filming. So they got a generator, a DVD player and a television, and they showed them Cannibal Holocaust. I thought they were going to show them E.T. or Wizard of Oz. No. They thought it was hilarious. They thought it was a comedy. They were laughing so hard. And even when we were filming, these people, they were making 10 times in one day what they would normally make, and they’re just pretending to be another person. They thought it was the funniest thing. They couldn’t believe that that’s what we did, that we got to pretend to be other people as a living. It just completely blew their minds."
You have said that the insects were the worst part of the shoot. How bad did things get for the cast and crew?
“It was horrible. The cast would wake up with these giant boulders on their face, mosquito bites, so we had to move them to a location where they wouldn’t get bit. It really became a problem. The worst were the Izula ants. Those ants bite you. It’s like having a gunshot for 24 hours. Even if you have a spider bite…
“Poor Lorenza Izzo is in her underwear in the cage, and they’re sitting there in the dirt and the pig s**t. And it’s all real. It wasn’t like we had any special mud for the cast. Everywhere they were when they were sitting there were tarantulas crawling on them, there were Izula ants, spiders. Everyone got bitten. After the shoot we all had to get de-parasited because that’s something that can affect you for years. Everyone had to be tough. Everyone on the crew except me got sick. I don’t how that happened.”
Were there any particular challenges to doing the gore, given that you were in the middle of the hot jungle and not in a studio?
“It was extremely challenging. We couldn’t anticipate things like all the body parts being held up at customs for three weeks, because apparently shipping body parts in Peru is a huge problem. They wouldn’t let a lot of the equipment come into the country. But KNB [EFX Group] did an extraordinary job. They brought special glue, spirit gum, for the prosthetics that would withstand the heat and the moisture. But we couldn’t even put makeup on the cast – it was 110 degrees, humid. We were sweating constantly. We found ourselves doing a lot of improvisation.”
The Green Inferno is out now on DVD.