'It Was Terrifying': Eli Roth on the Close Calls and Near-Deaths During the Making of 'The Green Inferno'

Why are theatergoers shown recoiling in repulsion in the clip above? It’s because they’re watching a cannibal tribe deep in an Amazon rainforest practice their gory rituals on a group of lost travellers in Eli Roth’s new horror film The Green Inferno (in theaters Sept. 25).

We recently had a conversation the horror moviemaker behind such hits as Hostel and Cabin Fever. For his latest shocker, shot in a remote region of Peru, Roth came back with a book’s worth of treacherous stories. But for the 43-year-old writer-director, the film’s on-set close calls were worth it. “I want people to see The Green Inferno and say, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that in a movie theater before,’” he tells us.

It’s been nearly three years since you first started making Inferno; and for a while it wasn’t clear if it would ever be released. What was the hold up?
I can’t believe how long it’s taken. We shot the film in the fall of 2012, premiered it at Toronto Film Festival in 2013, where we sold it to Open Road. However, there was a disagreement with the financier and Open Road, and the deal unraveled. I won’t go into details but I will say this: Everyone kept cool, and instead of suing worked together to find a way for [horror studio] Blumhouse / Tilt to release the film theatrically in a wide release, and they all did that for the sake of the fans.

You gained inspiration for this film from Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 horror movie Cannibal Holocaust, which features real indigenous villagers. Like that film, you use locals to play the cannibal tribe. How does your movie differ?
Cannibal Holocaust is an amazing film, and very much of its time period. You could never replicate what Deodato did, or what Umberto Lenzi did in [1981’s] Cannibal Ferox, which was another inspiration. They filmed with real indigenous tribes, and we went to a village that was completely cut off from civilization, but they’re not indigenous. [The locals in our film] are farmers who’ve had contact with the outside world, but because they are so remote geographically — and [because] the village doesn’t have a boat — many people in the village (of 300 people) have never left before. There’s no electricity or running water, and they live in straw huts with dirt floors that you see in the movie.

What I am most proud of is [The Green Inferno] looks and feels authentic. I used to think Cannibal Holocaust was real, even knowing it was a movie, it just looked and felt like these people really existed. That’s what I wanted in The Green Inferno: The village has to look and feel like a real, functioning society.

How did you deal with language barriers?
The language barrier was two-fold, because in the village the kids speak Spanish, and the older generation speaks Quechua. One of the great advantages to working with people who have never before seen a camera is that they have no idea what they look like on film, and are not self- conscious in the least. They just act the same way whether there’s a camera there or not.

We could show them playback of what they were doing, and all the kids wanted to get in on the filmmaking part, so we had them doing the clapboard and yelling “action” and “cut.” I learned basic words in Quechua, and they all learned some English, so by the end we all had our own mix of languages we used to communicate. Most of the times we’d smile and give a thumbs-up.

What were some of the bigger challenges in filming in the Amazon?
One day, there was a flood in the Andes mountains, and the river rose, and entire beaches where we had shot were washed away. Houses were gone. The water was up to the tops of the trees, with debris floating in the river like a scene from The Impossible. It was actually terrifying. We all had to sit in the boat balanced by weight, and we went through some rapids and almost flipped. There was nothing around, no village, no phones — just jungle, so if we went in the water we were goners. I remember thinking “This is it. I’m going to be that story, that cautionary tale. That one movie nobody wants to be. This will be the worst accident in movie history.” But thankfully, we made it and everyone came out unscathed.

But the positive side is the actors didn’t have to stretch very far to act. [In one] scene, we chained them to trees that were covered in Izula ants. If these ants bite you, they say it’s the worst pain you can experience — like a gunshot for 24 hours. We had to duct tape everyone’s ankles and smoke out the trees, but then you’d be sitting on the ground and poisonous tarantulas would crawl on you. It was relentless. You always had to be on your toes. Everyone took turns getting violently ill, and there were no bathrooms. My question to the actors was “Can you go to the bathroom in the jungle?” That was the test. We actually brought a Port-O-Potty to the village for the cast and crew to use, but if you went in there the wild horses in the village would come by and try to kick it over. So the girls would go to the bathroom in pairs, one would go inside while the other stood watch for horses or the occasional bull.

Did any of the actors get injured during filming?
Thank God no one got killed, but we had many close calls, like when Lorenza Izzo almost drowned in the river during a take — and yes, we used it in the film. We had a safe word for her to yell, but it was so loud [that’s when] she was screaming it at the top of her lungs, none of us heard her. When you see her clinging to the rock screaming, that’s real.