It’s a day of interviews and reviews at the Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction podcast. First, a chat with director Daniel Stamm and producer Eli Roth on their film THE LAST EXORCISM, opening on Friday, August27. Then an in-depth discussion of PIRANHA 3D, Alexandre Aja’s ultra-gory remake of the 1978 cult classic directed by Joe Dante. Plus the usual round-up of news, events, and home video releases.
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Below is a written transcript of Dan Person’s interview with Stamm and Roth, regarding THE LAST EXORCISM, heard in the podcast.
CFQ: “Let me start with you Daniel. One of the things I noticed in your bio was that at some point you hitchhiked across the United States with only your ID. From doing that, what did you bring from your experience there into this film?
DS: “That’s a tricky question. I think what that did to me was it gave me a good overview of how different the different states in the U.S. are and how the one thing that connects them all – all my experiences – were that they very spiritual. There were a lot of people talking about God, lot of people talking about Jesus, which is something I never encountered hitchhiking in Europe. You could go through all of Europe and no one would ever mention God, where as hitchhiking from the east coast to the west coast, God came up in almost every single conversation. People were terrified to take me with them because hitchhiking has a different feel over here than it does in Europe, so a lot of people would say, “You know I’m terrified right now, but God told me to take you with me” or “I couldn’t just let you stand by the side of the road”. So there is this kind of deeply ingrained spirituality that I saw in that journey, which I think is a lot of what THE LAST EXORCISM is talking about.
CFQ: “Eli – your name is on this, your reputation precedes you. The thing is this film is breaks rather noticeably from that reputation.Were you concerned with that ?”
ER: “No, it was actually exciting for me. I love gore and I love blood in movies but I really love all kinds of movies: I love PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, I love CLOVERFIELD, I love DISTRICT 9. Those were very different films and when I read the script for this – it was actually before any of those came out – I thought it was one of the best, scariest, smartest scripts I had ever read. Originally, the writers were going to direct it and the intention was never to make a gory film. I’ve made my name synonymous with blood and guts, which I’m very proud of but I also feel that people associate a different level of smarter horror with me. The fans know that if I’m going to get involved with a film that is PG-13 and is not a particularly gory film, there must be something very special about it.
I also love films that are at THE RING/THE GRUDGE end of the spectrum, anything that is well done and smart. Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING is one of my all time favorite films and, even though I’ve never made that movie, I love those kinds of stories. I think it’s the kind of thing where, looking back over the course of my career, people will see different projects I have made and they all have one common theme but they’ll all have different levels of blood. I think as long as the fans know what they’re in for and aren’t expecting Hostel 3 and know that this is about possession not power tools, I think they’re going to love what Daniel has done. Daniel made a film that is so smart and so fun and really does a great job of slowly building the tension and really keeping the audience guessing the whole way through. It’s just as exciting for me to be apart of a film that I think is a great addition to the exorcism cannon of films as I was about HOSTEL.
CFQ: “In this particular film, Cotton Marcus [Patrick Fabian] relies on a lot of stage illusions. How much of that is reality, how much of that actually happens with these types of exorcisms, how much is invention?”
DS: “I think it’s hard to say because there are more exorcisms happening today than at anytime in history all over the world – in all religions – and I’m sure that every single one of them has a certain element of stage magic to them. I think that they function very differently in India than they do over here, so we kind of pulled from different sources. We never quoted one source and said, “This is what our research shows is being done” but its just different ideas and some are made up of ideas of what you could do if you were in that situation.
CFQ: “This film walks a real line as far as whether there is a supernatural element to it or not. How difficult was that to achieve? Were there any concerns about playing that line as carefully as you are?”
ER: “Well, that really came about in the writing and development in the screenplay. You want the audience to think one thing and just when they think they have it figured out, you add in a new layer that they never saw coming but something that makes sense; Not a twist for the sake of a twist but something that engages you further going, “Oh my god I didn’t see that” or “That’s weird!” And for me, what’s unique and fun about the film is in this documentary format that, at first it’s Cotton Marcus in control and he basically slowly loses control to Nell. Its really about the clash of Science and Religion, but in this it’s the Reverend that’s coming from the scientific point of view saying, “She’s Crazy” and it’s the father coming from the place of devout faith saying, “She said she was possessed”, “She IS possessed”, “The demon is still in here”, “Get it out!” So suddenly it’s not even about being possessed or not it’s about getting her to stop behaving that way or the father is going to shoot her. What I loved about the script – and what I think Daniel did so brilliantly – was playing it all very real but never answering the question; just really keeping the audience, leading them one direction and then another direction and that’s what Daniel did so brilliantly in the film.
CFQ: “In terms of keeping it grounded in the reality, how much of this was shot on location?”
DANIEL STAMM: “All of it was shot on location.”
CFQ: “Where did you do this?”
DANIEL STAMM: “Close to New Orleans and the 9th ward that was flooded by Katrina. There was this old plantation that got flooded completely – 6 feet high…the watermark was still on the walls. And we shot all of that on the plantation. Even the shed and everything was all there.
CFQ: “How difficult was that?”
DANIEL STAMM: “Well it was difficult in that it wasn’t air conditioned and to shoot in New Orleans and Louisiana in June & July, it was exhausting for the actors. But it does something to them because they’re bathed in sweat the whole time and you kind of have the smell and the insects. It adds a level or realism that you couldn’t create, and I think that shows in the acting, that they’re kind of reacting to something that is there that they don’t have to pretend is there. They don‘t have to act.”
CFQ: “ How were the actors coping with this? Was there a lot of swearing ‘Next shoot – The Bahamas’?”
DANIEL STAMM: “There was some joking about ‘Where is my trailer?’, because we didn’t have trailers and it was important to me that the actors would form a sort of community and family. I didn’t want them to go off into their trailers and kind of separate and only get together for the scene. What I wanted was a kind of feeling that they know each other and have known each other for a while. So even with Cotton Marcus’ family, I had them spend 1 day together and play games together with the boy and the two parents so that when they actually appear together on screen you have the feeling that they have some back story, that there is more than just actors pretending to be a family. That was important.”
CFQ: “I’m doing some writing for another website and in doing some preparation for that I watched a lot of exorcism films. It’s sort of amazing to see, in contrast to your film, how many of those other films are grounded in Catholicism, to the point where it comes as something of a shock that there is this Evangelical aspect to THE LAST EXORCISM. In reading the script, did that surprise you or was that an appealing factor for you?”
ER: “No, I think what makes it interesting is that a lot of people don’t know that there are exorcisms in every religion and our movie exists in a world where the characters have seen THE EXORCIST and they mention it, acknowledge it and talk about THE EXORCIST and reference it. But what we discovered in the development of the script in the writing and figuring out how scenes are going to be shot and discussing things with Daniel is that pretty much everything people think about exorcisms comes from THE EXORCIST. If you think about zombies: there were zombies before NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, they were the kind of I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE that was kind of voodoo based. And George Romero comes out with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and suddenly, they eat your flesh and if you’re bitten you turn and shoot them in the head. Every rule of zombies is literally is derived from Romero. And in that same way THE EXORCIST is such a cultural landmark that things people think of…everything about it comes from that film.
I think that – even these movies that are dealing with Catholicism – a lot of these films haven’t even bothered to do research beyond it or weren’t interested in doing research beyond it. Or maybe that was what the subject matter was – there are certainly fine films like THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE – but I’m talking about more knock-off movies. We didn’t want this film to feel derivative, and Daniel was very specific about not making a specific denomination. We didn’t want to say that this is something that only happens to Catholics. We wanted to make it much broader so that you could really apply it to any religion.
CFQ: “So Daniel, if you’re going to keep this ambiguous as far as denomination is concerned, how complex was that to do?”
DANIEL STAMM: “To keep it ambiguous? It was pretty simple because the man is a trickster anyway and he’s kind of making up his own stage show, as you were saying. It was more important when we showed him in the church with his congregation that we keep to the facts and we did a lot of research on it. But once he goes off by himself and delivers that show, I think he’s free to do whatever he wants.
CFQ: “How much did Patrick Fabian bring to the role?”
DANIEL STAMM: “Everything. I mean he IS Cotton Marcus. That was kind of important with this casting that there was a lot of freedom for the actors to create the character. A lot of the characters are called by their real names – the actor’s names – to kind of blur that line between the character and the actual person.
CFQ: “Thank you very much for talking with us.”
DANIEL STAMM: “Thank you.”
ELI ROTH: “Thank you!”
Transcript by R. Patrick Alberty