Eli Roth is an American director, writer, actor and producer, known for directing highly controversial horror films like ‘Hostel’. Born and brought up in Massachusetts, USA, Eli was always interested in filmmaking since his early childhood. Before reaching adulthood, he had already made about 100 short films with the help of his family and friends. Roth managed to grab eyeballs when he made the student film, ‘Restaurant Dogs’, inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’. His film won the Oscar award for Best Student film and that paved the way for Roth to enter the industry with confidence. After working under David Lynch for a few years, Eli began to venture on his own, but found it hard to gather enough money for his feature length script titled ‘Cabin Fever’ and hence, decided to start his career with acting. He made his acting debut through ‘The Horse Whisperer’ and finally made and released ‘Cabin Fever’ as his debut directorial flick in 2002. The film went on to achieve critical and commercial acclaim. Influenced by the likes of David Lynch and some Japanese gore films, he directed ‘Hostel’ in 2005 and its sequel in 2007, and went on to direct more horror flicks. As an actor, his biggest claim to fame remains to be his supporting role in Quentin Tarantino’s World War 2 drama, ‘Inglourious Basterds’.
Childhood & Early Life
Eli Roth was born in Massachusetts, USA on 18th April 1972 to a psychologist father and a painter mother. His father, Sheldon Roth, worked as a teacher at the Harvard Medical School, one of the most respected institutions in the world. The family was financially stable which allowed Eli to choose his career without any hassle.
Inspired by the artworks of his mother and her friends, he decided to take up a career in art, but found filmmaking to be more fascinating than painting or photography. His parents got him a camera when he was still a kid and Eli used it to make numerous films with the help of his brothers, Adam and Gabriel.
Apart from David Lynch’s dystopian body horror film ‘Eraserhead’, what inspired Eli the most was Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’. By the time Eli graduated from high school, he had 100 amateur short films to his credit.
Eli graduated from Newton South High School and for his higher education he attended New York’s Tisch School of the Arts. Eli didn’t stop making short films and in order to fund his projects, he started doing odd jobs. He worked as an operator for the Penthouse Magazine and assisted the production of many films. After his graduation, he started working at the Silvercup Studios.
While he worked at the studio during daytime, he worked on his scripts at nightfall. He would shoot his short films whenever possible and during his day off. During this phase of his life, he had finished a screenplay titled ‘Cabin Fever’. Around this time, his student film ‘Restaurant Dogs’, which he made for the NYU, was received rather well by the industry, with the film winning him an Oscar.
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Eli moved to Los Angeles and stayed there in actress Camryn Manheim’s dressing room. She became his good friend after seeing him work hard to achieve his goals. She got him to work as an extra in the series ‘The Practice’, which introduced Eli to Hollywood. This also led him to play extras in other films, such as ‘The Horse Whisperer’ and ‘Terror Firmer’.
By this time, Eli had developed his writing skills which helped him to land a job as a content developer for David Lynch’s website. He admired Lynch’s works as a filmmaker and being in close proximity to the director helped him quite a lot in developing his own filmmaking style.
In the late 90s, he came up with a series of animated shorts titled ‘Chowdaheads’. The series was to be displayed at the WCW pro wrestling matches, but somehow it was never made public. In the mid-2000s, Eli created a new series of short animated films titled ‘The Rotten Fruit’.
During his early days in Hollywood, Eli tried to amass money to shoot his script ‘Cabin Fever’, and it finally came through in the year 2001.The film was made on a budget of1.5 million USD and was sold to Lionsgate at the Toronto Film Festival for3.5 million USD. After receiving rave reviews at the festival, the film was released by Lionsgate and grossed 35 million dollars at the box office.
This was a huge beginning for Eli as a director. However, he had a hard time finding producers for his second feature film, ‘Hostel’, which was an out and out body horror movie. Meanwhile, he played minor roles and cameos in films like ‘Tales from the Crapper’ and ‘2001 Maniacs’.
In 2005, Quentin Tarantino, a famous filmmaker, came to his aid and Eli’s second directorial project eventually went on floors. In order to make the film, Eli turned down some highly lucrative mainstream Hollywood projects. To keep the budget to a minimum, he just took USD 10,000for directing the movie.
The film, which was made on a small budget of USD 4 million went on to gross more than 40 times its budget, and introduced a whole new class of body horror. Experts called it a new genre and termed it ‘torture porn’.
Quentin Tarantino had earlier said that ‘Cabin Fever’ was his new favorite film and hence, he kept in touch with Eli. Quentin eventually asked Eli to direct a segment of his pulp film titled, ‘Grindhouse’. Eli directed a segment named ‘Thanksgiving’, which became highly popular. Eli also ended up playing a role in the film.
In 2007, ‘Hostel 2’ was released and it became a box office success. However, it could not repeat the success of its prequel. Piracy was the main reason behind the film’s ordinary performance as ‘Hostel 2’became the most downloaded film. Eli was nominated for Best Horror Film Director at Spike TV Screams Awards and Entertainment Weekly deemed it as one of the ‘20 Best Horror Films of Last 20 Years’.
The 2009 film ‘Inglorious Basterds’ turned out to be a major breakthrough for Eli as an actor. He played the role of Donny ‘The Bear Jew’ Donowitz who beats Nazi soldiers to death with a baseball bat. The film revolves around an American crew, stuck in Nazi occupied France at the peak of World War 2.
The film became a mega success and Eli went on to act in guest roles and wrote screenplays for many films. But he didn’t seem very keen in an acting career or in a career which required him to direct mainstream Hollywood movies. He kept rejecting many offers to direct big budget films that promised him a good pay.
In 2013, Eli returned as a writer and director for the film ‘The Green Inferno’, which was an out and out horror flick, inspired by some notorious films like ‘Cannibal Holocaust’. The film opened to highly negative reviews, with Eli commenting that it was one of the best films he has made or will ever make.
In 2015, he came back to ‘disgust’ the audience with the film ‘Knock Knock’ and this time around, he was backed by Hollywood superstar Keanu Reeves, who not only starred in the film, but also contributed as an executive producer.
Eli Roth dated Chilean actress and model Lorenza Izzo for quite some time, before getting married to her in 2014.
Eli Roth is one of the most controversial Hollywood directors of all time and yet, his films do make profit. As a result, he keeps acquiring enough money for his projects. He works actively as a director and writer to make the kind of films that he wants to make, a rare virtue in Hollywood.