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The Devil is in the detail

BREATHING new life into a well-worn genre, slick new horror flick The Last Exorcism may not reinvent the wheel, but it does deliver when it comes to thoughtfully, methodically and mercilessly scaring the bejasus out of its audience. Which may explain why it's currently sitting pretty at number one in the US.

Somewhere between Rosemary's Baby and The Blair Witch Project, director Daniel Stamm and producer Eli Roth prove that you can have both smarts and scares in a modern horror flick.

"I think there are always new ways to frighten people," says Roth, who broke through as a filmmaker with Cabin Fever and Hostel, and was recently on our screens as the baseball bat-wielding Sgt Donny Donowitz in buddy Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. "Once you have a love for a genre, you'll find a way. You want to play to horror's strengths, but, at the same time, you want to add a few new twists."

PAUL BYRNE: It's rare that critics get excited about horror these days, so, what's your secret?

ELI ROTH: Every time I get involved in horror, I'm always keen to evolve it, to push it forward, in some way. And it's really to the credit of producer Eric Newman — this whole conception was his. He wanted to do this documentary of an exorcism that goes wrong, and when the script was finished, that's when I came in.

PB: It takes some balls to come up with a movie about an exorcism, considering the greatest horror movie of all time might just be The Exorcist.

ER: Absolutely. We struggled with that for quite a while, but then it occurred to me not to try to be scarier than The Exorcist, but to do something different and original, that will stand on its own two feet. We wanted to make something that felt real. If The Exorcist is the Hollywood movie version, this is what it would look and feel like if you walked into a room and there was an exorcism going on. Daniel surprised us all though, and took it to another level . . .

PB: The pseudo-documentary has taken quite a hold in horror. Is it in danger of repeating itself ?

ER: Obviously I'm very familiar with the horror genre and, if you want to add to the pile, you want to do something that's original, but there's always going to be a certain element of crossover.

Look at the vampire genre, Dracula started in the late '20s, and has evolved to today, with kids flocking to see Twilight.

So, there's clearly something about vampires that fascinates generation after generation, and I believe that the same is true for possession. It's something that's very real, and it's very much part of modern society.

What I loved about the script is the psychiatric approach. The person who believes that Nell is crazy is the Reverend.

It's not the Reverend coming in and saying: “This girl is possessed by the devil'.” He's saying that she's crazy, her father's crazy, and we need to get her to a psychiatrist. And the father wants nothing to do with that; he knows that she's possessed.

That leaves the audience having to constantly guess which side the daughter is on. And the actors take you there, which is somewhat to Daniel's credit.

PB: I'm wondering what Dr Sheldon Roth would have to say about this film: The Church is dead? The Church is corrupt? Isolation breeds extremism?

ER: My father loved it, even though he's a psychoanalyst, he loved the fact that the movie, at its core, is all about faith. Cotton [the Reverend] never really has faith in religion in the entire film.

My father was brought up Orthodox Jewish, so he does have the psychiatric background, and the religious background, and he just loved the battle of both sides here. The film feeds both arguments, and is fair and intelligent to both sides.

PB: The new religion that this generation care about most is celebrity — Eli, you are in a relationship with Peaches, daughter of Ireland's greatest living saint, Sir Bob of Geldof. Any struggles with fame yet?

ER: No struggles whatsoever. I think I'm just about famous enough. The people that recognise me are generally fans, or they recognise me from Inglourious Basterds, and they're wonderful things to be recognised for. But I'm certainly not famous enough to be bothered by people. In fact, I love talking about movies. If people recognise me, they generally just want to geek out about films, so that's been great.

At 30 years old, I was broke, and couldn't pay my $700-a-month rent. So, to be here, at 38, where I'm getting known as a writer, director, producer, actor is very satisfying, because this is my dream, and I'm getting to live it.


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