The Austin Chronicle

Going to Hell Again

By Marc Savlov, August 21, 2010, 10:42am, Picture in Picture

If you're thinking of venturing out to The Last Exorcism this weekend, bear in mind that Pope Benedict XVI really has opened a class for exorcists as part of Rome's Pontifical Academy Regina Apostolorum. We spoke in tongues with Eli Roth and Daniel Stamm prior to the film's Alamo premier and here's what they had to say …

Austin Chronicle: Is it just us or does it seem like we're going through another round of so-called "satanic panic" these days?

Eli Roth: Oh yeah. It was while we were raising the financing that the Pope came out with his big speech about how he was going to open the exorcism academy. A few years ago there were only a handful and now there are over 300 trained exorcists. The film is a reaction to a general sense of where we felt the world was going.

AC: To hell?

ER: Well, 50 or 70 years ago there was a very clear face of evil that you could, you know, put on Hitler or put on Mussolini. But today there is just this general sense of evil that's in Wall Street, it's in terrorism, or wherever. It's everywhere but you don't know where it is or how to stop it, and so people are turning back to religion because there's a feeling that the devil is taking over.

AC: When William Friedkin's The Exorcist came out in the early seventies, it was met with all kinds of protest and prompted something of a backlash from Catholic and Christian groups. Any concern that your film might ruffle the Papal feathers as well?

ER: Well, the very premise of the film is that it's a confessional, it's about someone who, on his own terms, has arrived and said that what he's been doing is wrong and not only is he going to stop it but he's going to make a documentary film to show how wrong it was and to make sure it never happens again. It's about somebody who his trying to redeem himself and to help others do the right thing. Which is a very Christian quality, I think, but it's also a very human quality in general. In our film it just so happens that things go very wrong. So as far as our film upsetting religious groups, no, I doubt that's going to happen. Also, I think Daniel presented both points of view – religious and non-religious – very fairly.

Daniel Stamm: Right. I thought it was very important that we have the father character who is very smart, very strong, a true believer who gets a chance to make his argument from his point of view. And we give him a chance to make it as intelligently and as eloquently as our exorcist makes his. We have those two forces clashing and I think the whole tragedy is that there is really no bridge. There is the debate but there is no resolution.

AC: Which is the perfect metaphor for our times.

ER: Right. Someone brought up Democrats versus Republicans at a screening the other night and the religious divide in America. The film works on multiple levels.

AC: I take it you've seen the documentary Marjoe, about former child-preacher-cum-Hollywood actor Marjoe Gortner?

DS: Absolutely. It was a very big resource for our movie, just for character study. Our movie is quite different, obviously, because it has that exorcism perspective, but just the energy of a man who is so charming that you are on his side immediately, that charisma that Marjoe had, that was exactly what we wanted to achieve with our exorcist character, Cotton Marcus [Patrick Fabian]. Someone who has a questionable past but who can also win you over because he is being confessional. He has a redeeming quality, an ethical core, and a human warmth. And a humor, which also plays a big part in Marjoe. The humor is used as a tool to disarm you, as an audience member, and as the film grows darker we kind of fade out that humor. We have come to know and care for this sometimes humorous character, and that makes the horror even that much more horrific.

AC: So what are Eli Roth's top three possession films?

ER: Obviously The Exorcist is at the top of the list. The second one would be Evil Dead, and then Ninja III: The Domination. Easily. Those are my three favorites.

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