By WILLIAM J. WRIGHT
The name Eli Roth is synonymous with modern horror. Rising to prominence in the early 2000s, the Massachusetts-born filmmaker carved out a genre niche that paid homage to the grindhouse classics of the ’70s and ’80s while amping up the gore quotient to a level rarely seen in the post-Scream era. Breaking on to the scene with the 2003 body horror film Cabin Fever, Roth quickly established himself as one of the most compelling genre filmmakers of the new century. In 2005, Roth teamed with executive producer Quentin Tarantino for the ultra-violent, no-holds-barred thriller Hostel, which would find the filmmaker at the eye of a media storm focused on so-called “torture porn.” Refusing to compromise his vision, he weathered that manufactured outrage by sticking to his guns. In the meantime, Roth honed his acting chops with a critically-acclaimed role as the baseball bat-wielding Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz in Quentin Tarantino’s World War II epic, Inglourious Basterds.
In recent years, Roth has expanded his horizons (and his oeuvre) with such films as The Green Inferno, an homage to Italian gut munchers such as Cannibal Holocaust, and the surprisingly family-friendly Jack Black vehicle The House With a Clock in its Walls. He’s also taken a turn to small-screen documentary projects with AMC’s excellent and comprehensive Eli Roth’s History of Horror. However, his latest project, ELI ROTH PRESENTS: A GHOST RUINED MY LIFE, which begins its second season on Canada’s T+E on October 14, finds the 50-year-old filmmaker moving away from celluloid horrors to face the real-life horrors of the supernatural. Recently, Roth was kind enough to sit down with RUE MORGUE to talk about his role as the executive producer of the hit paranormal reality series.
You’ve found quite a bit of success with your television projects, including Eli Roth’s History of Horror and, of course, A GHOST RUINED MY LIFE. As a filmmaker known for horror features, what attracts you to the reality and documentary formats? Specifically, what attracts you to the subject of the supernatural?
I have a lot of ideas and not all of them lend themselves to feature films. The more I experience in life, the older I get, the more things I see that I think: “How come no one ever approached this subject in this way?” Then, opportunities present themselves and they seem like a good match – like Matt Butler from Travel Channel reaching out to me, asking if I had any interest in paranormal programming, and I said, well, actually, “I do have this one idea…” And here we are. It turns out it’s something a lot of people have experienced. [For] Season 1, we had about twenty submissions, narrowed down to eight episodes we could shoot. Season 2, we had over 300, so we really were able to pick some amazing stories.
What specific challenges does executive producing A GHOST RUINED MY LIFE present?
You never want to repeat yourself because there are certain elements to the story that everyone experiences. There’s the first night. There’s no one believing them. Their life is falling apart. But, we also had the advantage of having made Season 1 where we could really see what worked and what didn’t. We were always extremely ambitious, and now, we could balance the resources a bit better to have more time to let the directors craft the scares. There are challenges every shoot, not just COVID, but upsetting the spirits themselves during a shoot, which of course happened. Or so we believe. You guys can judge. The footage is all there.
How does Season 2 differ from the first season in terms of the stories presented? Did the first season inspire people with intense, ongoing paranormal encounters to get in contact with the show?
We have much scarier stories. Some stories in Season 1 were terrifying but too big to tell in the time and budget we have. Now, we could find the scariest stories and tell them in the most terrifying way. They’re incredibly freaky. We also had the benefit that those on Season 2 all had seen Season 1 and wanted to be on the show to tell their story. It was a huge relief for them. A lot of them said, “No one believed me, now I can just show them this episode.”
What are the criteria for a good story for A GHOST RUINED MY LIFE?
I hate to say it, but the more the ghost ruins someone’s life, the more compelling the story. If a ghost shows up and doesn’t really affect you, it’s interesting but it’s not hugely dramatic storytelling. When someone’s life is totally fine and then completely falls apart, and they have absolutely no control over this entity that has latched onto them, that’s everyone’s worst nightmare. Contained stories tend to work the best because we can focus on a few locations. If we try to tell a sprawling story to get scope it doesn’t work as well. They’re very intimate stories, and we’re right there with the people who actually experienced it. They even showed us footage they never shared before, which is pretty astounding.
Which story have you personally found the most frightening or intriguing? Why?
They’re all scary in their own way.
This couple moves to a dream house, and it turns out it was a slaveowner’s property, and he had fathered children with the slaves and drowned the kids in the pond, and the ghosts are still haunting it. That was horrifying.
Also, a couple went to a Halloween party at a prison, and then, this thing followed them home. And then, there’s the wife screaming for help as the entity grabs her leg when she’s sleeping on the couch, and they caught it on a night vision camera.
I wouldn’t trade places with any of them. What they went through is harrowing, and I am just so happy they trusted us to tell their stories. The directors did a phenomenal job.
Are you a believer in the paranormal? Have you ever experienced a haunting yourself?
Yes, I am. I believe we just come back over and over in different forms of energy. I’ve had strange moments, vivid dreams I swore were real, seen things that happened and have had fully formed complete creative ideas in my head that appear out of nowhere. You’re tapping into something – if you’re open to it. But [during] shooting, when things fall off the shelf and break out of nowhere, that happens a lot in haunted locations. You just have to go with it.
What are your thoughts on some of the odd occurrences that happened during shooting such as the camera failures in Episode 2?
You have to be really respectful of the dead when you’re filming. Sage definitely helps. I want the crews to film themselves saging before and after. I absolutely believe it. I’m not happy when it happens, but a part of me is glad we got it on camera, even if it’s the camera malfunctioning, which happens out of nowhere when we film in haunted locations.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about ghosts and the paranormal while working on the show?
How aggressive they can be. I figured they’d get bored, but really, they have nothing else to do, so they latch onto people and some never let go. The people just have to learn to live with it, as crazy as that sounds.
Would any of the stories presented make a good Eli Roth movie? Has the show inspired any ideas that you might like to take to the big screen?
Definitely. I’m always on the lookout for stories. But the priority is to tell their story as honestly as we can, and if we feel we want to continue it into a film the door is always open.
What can viewers expect in the upcoming season of A GHOST RUINED MY LIFE?
It’s much, much scarier than Season 1. You’ve been warned.
Season 2 of ELI ROTH PRESENTS: A GHOST RUINED MY LIFE premieres on T+E on Friday, October 14 at 10 p.m. ET/PT during the channel’s annual Creep Week event, running from October 8-16.
“The more I experience in life, the older I get, the more things I see that I think: How come no one ever approached this subject in this way?“