Eli Roth is one of the more divisive filmmakers in the horror genre today. Though his filmography is relatively small, Roth has had his hand in numerous projects, including AMC’s recent Eli Roth’s History of Horror. In the early 2000’s, Roth emerged alongside filmmakers noted for pushing the envelope of onscreen violence including Rob Zombie and Alexandre Aja. He helped popularize the ‘Torture Porn’ horror subgenre with a return to 70’s exploitation style. While we still haven’t gotten that promised Thanksgiving movie, we can still re-visit and rank Roth’s existing work.
Roth’s second remake, Death Wish, recouped its budget. Barely. Regardless of box office receipts, few would label the effort a success. And critics absolutely hated hit. Some will point to the movie’s timing. A movie about a gun-toting vigilante released amidst a wave of real-world mass shootings undoubtedly hurt it. More importantly, Death Wish is a tone-deaf update that fails to adapt its premise to a contemporary setting. A lot has changed since Charles Bronson shot up New York City in the early 1970’s. Ultimately, Death Wish just doesn’t feel like an Eli Roth movie.
The Green Inferno
Don’t all it a remake. It’s a homage. Eli Roth loves himself some grindhouse cinema. And what’s more grindhouse than cannibal horror movies. The Green Inferno is Roth’s tribute to Ruggero Deodato’s controversial Cannibal Holocaust. In fact, Roth even named the movie after Cannibal Holocaust’s movie-within-a-movie. Though it’s a love-letter to grindhouse cannibal movies, The Green Inferno looks far more professional and slick. As a result, Roth’s gore, of which there is an abundance, is captured in all its glorious detail. Too bad most people won’t be able to stomach it. With no likeable characters and a xenophobic screenplay, The Green Inferno feels like leftovers.
The House With a Clock In Its Walls
You can’t blame Eli Roth for wanting to expand on his filmography. Following the success of the Goosebumps movie, Roth jumped on the young adult scares wagon. While it’s not a bad effort, Roth is clearly hampered by the juvenile source material. In addition, Roth doesn’t seem to have a handle on the bigger budget effects. None of the visual pop or feel as inventive as they should in this kind of movie. Yet to some extent, Roth manages to sneak in some of his dark humor. Neither outrightly terrible nor excellent, The House With A Clock In Its Walls is kind of forgettable.
Not a lot of people seemed to like Knock Knock. I’m not one of those horror fans as I rather enjoyed Eli Roth’s first remake effort. Not surprisingly, Knock Knock is an update of a 1970’s erotic thriller, Death Game. Its story of two young women showing up unexpectedly at a married man’s home and seducing him while his family away is kind of a clever subversion of the home invasion subgenre. On the one hand, Roth’s attempt at some commentary on our social media age doesn’t quite hit its mark. But Ana de Armas and Lorenza Izzo’s performances are a lot of fun. A Keanu Reeves is Keanu Reeves.
What a directorial debut! Cabin Fever is vintage Eli Roth. The grindhouse filmmaker subverts hillbilly horror with his tale of college students contracting a flesh-eating virus. At the time of its release, horror was shifting away from the slasher-lite post-Scream movies to more explicitly graphic fare. And with a movie about a flesh-eating disease, Roth doesn’t skimp on the gore. But its Roth’s dark humor that distinguishes Cabin Fever from other ‘Torture Porn’ movies and the insipid remake. There are some truly strange bits to the movie that give it a memorable ‘midnight movie’ vibe.
Hostel Part II
An argument could be made that Hostel II is actually the better of Eli Roth’s Euro-vacation nightmare movies. First, Roth expands Elite Hunting’s world, fleshing out what’s an unnerving mythology. Second, Hostel II flips the genders of its protagonists, with young women as the central characters this time around. Though Roth has never been particularly good with social commentary, Hostel II does explore the misogyny of its male villains, even flipping power dynamics at its conclusions. With the recent rise of the ‘incel’ subculture, you could almost accuse Roth of being prescient. Of course, Hostel II has plenty of grotesque death scenes, including a memorable shout-out to Countess Elizabeth Bathory.
In spite of the arguments in favour of ranking the sequel higher, Eli Roth’s Hostel deserves the top spot in his filmography. Based on sheer shock value alone, Hostel was a visceral experience that had few comparisons in North American cinema at the time of its release. Alongside Saw, Hostel popularized the 2000’s ‘Torture Porn’ trend. None of Roth’s movies are traditionally scary, but Hostel is arguably his most suspenseful work. There’s also some subverting of expectations with who does and does not survive. And for gorehounds, Hostel is a movie that stands up to multiple viewings. To date, it remains one of the better horror movies of the 2000’s.