What Eli Roth did on his South American vacation …

knock knockHere are my notes on Roth’s last two films … both reworkings of vintage exploitation premises from the 1970s and ’80s.

The Green Inferno (2013)



Following the Hostel films, Eli Roth develops his theme of American idiots abroad getting horribly and excessively punished for their foolishness and sense of cultural entitlement in this fairly needless homage to the cannibal films of Ruggero Deodato (to whom this is dedicated) and Umberto Lenzi (who figures heavily in the filmography included in the end credits).  Though now mythologised for their video nasty status, the cannibal movies were not initially terribly successful – the sub-genre died out not thanks to persecution, but because there was so little room for variation.  This hews to the template, with a long haul from an American campus to a Peruvian rain forest (where it doesn’t rain) as Roth introduces his superficial, slightly irritating characters and sets up some Hostel-style hints that the eco-activist Alejandro (Ariel Levy) and his moneyman Carlos (Matias Lopez) are luring the well-intentioned if clueless heroine Justine (Lorena Izzo) and a crew of don’t-get-too-fond-of-them-because-they’re-going-to-die student protesters.


In the older films, the expeditions tended to be mounted into cannibal country for ignoble motives so the come-uppance for drug-dealing sadists or exploitative documentarians was at least poetic justice … here, Roth just assumes all protesters are concerned with seeming to be active without really meaning it and deserve to die after great suffering because they’re posy and annoying.  Later, when they have fallen into the clutches of the ‘unknown tribe’ whose environment they were trying to protect, the kids get caged,tortured,ripped apart and eaten – and rescue comes from the tree-felling capitalists they tried to thwart (though it turns out Alejandro and Carlos were in with them).  So, the messages are that eco warriors deserve to die, primitive tribes deserve to be wiped out and the rain forest deserves to be levelled … and that cannibalism is yucky, but funny.   Even the clumsy Lenzi set out to shock first and foremost, but Roth leavens the bright red eviscerations with gross-out gags as a girl gets diarrhoea in the cage and is laughed at by natives, the tattoos of a tough lesbian would-be escapee are worn by tribesfolk and a ‘Scooby Doo’ plan to get the natives high by stuffing a soon-to-be-eaten corpse with dope works out ridiculously well with comical falling-over stunts until a couple of the stoned cannibals ‘get the munchies’.


Italian cannibal films often set out to criticise racism while being horribly racist; The Green Inferno compounds that by taking swings at ugly American attitudes that still come off as frat boy fart nonsense.  It’s probably also a mistake that the most interesting, if obnoxious character is the heroine’s cynical roommate (Sky Ferreira), who doesn’t even go on the protest trip and so is absent for the bulk of the film.  Co-written by Guillermo Amoedo.

Green InfernoKnock Knock

Because of a recent shoulder injury, family man architect Evan Webber – who used to be a DJ and still clings to the last of his cool (and his vinyl collection and mixing desk) – is alone in his Los Angeles home on Father’s Day while his sculptress wife Karen (Ignacia Allamind) and their kids are away at the beach.  Late at night, two girls – Genesis (Lorena Izzo) and Bel (Anna de Armas) – show up on his doorstep in drenched party clothes, claiming to be looking for a nearby address.  After a tiny hesitation, he lets them in to wait for a cab and drive off … and gets teased, tormented and terrorised over the weekend.

By claiming to be ‘inspired by’ Peter Traynor’s 1977 hippiechicksploitation thriller Death Game, director Eli Roth – who scripted with Guillermo Amoedo and Nicolas Lopez – manages to rook the writers of the earlier film (Anthony Overman, Michael Ralph Ross) out of a credit, which is odd since Knock Knock (no relation to the 2007 psycho movie) follows the plot of the earlier film far more closely than most recent remakes of exploitation classics do their originals.  Indeed, for all the talk of ordering an Uber and final comeuppance via Facebook, the film sometimes isn’t updated enough.  Even in the Manson era, the fantasy of free-spirited flower children (Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp, who get producer credits here – with Camp appearing in a cameo) seducing a suburban middle-aged guy (Seymour Cassell) was potent and a credible set-up for home invasion horror.  After decades of stalker, invader and fatal attraction psycho stories, the protagonist here has to be extraordinarily dim or ridiculously horny not to see where this is going from the blatant flirtation sequence through the tactfully-filmed three-way to the messy morning after.

Whereas 1970s horror tended to indict society, Roth more often suggests people are just rotten – Cassell was a sort-of deserving victim and Reeves goes that route too, despite his self-justifying and hysterical ‘it was free pizza’ speech, but weirdly the girls’ terror campaign seems directly aimed at the entirely innocent wife who has her artwork trashed and her family life ruined.  There is play with the notion that Evan will suffer more if he calls the cops because the girls are underage (which they blatantly aren’t) and risks the legal and social consequences of being labelled a paedophile, which taps into contemporary concerns.  The girls are played too broadly – they are sometimes funny, but never scary the way Sondra Locke could be in the ‘70s, and the farcical mock ‘To Catch a Predator’ gameshow they stage isn’t as biting as it might be.  The home which gets trashed is coolly designed – oddly, the film was made in Chile (while Roth was tinkering with The Green Inferno?) but aside from the preponderance of latina actresses, this seems a pretty typically Californian production.  Aaron Burns has a tiny redemptive moment in the otherwise useless role of the black best friend whose only job is to show up and get killed, and whose throwaway death doesn’t quite sit with the plot mechanics.

The film also can’t decide whether Evan is just the unlucky dumb schmuck who was in when the girls called or has been targeted specifically – the girls seem to know things about his family life that would have to have been scoped out beforehand, and they suggest he’s just one of a succession of Daddies who have played and lost this game.  The character is called Evan, incidentally, to justfy the joke ‘knock knock … who’s there? … Evan … Evan Who?  … Evantually cheating gets you killed.’

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