Tag Archives: Eli Roth

Save Room for Pie


by Dustin Meadows

In 2007, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s ambitious double feature homage to throwback genre pictures, Grindhouse, roared into cinemas. While the film was a commercial failure, it easily found a cult audience, thanks in no small part to the pedigree of the directors and the accompanying pitch perfect fake movie trailers contributed by Rodriguez (Machete), Edgar Wright (Don’t), Rob Zombie (Werewolf Women Of The SS), and Eli Roth (Thanksgiving). It’s taken sixteen years for the latter to be realized, but Roth’s holiday-inspired slasher has finally arrived to join the ranks of Thanksgiving horror flicks like Blood Rage and Thankskilling!

While the original Thanksgiving trailer had more in common with the sleaze and brutality of 80s slashers (like Maniac or Don’t Go In The House), Roth’s finished film falls more in line with contemporary slasher/whodunits, like the Scream films without the meta-deconstruction of horror films and tropes. The film opens with a darkly comic and brutal Black Friday massacre that mirrors the real life chaos of the annual consumer circus, and sets in motion the story that picks up one year later as a killer dressed as a pilgrim and wearing a John Carver mask begins a murderous spree of revenged slayings against the instigators of the deadly Black Friday incident.

Jessica (newcomer Nell Verlaque) is the heart of the film, leading the cast of potential young victims trying to learn who the killer is while avoiding being served up at the dinner table. A very game Patrick Dempsey (fully leaning into his native New England accent) is also along for the ride as the town sheriff working with the kids to put an end to John Carver’s deadly holiday plans. Roth and Jeff Rendell’s script offers up plenty of red herrings throughout the film, and while the killer’s identity will be fairly easy to deduce by most slasher fans, the inspired violence and set piece kills more than make up for the thin mystery of who John Carver really is. Fans of the original trailer will recognize several moments throughout the film (trampoline, anyone?), but Roth manages to shake things up enough to keep you guessing how each act of violence is gonna play out. Sprinkle in a little Rick Hoffman and just a pinch of Gina Gershon, and you’ve got a pretty good dinner!

Though the opening Black Friday scene alone makes this dish worthwhile, the bulk of the film may not measure up to the promise of the original trailer. But that will likely have more to do with the pressure of expectations of modern horror audiences and time passed, and less with the actual execution of the film itself.

Hungry for a new turkey day tradition that delivers on outlandish violence? Skip the Westminster Dog Show and enjoy a helping of Thanksgiving.

Clock Management

The House with a Clock In Its Walls

by Hope Madden

Eli Roth made a family film. That’s weird. Although there is certainly something juvenile about the filmmaker’s work in general.

Yes, the Hostel director (and Cabin Fever, The Green Inferno and any number of other hard-R flicks) indulges a sillier side with his big screen adaptation of John Bellairs’s 1973 novel, The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

Set in a mid-Fifties slice of Americana (New Zebedee, Michigan), the film lazily crosses Spielberg with Tim Burton by way of Nickelodeon.

Orphaned Lewis (Owen Vacarro) finds himself in the charge of weird Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), who is a warlock. The two items most likely to be found in Uncle Jonathan’s big, weird house are his next door neighbor/best friend/fellow witch Mrs. Zimmerman (the always formidable Cate Blanchett), and clocks. Loads of clocks.

Why so many? Jonathan likes the ruckus they create—keeps his mind off that one ticking sound he can’t quite locate…that ominous harbinger of something terrible.

The house also boasts a number of bewitched items, none of which are given much point or presence as Lewis struggles with the loss of his parents, unpopularity at school, and the sudden realization that he might have just triggered the end of days.

Roth and screenwriter Eric Kripke streamline Bellairs’s charming prose. Some updates are sensible, although neutering the novel’s image of powerful women is not one of the more courageous or welcome choices the filmmakers made.

They entirely miss the novel’s tone, amplified with intermittent illustrations by the great Edward Gorey: subdued, wondrous yet melancholy. These are not adjectives used in conjunction with the work of Eli Roth.

What he substitutes instead is colorful, artificial, sloppy fun.

Black—more or less revisiting his role from 2015’s Goosebumps—charms exactly as he always does. Watching the incandescent Blanchett slyly deliver lines and easily steal scenes from Black—and anybody else who happens to be present—is a joy.

Vacarro isn’t given much opportunity. His is a story about grief and loneliness. Or maybe it’s about embracing your inner weirdo. Roth can’t seem to decide, and he’s far too sidetracked by the demonic jack-o-lanterns, topiary Griffin and inexplicable roomful of carnival freakshow dummies to pay attention to the story.

There is utterly forgettable fun here, mainly thanks to Black and Blanchett, but the intended audience is a little tough to gauge. Things are likely a bit too slow-moving and eventually too wicked for the very young, while teens and adults may be bored by the lack of logic or what passes for humor. Still, if you have a 10-year-old who wants a seasonal scare that’s not too scary, here you go.

You Have the Right to Remain Dead

Death Wish

by George Wolf

Many things about this Death Wish reboot make you wonder why, in the wake of current events, the film’s release might not have been postponed a bit. Waiting wouldn’t have made it a better film, just a little less tone deaf.

But hell, director Eli Roth doesn’t have time for any of that sensitive crap. He’s coming in guns hot, seemingly confident he’s crafting a self-awareness that must be invisible to the rest of us.

Bruce Willis is mostly effective, and sometimes disinterested, as the new Paul Kersey, and this time Kersey is a surgeon. He’s spurred to vigilante action after a home invasion leaves his daughter (Camila Morrone) in a coma and his wife (Elisabeth Shue) in the grave, and his violent alter ego quickly gains fame on social media as “the Grim Reaper.”

Kersey’s success at keeping his identity hidden is one of the many eye-rolling conveniences in Joe Carnahan’s script, all minor nuisances next to how far Roth and Carnahan end up from where they thought they were going.

While Brian Garfield’s original novel probed the futility of vigilante justice, Charles Bronson’s string of Death Wish films moved the Kersey character from anti-hero to overtired cliche.

Roth seems to think he’s revamped the franchise as some sort of satire, but he’s wildly off the mark. That would require smart humor and strategic nuance, and Roth (Hostel, The Green Inferno) just doesn’t work in shades of gray.

The humor, thanks to a couple of corny detectives (Dean Norris and Kimberly Elise), is straight outta sitcoms. Nuance? Meet bombast.

Kersey saves lives by day and takes them at night! Do you get the contrast? Do you, really? Here’s a split screen montage to help you understand.

As Kersey points out that the problem is cops who just aren’t violent enough, Roth intersperses arguments from talk radio hosts in a feeble attempt to counter the film’s overriding message. It’s just literal lip service.

The finale, a “good guy with a gun’s” wildest fantasy, cements the film’s worldview. And even if you’re fine with that, you can find it in plenty of other films with better execution.

Pun intended.




Fright Club: Best Clown Horror

Clowns! You hate ’em, we hate ’em. There may be nothing as universally terrifying as the clown, and yet, a proper clown horror film is a tough nut to crack.

So, before we launch into the 5 best clown films, let’s first pay tribute to the 5 scariest clowns to ever grace the screen:

5. Zombieland Clown (Derek Graf)


4. Captain Spalding (House of 1000 Corpses/Devil’s Rejects) (Sid Haig)


3. Poltergeist Clown


2. Twisty the Clown (American Horror Story: Freakshow) (John Carrol Lynch)


1. Pennywise (It) (Tim Curry)


On to the main event! Here are the five clowniest horror movies!

5. Clownhouse (1989)

There are several fascinating pieces of information concerning the derivative yet uniquely weird Clownhouse. These range from odd to awful.

1) The Sundance Film Festival somehow found this film – this one, Clownhouse, the movie about 3 escaped mental patients who dress as clowns, break into a house where three brothers are home alone on Halloween night, and commence to terrify and slaughter them – worthy of a nomination for Best Drama. If you haven’t seen this film, you might not quite recognize how profoundly insane that is.

2) The great and underappreciated Sam Rockwell made his feature debut as the dickhead oldest brother in this movie. The clowns themselves – Cheezo, Bippo, and Dippo – are genuinely scary and garishly fascinating, but outside of them, only Rockwell can act. At all.

3) Writer/director Victor Salva would go on to create the Jeepers Creepers franchise. But first he would serve 15 months of a 3-year state prison sentence for molesting the 12-year-old lead actor in this film, Nathan Forrest Winters.

Basically, there are four really solid clown horror movies in the world and about 200 truly bad ones. Clownhouse does set itself above the rest of the muck with these disturbing points of interest.


4. Clown (2014)

Sympathetic, surprising, and often very uncomfortable, Jon Watt’s 2014 horror flick, though far from perfect, does an excellent job of morphing that lovable party favorite into the red-nosed freak from your nightmares.

Kent (a pitiful Andy Powers) stumbles across a vintage clown outfit in an estate property he’s fitting for resale. Perfect timing – his son’s birthday party is in an hour. What a surprise this will be, unless the suit is cursed in some way and will slowly turn Kent into a child-eating demon.

It does! Hooray!!!

A weird-as-ever supporting turn from Peter Stormare helps the film overcome other acting weaknesses, but Watts gets credit for taking the horror places you might not expect, and for squeezing as much sympathy as possible before that last swing of the ax.

3. The Man Who Laughs (1928)

The German Expressionist director Paul Leni (Waxworks, The Cat and the Canary) worked with J. Grubb Alexander’s adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel to cast a macabre spell with this film – one of our very favorites.

A nobleman offends the king, who kills the nobleman (iron maiden!) and has his son, Gwynplaine, disfigured by a surgeon so he can spend his life laughing at his fool of a father. The boy is tossed out, wandering in the snow. He finds a blind baby girl, and the two are saved by a traveling carny.

As is Hugo’s way, goodness is found in the tormented and hideous while the gorgeous society show themselves to be the true beasts. The film looks gloomily gorgeous, and in the hands of silent film star Conrad Veidt, Gwynplaine becomes Hugo’s most sympathetic and heartbreaking monster.

2. Stitches (2012)

There are a lot of scary clowns in films, but not that many can carry an entire film. Stitches can.

This Irish import sees a half-assed clown accidentally offed at a 6-year-old’s birthday party, only to return to finish his act when the lad turns 16.

Yes, it is a familiar slasher set up: something happened ten years ago – an accident! It was nobody’s fault! They were only children!! And then, ten years later, a return from the grave timed perfectly with a big bash that lets the grisly menace pick teens off one by one. But co-writer/director Connor McMahon does not simply tread that well-worn path. He makes glorious use of the main difference: his menace is a sketchy, ill-tempered clown.

Dark yet bawdy humor and game performances elevate this one way above teen slasher. Gory, gross, funny and well-acted – it brings to mind some of Peter Jackson’s early work. It’s worth a look.

1. The Last Circus (2010)

Who’s in the mood for something weird?

Unhinged Spanish filmmaker Alex de la Iglesia returns to form with The Last Circus, a breathtakingly bizarre look at a Big Top love triangle set in Franco’s Spain.

Describing the story in much detail would risk giving away too many of the astonishing images. A boy loses his performer father to conscription in Spain’s civil war, and decades later, with Franco’s reign’s end in sight, he follows in pop’s clown-sized footsteps and joins the circus. There he falls for another clown’s woman, and stuff gets nutty.

Like Tarantino, Igelsia pulls together ideas and images from across cinema and blends them into something uniquely his own, crafting a film that’s somewhat familiar, but never, ever predictable.

The Last Circus boasts more than brilliantly wrong-minded direction and stunningly macabre imagery – though of these things it certainly boasts. Within that bloody and perverse chaos are some of the more touching performances to be found onscreen.

Deja Vu

Cabin Fever

by Hope Madden

Back in 2002, I wondered whether there was such a need for an Evil Dead reboot that Cabin Fever was necessary. Director/co-writer/co-star Eli Roth’s first feature just updated the “cabin in the woods” classic by removing demons and inserting a water-bound virus. Otherwise –right down to the rotting girlfriend in the toolshed – it’s the same movie. Only worse.

So, you can imagine the path my thoughts took to find that Cabin Fever has been rebooted, just 14 years after the “original” release. Has so much changed that a retooling of what was essentially a retooling makes sense?


In case you missed the first one, five college kids – a handsome couple, the two who haven’t hooked up yet, and the fifth wheel – head into the woods for spring break. Yes, it not only sounds so clichéd that you actually think of spoofs before you think of serious horror movies, but it is, in fact, an exact duplicate of the 2002 version.

Just minutes into the five pretty co-eds’ journey, it’s not even the Eli Roth film you remember. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s 2012 meta-flick Cabin in the Woods will more likely spring to mind because Cabin Fever opens so heavy handedly it’s almost a spoof.

A bigger gun, a couple of selfies, and you basically cover every major difference between the 2016 and 2002 renditions of the film. What the movie lacks in originality – which is everything – it begins to compensate for with adequate performances and good looking scenery. Plus, no major Eli Roth sightings, which is always a positive.

Except for Samuel Davis (bland and weak) and Randy Schulman (flatly caricatured), the acting is quite solid. Cabin Fever is an adequate remake of a perfectly serviceable horror film, but there’s something to be said about beating a dead horse here. Or, in this case, beating Pancake the dog.


Fright Club: Love Them or Hate Them

At long last, the keeper of the keys for Killumbus Horror joins Fright Club, with the topic of her own choosing. Bridget Oliver decided we should discuss the most polarizing filmmakers in horror, so here you have the Love Them or Hate Them list. Note, we are not talking about filmmakers whose personal lives make them hard to stomach. (We’re looking at you, Roman Polanski.) No, these are movie makers whose cinematic output have made them polarizing figures. The three of us have differing opinions about the 5, so be sure to check out the full podcast HERE.

5. Tom Six

After a handful of middling Dutch comedies, Tom Six stumbled upon inspiration – 100% medically accurate inspiration. Yes, we mean the Human Centipede trilogy – a set of films that doubles its ridiculous, bloody, unseemly intensity with every new episode.

For a lot of viewers, the Human Centipede films are needlessly gory and over-the-top with no real merit. But for some, Six is onto something. His first effort uses a very traditional horror storyline – two pretty American girls have a vehicular break down and find peril – and takes that plot in an unusual direction. But where most horror filmmakers would finish their work as the victims wake up and find themselves sewn together, mouth to anus, this is actually where Six almost begins.

His next two efforts in the trilogy are more consciously meta and more clearly referential of the controversy he caused with Episode 1. Much like Last House on the Left, the Centipede films seem to be addressing the abundance of almost unthinkable but true life violence available for public consumption, turning that into something so bombastic and fictional that it’s almost safe to watch.

Not everyone (George, for example) buys that theory. For many, Tom Six makes movies that people simply don’t want to sit through.

4. Ti West

Because West’s films are not, in and of themselves, particularly controversial, his inclusion in this list may seem counter intuitive. But West’s early work suggested a promise that he has failed to live up to, or so several of us seem to think.

West’s first film, The Roost, starring Tom Noonan (hooray!), was a low budget affair that worked mostly because of a peculiar style and ingenuity. It seemed to mark a filmmaker who could benefit from a little real cash flow and some time to develop an idea. For a lot of people, the filmmaker’s next effort, The House of the Devil, proved the director’s mettle.

Not for everyone, though. We see House of the Devil as one of those horror movies that people who don’t like horror really enjoy. It’s a short film extended far beyond its natural length, and though it boasts some excellent cast mates (Noonan, again, along with Mary Woronov and Greta Gerwig), it’s a long slog. The rest of West’s catalog offers a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns. While many (including Bridget) are eager to see whatever it is West is ready to put out next, MaddWolf thinks he’s outstayed his welcome.


3. Rob Zombie

Here’s where the real heavy-hitters begin, because if there is one filmmaker who’s caused the most divisive response from our listeners, it’s Rob Zombie.

We enjoy Zombie’s particular knack with casting. His giddy affection for horror and other cult film genres is on full display with every minor and major piece of casting in every film, and for that reason alone, true horror fans must enjoy his work. On the other hand, his greatest successes – Halloween, for instance – are often his worst films.

Though The Devil’s Rejects is a very fine genre effort, his version of Halloween was nothing more than an arrogant correction of John Carpenter’s genre classic, and the very polarizing Lords of Salem was his ill-aimed attempt to model classic Italian horror.

2. M. Night Shyamalan

Shyamalan is clearly not known solely for horror, but he’s a tremendously polarizing filmmaker who dabbles in horror. His The Sixth Sense was not only nominated for two Oscars (directing and writing), but it was one of the most popular films of 1999. The filmmaker went on to write and direct his personal masterpiece, Unbreakable, followed by another wonderful effort, Signs, before bottoming out completely.

For the next 13 years, Shyamalan did little more than embarrass himself. But just this year he made a humble but genuine comeback with The Visit – a return to his twist ending horror shows. It’s a modest film, but refreshingly lacking the pretentiousness that has marked most of Shyamalan’s work in the last decade and a half.

Though definitely flawed, the film boasts a fine cast, a lot of creepy tension, and the kind of twist ending you should have seen coming but simply did not. That is, it marks a return to form, however low key, for a filmmaker that seemed to have all the promise in the world before he lost his way.

1. Eli Roth

Who else?

There was a thread about The Green Inferno on Bridget’s Killumbus Horror facebook page that just about broke the internet. Bridget had to remove it, not because those posting were being too hostile toward Roth, but because the comments turned a bit vitriolic toward other posters. This is a guy people love to love and love to hate.

We have to admit that we’re in Camp 2. Though both Hostel and Hostel 2 are decent efforts, Roth is a filmmaker whose timing is far superior to his actual talent. Hostel was released at a time when the world was just beginning to understand that torture was now actually on the table as an acceptable, even encouraged, strategy. Roth’s film tapped into the zeitgeist – forgive our pretentious vocabulary – and spawned a decade of horror porn followers.

But Roth has struggled to follow the popularity of his torture porn epics, and recent efforts like Knock Knock and The Green Inferno, attempts to push the genre envelope, come off more as neutered versions of Seventies films.

Join us next week as filmmaker Jaston Tostevin helps us count down the best horror films of 2015. Until then, stay frightful, my friends.

Not Easy Being Green

The Green Inferno

by Hope Madden

Filmmakers often use their work to pay homage to other filmmakers. Sometimes this looks like a direct rip off, but when done well – as it was earlier this year in David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows – it can elevate a picture while generating nostalgia and paying tribute.

It works better if the films you homage were good in the first place, though.

Love him or hate him (and it appears most everyone does one or the other), Eli Roth is one such filmmaker. His latest, The Green Inferno, takes inspiration from a very particular style of film. These cannibal flicks, mostly made by Italians in the late Seventies and early Eighties, dropped naïve Westerners in jungles populated by flesh hungry head hunters.

Roth’s flick does likewise with a set of idealistic college students, including Justine (Lorenza Izzo – Roth’s real life wife). They just want to stop developers in Peru from destroying tribal villages, but when their plane crashes deep in the jungle, they go from activists to appetizers.

The films that inspired Roth’s picture – Ruggero Deodato’s infamous Cannibal Holocaust, in particular – are known for their goretastic imagery, exuberant violence, ethnocentrism, and general taboo-shattering.

Though it’s a slog getting to the action, when Inferno finally does pit student youth group against Peruvian cannibal tribe, blood, limbs, and entrails go flying.

Like most of Roth’s work, there’s a dark and cynical sense of humor underlying the melee. As with his Hostel films, beneath the concussive violence and body part slurry there lies an attempt at political insight. But with Inferno, the traditional heroine arc and confused jabs at political correctness undermine any relevant statement.

Plus, the acting is abysmal, the writing clichéd, and the comic moments are so poorly executed you get the feeling the filmmaker and his writing partners felt equal contempt for characters and audience alike.

For true fans of this particular genre, though, solid performances and stellar writing are hardly the point, but here’s the rub. The Green Inferno feels like nothing more than a neutered Cannibal Holocaust.

Not that we need another Cannibal Holocaust, nor do we probably need to resurrect a genre that died out for reasons as extreme as those associated with the jungle cannibal movie, but if you can’t improve on its weaknesses and you can’t match its bombast, what is the point, exactly?