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Eli Roth’s career as a would-be master of terror began with the unexpected theatrical release of his independently produced ‘70s horror homage, Cabin Fever (2002), followed by the more contemporary Hostel (2005), which went on to be a major hit for distributors Lionsgate and Screen Gems. Unfortunately, too many viewers mistook Roth’s indictment of ‘bro’ culture as a celebration of it and, seemingly annoyed by his hyperactive horror nerd persona and appearances in Quentin Tarantino and Alexandre Aja movies, decided to label him the frat boy of modern horror. These misconceptions and so-called ‘torture porn fatigue’ (possibly the least horror fan-like thing to ever happen to horror fandom) kept people away from Hostel Part II (2007). This is too bad, because they missed one of the smartest, best-acted, and most beautifully shot horror movies of the post-millennial era.

Roth’s exponential growth as a filmmaker between these three movies is comparable to Peter Jackson’s growth from Bad Taste (1987) to Braindead (1992) and, as a fan, I was excited for Roth to make his Heavenly Creatures (arguably Jackson’s best movie, 1994). Sadly, Roth disappeared from the director’s chair for almost a decade. He kicked around an idea for a disaster movie entitled Endangered Species (as yet unmade), continued with those aforementioned acting roles (mostly bit parts), co-wrote/co-produced RZA’s The Man the Iron Fists (2012) and Nicolás López’ Aftershock, lent his name as producer to a couple of Last Exorcism movies (2010, 2013), and showed up on a number of Blu-ray special features for genre pictures. Then, his fourth film as writer/director, The Green Inferno, stalled due to a distribution crisis in 2013 and sat on the shelf until 2015, when it was released a couple of weeks before his fifth film, Knock Knock. Now, both The Green Inferno and Knock Knock have hit Blu-ray disc and I figured that coupling the films into a single review would be the best way to approach the sophomore phase of Roth’s career.

Eli Roth Double Feature

The Green Inferno


New York college student Justine (Lorenza Izzo) meets student activist Alejandro (Ariel Levy) when he goes on a hunger strike on behalf of underpaid janitors. Smitten, she agrees to help Alejandro undertake his next project: rescuing an Amazon village from destruction by a greedy multinational corporation. But Justine soon comes to regret her decision when their plane crashes in the Peruvian jungle and the students realize they are not alone. No good deed goes unpunished as the well-meaning students are captured by the cannibalistic tribe they came to save. (From Universal’s official synopsis)

Hostel Part II was a love letter to Italian exploitation cinema of the ‘70s that wasn’t entangled in specific callbacks to earlier films. It was more of a tonal homage that non-fans could still appreciate for its more universal themes. The Green Inferno takes a slightly more direct approach. Instead of applying an overall Italian flavour to modern social anxieties, Roth is contextualizing those anxieties within the structure of one of the most tasteless, mean-spirited, and controversial Italian exploitation sub-genres of all – the cannibal film. This patently offensive cycle began when Italian filmmakers attempted to recreate Hollywood adventure movies (specifically Elliot Silverstein’s A Man Called Horse, 1970), but grew in popularity due to images of grueling violence, not swashbuckling exploits. In reaction, those filmmakers engaged in a competition to one-up each other with harrowing gore and callous sexual content, including the actual on-screen slaughter of exotic animals. Green Inferno is very aware of its heritage, including a number of direct references to the films that inspired it (the end credits include a literal list of Italian cannibal movies), but, like Hostel II, it is insular enough to work for audiences that aren’t familiar with the tropes – though do note that no animals are killed over the course of the movie, on-screen or off (Roth is a card-carrying member of PETA, after all).

Roth uses Green Inferno to return to his roots, telling stories about young, upper/upper-middle class, urban Americans and their ill-fated adventures outside the comforts and safety of modern civilization. When stacked end-to-end, this xenophobic tetralogy reveals an escalation in isolation. During Cabin Fever, a group of college students gather in a remote spot in the woods of rural America, where they are menaced by the locals and fall victim to a flesh-eating virus. During the Hostel movies, two different groups of college students leave their home country and travel to a near lawless Eastern European city, where they are sold to the highest bidder for slaughter. Here in Green Inferno, yet another group of college students wander out of country and outside of every vestige of 21st Century civilization, where they are literally eaten by the native peoples, who mistake them for enemies. In a year of recycled formulas and populist nostalgia (assuming we’re counting Green Inferno as a 2015 release), Roth is, at the very least, trying to revamp his blueprint, based on different thematic needs and different kinds of nostalgia. He’s also firmly imprinting the formula with his own storytelling infatuations – heroic characters that betray their friends, lovable losers whose decency can’t save them from certain doom, sexual temptation leading into danger, and cruel, not to mention dangerous children.

 Eli Roth Double Feature
Many of Green Inferno’s harshest critics derided it for its apparently cynical view of social responsibility. Indeed, Roth and co-writer Guillermo Amoedo (co-writer of Aftershock and writer/director of The Stranger, 2014, which was produced by Roth) are satirizing the well-meaning upper class youth that take it upon themselves to defend political and environmental causes. But to assume that the filmmakers unilaterally distrust social activism, because they recognized a compelling connection between modern social activism and the Italian cannibal genre, is the same as assuming that all of the filmmakers behind slasher movies distrust promiscuous teens that smoke pot. Roth and Amoedo are sometimes making fun of a braggartly brand of smug activism, but they’re mostly revisiting the cruel, almost EC Comics-level irony Roth has enjoyed exploring since Cabin Fever. More importantly, most of the college activists mean well and are being deceived by a cynical leader that is the film definitively frames as the villain of the story. These characters – villains and protagonists – perfectly fit the Italian cannibal mould, specifically Cannibal Ferox, where a know-it-all anthropologist drags her friends and colleagues into the Amazon basin in an effort to prove that modern cannibalism is a myth. Her hubris dooms her friends, but she survives the ordeal and, in an act of ultimate hypocrisy, she publishes her findings, claiming that she didn’t find any proof of modern cannibalism, despite witnessing the act first hand (not that I want to spoil the end of Green Inferno…).

The more appropriate criticism is that Roth and Amoedo are approaching youth culture as outsiders this time and that he might not ‘get it’ anymore. The dialogue during the college-set sequences is abrasively contrived and unfunny, veering dangerously close an old man’s mocking impression of ‘what the kids talk like these days.’ Moreover, the first-act tone leans too hard onto the satirical slant, which, in turn, devolves into something of an unsuccessful Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker-styled spoof. Alongside a number of dopey scatological jokes (certainly not a rarity in an Eli Roth movie) are a cadre of young characters that are utter parodies of various horror movie/teen comedy stereotypes. I understand that this was likely Roth and Amoedo’s intention, but the joke is so on-the-nose that it’s grating. Fortunately, the standardized set-up only takes about 30 minutes of screen time before the characters are established enough for KNB’s special effects techs to start tearing them apart.

In completely technical terms, Green Inferno is a step back from the grandeur of the Hostel films. However, it’s hard to fault Roth for the lack of that indelible or elegant imagery, because the film’s goals don’t jibe with graceful camera moves and stoic framing. Most of Italy’s cannibal movies were shot from the hip using the most affordable and portable 35mm cameras available at the time. Roth’s modern equivalent is sort of dogmatic in its respect for the often necessary vérité style of those films and was shot using small, consumer grade-style digital cameras. It looks cheap, which, coincidentally, it was – on half the budget of Hostel II (not counting the significant inflation in production costs over the last decade). This lack of funding demands the benefit of the doubt in reference to bargain digital effects (the jaguar, the ant attack, and plane crash), but, as the film progresses and the danger increases, the immediacy of the footage does carry a certain power. Though Roth breaks the tension from time to time with the aforementioned poop comedy and miscalculated dialogue, the final half of the movie is a proper counterpart to the hellish spiralling horror of Ruggero Deodato’s uber-cannibal opus, Cannibal Holocaust (1980). The final 45-or-so minutes of the film are basically a series of escape attempts and violent atrocities, some of which are never-before-seen in the cannibal-sploitation pantheon. The violence pushes the R-rating, but not quite beyond its current ‘acceptable’ levels. Roth likely knew he wasn’t going to be able to release the film in theaters if he tried to match the jaw-dropping abhorrent qualities of the movies he was mimicking.

 Eli Roth Double Feature
And speaking of Cannibal Holocaust, I have to applaud Roth for not going with a found-footage aesthetic. Deodato’s film is famous for its sadism, sure, but it was also a progenitor of the found-footage/mockumentary genre. This, coupled with the fact that camera phones play a significant role in the story, means that Roth had multiple excuses to go with the format, yet he resisted it. Perhaps he knew he was beaten to the punch by Ti West’s The Sacrament (2013), in which Vice.com documentary filmmakers are murdered after intervening with a Jonestown Massacre situation in a similar looking jungle environment (fun fact: Lenzi’s second cannibal film, Eaten Alive!, revolves around a Jonestown-esque storyline). This would make sense, considering that Roth was co-producer on The Sacrament – as well as Daniel Stamm’s underrated mockumentary exorcism flick, The Last Exorcism (2010) – but I actually get the feeling that he was simply more interested in a ‘softer’ vérité approach.

Other critics have called Roth racist for exploiting the villagers and presenting a savage (though fictional) version of their culture. The Italian cannibal cycle was hugely racist in terms of content (they’d often waste energy discussing the brutal nature of civilized white people, while otherwise presenting the natives as degenerate and sub-human) and most of the filmmakers were accused of treating their native cast members with contempt. Based on what appears on film, it seems clear that the indigenous people in the film are having fun acting. Supporting players are seen cracking smiles, while the lead cannibals, especially the ‘Elder’ (established Peruvian actress Antonieta Pari), are chewing the scenery with relish (the commentary track is full of very happy behind-the-scenes stories). So, while it’s difficult to deny that the sentiment of Green Inferno may be racist, I believe Roth’s version of this trope is more culturally sensitive than his ‘70s/’80s counterparts (he is, at the very least, more interested in the cannibals as people than Lenzi or Deodato) and that the filmmakers were probably not explicitly exploiting the native cast (I have no idea what the compensation was).

According to the specs on imbd.com, Green Inferno was shot using Canon C300 digital HD cameras (during the commentary, Roth states that this is the first feature shot using these particular rigs). I believe this was the first time Roth used a digital format for something he was directing, but cinematographer Antonio Quercia had time to familiarize himself with similar Canon cameras while shooting Aftershock. Roth and Quercia use a lot of shallow focus and hand-held techniques, which keeps most of the backgrounds soft and fuzzy, but the foreground images on this 2.40:1, 1080p transfer are incredibly sharp, to the point that I considered turning down the sharpness on my TV to compensate for all of the enhancement effects. There are a number of bright white hotspots and a number of smoothing/ghosting artefacts, all of which are common for other Blu-ray transfers culled from Canon camera sources. I’m definitely not an expert in the field of digital cameras, but, given how often these ‘problems’ (certainly an issue of taste over objective quality) coincide with movies that claim to use Canon rigs, I think it’s safe to draw this conclusion. Colour quality is vivid and, thankfully, pretty naturalistic (the filmmakers don’t employ a lot of digital grading, but the hues are eerily consistent) and black levels are strong. There’s a bit of blooming and occasional low level noise, but, other than the digital artefacts that I’m blaming on the cameras, I can’t see any real compression.

 Eli Roth Double Feature
Green Inferno is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. The aural stage is set during the opening credits, which begin over a black screen set to the bare sounds of the rain forest. It’s immersive and beautifully layered, but it also sounds very ‘produced’ and sort of synthetic. I assume that shooting in the elements made it difficult to get decent location sound and most of the environmental ambience had to be created in post. Still, dialogue is natural, even during the particularly noisy native chanting/cheering sequences. Artificial or not, the effects work is busy and directional movement is adequate. Manuel Riveiro’s original score is a mixed bag, including slightly annoying synthesized dramatic/spooky cues and more feature-appropriate tribal and Latin themes. The music has a nice stereo spread, a deep LFE response, and doesn’t overwhelm dialogue or effects.

The only extras are a photo gallery and a commentary track. The track features Roth, producer Nicolas Lopez, and cast members Lorenza Izzo, Aaron Burns (also SFX tech), Kirby Bliss Blanton, and Daryl Sabrara. Roth is always a good commentator and both he and Lopez come prepared to discuss the many blessings and hardships of the production. I was afraid that the actors would get in the way of the momentum of the commentary, but they actually have quite a bit to add, especially Lorenza, who is on screen for almost the entire film. That said, there’s a bit too much ‘this is my favourite shot’ talk and back-patting – both common side-effects of group commentaries. Roth acts as moderator and sometimes interviewer, though, disappointingly, he rarely discusses the Deodato and Lezi movies that inspired him.

 Eli Roth Double Feature

 Eli Roth Double Feature

 Eli Roth Double Feature

 Eli Roth Double Feature

For more on Italian cannibal movies, see my reviews of Grindhouse Releasing’s Blu-ray versions of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust and Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox.

And, for more info on the real-world news stories that I assume inspired Roth, see this BBC news link on the massacres of various uncontacted tribes throughout the Amazon rainforest area.



Eli Roth Double Feature

Knock Knock


When Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves), a devoted husband and father, is left home alone for the weekend, two stranded young women unexpectedly knock on his door for help. What starts out as a kind gesture results in a dangerous seduction and a deadly game of cat and mouse. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)

While Green Inferno cooled its heels in distribution hell, Roth made a lower profile, zero-gore thriller starring Green Inferno’s lead (and his now wife), Lorenza Izzo, Spanish-language TV star Ana de Armas, and Keanu Reeves, who is arguably the biggest celebrity he has ever worked with. Knock Knock represents some movement away from horror (coincidentally, he calls it his Heavenly Creatures in the Blu-ray’s extras, making me feel awfully gratified in my pet Roth=Jackson theory), but still preserves a number of his favourite themes. It doesn’t fit the “college students in a strange land” formula, but it is certainly an extension of the suburban, middle-upper-class nightmares he likes to tell. Knock Knock revisits the concept of an unbridled sex-drive being the catalyst for sardonically-laced horror. In addition, Roth is still playing with the motifs of an established exploitation model, in this case the home invasion movie – a subgenre that saw a steady rise in popularity over the last decade, including Xavier Palud & David Moreau’s Them (2006), Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers (2008), Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury’s Inside (2008), James DeMonaco’s The Purge (2013), and Michael Haneke’s remake of his own 1997 film, Funny Games (2008). The problem here is that home invasion is a genre already adopted by really smart and incendiary filmmakers. Haneke managed to apply the formula to the thematic needs of two different decades, Gerald Kargl’s Angst (1983) played with the barest emotions of an invading villain, Adam Wingard’s You’re Next (shot in 2011, released in 2013) basically exists to undermine the genre tropes, and Alex van Warmerdam’s Borgman (2013) is an almost indescribable surreal twist on the traditions.

Unfortunately, Roth isn’t really adding anything new to this conversation here; rather, he’s essentially telling the same safe-sex/dangerous women stories he already told with Hostel and subverted so beautifully with Hostel II (which is, at its core, a retelling of the first movie from a feminine point of view). On top of the fact that so many filmmakers – from the arthouse to the grindhouse – have picked apart the home invasion genre, Knock Knock is a direct remake of Peter S. Traynor’s obscure 1977 thriller, Death Game (stars Colleen Camp and Sondra Locke were co-producers on this remake). Traynor’s patently strange movie begins with a title card that informs us that it was “based on a true story” and that it is meant to “remind us that fate allows no man to insulate himself against the evil which pervades our society.” This somber warning is followed by quirky opening credits that run over a series of children’s crayon drawings. This whiplash tone sets the stage for a murky mix of made-for-TV soap operatics, softcore porn, arthouse lighting/editing techniques, and the ongoing nightmarish juxtaposition of physical abuse with The Ron Hicklin Singers’ electro-ragtime children’s song, “Good Old Dad.” Death Game is one of those fascinating exploitation films so unique that it’s difficult to tell if the filmmakers were actual geniuses or very lucky amateurs.

 Eli Roth Double Feature
Death Game’s outrageous characters, over-the-top performances, perverse sexual politics, and even its garish lighting all lend themselves to Roth’s specific skill-set. But, instead of matching its predecessor blow-for-blow and building on the more disturbing elements, Knock Knock dials way back on the weird and files off most of its sharp edges to deliver a mainstream acceptable product. Surely, if I hadn’t been aware of Death Game’s weirdness, I would be more impressed with the slick imagery Roth has conjured. The classic compositions fit the stage play structure of the story, which Roth has made a more believable ‘death game’ for the sake of modern mainstream audiences (I’m betting the number of recycled elements and dialogues would surprise most viewers). On the plus side, he effectively slow-burns his way through the first act and a half, building up the major characters and turning a fun situation to a disturbing one. But a more ‘believable’ version of the story isn’t necessarily the better one despite plenty of wacky hijinks, funny gags, and plenty of distressing and provocative content that isn’t dependent on the shock value of gore effects. I just wish it had all felt as dangerous and out of control as Death Game.

Thanks in large part to Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971) – the home invasion movie that almost all of the home invasion movies that followed attempted to recreate in some part – these movies tend to be characterized as concentrated class struggles and/or differences in underlying social standards. Roth calls back to both conventions, but the class struggle is really more of a subtextual thing that is tied to the richness implied by Evan’s plush homestead. Roth is more interested in ironically punishing his male protagonist for sexual proclivities, which ties more directly into the social standards issue. He also attempts to reverse the typical gender roles of a rape/revenge movie – itself a sometimes sub-subgenre of home invasion movies. Evan plays a more proactive function than his Death Game counterpart, which makes his victimization and impotent attempts at escape/retribution more dramatic. Furthermore, Roth more carefully and successfully develops the story’s underlying Electra Complex issues, which makes the female antagonists a bit more interesting. Unfortunately, when it comes to the limited field of home invasion movies where underaged females ironically and brutally punish perceived pedophiles, Roth was beaten to the punch by David Slade’s more complex and twisty Hard Candy (2005), a movie that successfully challenges its audience to change character allegiances from scene to scene. In comparison, Knock Knock is a flatter, simplified A to B experience (only Evan’s pathetic attempts to intimidate his attackers do slightly muddy his character as the unmitigated ‘good guy’ of the story).

Home invasion movies tend to operate with very small casts who are placed in intimate, even claustrophobic surroundings. Some of these movies (like Hard Candy) feature only two major characters playing off each other for the majority of their runtime. Generally speaking, Knock Knock is a three cast member movie – the aforementioned Izzo, de Armas, and Reeves – and all of them are quite good. These are difficult performances to pull off, too. The actresses are playing angry psychopaths that are pretending to be wide-eyed nymphs, or good actors acting like psychologically damaged people who are also decent, but not great actors, themselves. Reeves, handsome superstar though he may be, is playing an awkward dope of a man that is way out of his depth. Like most of his best roles, the stiffness of his performance actually serves the character and I thought he was pretty darn funny. Returning Green Inferno alum Aaron Burns steals the show again, however, only briefly as one of Evan’s would-be saviors.

 Eli Roth Double Feature
Knock Knock was shot mostly using another model of Canon camera (EOS-1Ds, apparently) and this 1080p, 2.40:1 transfer has quite a bit in common with the Green Inferno disc. The major difference here is that Knock Knock is a much more stationary and precise movie. Roth and cinematographer Antonio Quercia aren’t constantly wiggling handheld rigs around bright outdoor locations – they’re confined to the same solo set as the characters. The imagery is still a bit ghosty for my taste, but the over-sharpening effects have been mitigated. Knock Knock is generally a softer movie than Green Inferno. This can lead to overly plush/flattened textures, minor noise/blocking effects, and, at worst, a load of not so minor banding issues. When the banding does crop up, it looks a lot less like inherent, in-camera issues and more like compression artefacts to me – the kind you’d see from a 720p file (note that I somehow managed to not capture the most excessive banding in the screen caps). The colour palette is understated and relatively naturalistic, which is pretty disappointing, based on the outrageous acrylic lighting of Death Game. There is a slight desaturation and warming-up over most of the film, especially during night/dark sequences, and this leaves skin tones sort of brownish. The banding and noise lead to some colour bleeding, usually in the blurry backgrounds.

Knock Knock is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. With its limited cast and single interior location, the majority of the movie is performance and music-driven. The center channel’s dialogue and minor incidental sounds are clean and dry with vague stereo embellishments (the home environment is sort of echoey). There are still plenty of chances for the channels to spring to life, including the bombastic rainstorm that sets off the plot, some environmental ambience during outdoor scenes, and a constant stream of music from Evan’s very expensive stereo equipment (this on-screen music moves dynamically throughout the channels, depending on the camera’s position during the scene). Manuel Riveiro returns as composer and his work here is less erratic than his Green Inferno score. The major themes are sweetly melancholic, neatly counteracting the sex scenes with horror cues while building upon Evan’s deteriorating mental state with wild, Herrmann-esque strings.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with Roth, Lorenza Izzo, co-writer/co-producer Nicolás López, and producer/star of Death Game, Colleen Camp – Another solid commentary from Roth and his friends. Thanks to Camp, who is the track’s superstar, there’s plenty of talk about Death Game, as well as notes about the many home invasion movies and ‘sex thrillers’ that inspired Knock Knock. There’s a small excess of back-patting and more blank space than you’d expect from an Eli Roth-fronted commentary, but the overall content is strong.
  • An extended scene and alternate ending with optional Roth commentary (4:50, HD) – The alternate ending, by the way, sets up Evan’s revenge on the girls and is definitely not appropriate for the finished film.
  • The Art of Destruction: The Making of Knock Knock (14:40, HD) – A decent behind-the-scenes EPK in which the crew discuss the production and characters. It ends with a slightly off-putting and sudden rant about the meaning of art.
  • Still Gallery
  • Trailers for other Lionsgate releases


 Eli Roth Double Feature

 Eli Roth Double Feature

 Eli Roth Double Feature

 Eli Roth Double Feature

 Eli Roth Double Feature

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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