April 18, 1972
Newton, Massachusetts, USA
Director, Actor, Animator, Producer, Writer
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One of the most profitable directors working in the horror genre, Eli Roth earned both industry respect and fanboy acclaim following his first thriller, "Cabin Fever" (2002), a low-budget film that took years to make but propelled him into the spotlight. Roth followed up with "Hostel" (2006), an excessively graphic film that was a surprise box office hit and earned him the dubious honor of inventing the so-called horror subgenre, torture porn. Having become fast friends with the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Roth earned Hollywood cred for his association while directing the fake trailer that was shown in the Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez double feature "Grindhouse" (2007). After helming the less-successful sequel, "Hostel II" (2007), Roth stepped away from the director's chair and in front of the cameras for a major supporting role in Tarantino's award-winning "Inglorious Basterds" (2009) and a fun cameo in "Piranha 3-D" (2010). Though he planned to direct again, Roth enjoyed working behind the scenes as a producer on "The Last Exorcism" (2010) and co-writer on "The Man with the Iron Fists" (2012), which underscored the depth of his creative diversity.
Born on April 18, 1972, in Boston, MA, Roth was raised one of three sons by his father, Sheldon, a psychiatrist who was also a professor at Harvard University and his mother, Cora, a painter who had shown her work at the OK Harris Gallery in New York City. Inspired by director Ridley Scott's landmark sci-fi/horror masterpiece "Alien" (1979), Roth began shooting his own movies on Super-8 when he was just eight years old. After attending Newton South High School in 1990, Roth went to film school at New York University, graduating summa cum laude in 1994. During his time at NYU, he ran an office for producer Frederick Zollo. After graduation, he won the Student Academy Award for his thesis film, "Restaurant Dogs" (1995), a parody of future collaborator Quentin Tarantino's heist thriller "Reservoir Dogs" (1992). At age 23, Roth co-wrote the script for what would eventually become "Cabin Fever" with his friend and longtime collaborator, Randy Pearlstein. To finance his writing between gigs, Roth was a production assistant and stand-in on a number of big movies, including Howard Stern's "Private Parts" (1997) and the Brad Pitt romance-drama "Meet Joe Black" (1998), where he was tasked with turning the air conditioner on and off between takes.
After struggling unsuccessfully for two years to raise money to make "Cabin Fever," Roth left New York for Los Angeles in the late 1990s. Within a matter of months of being there, he wound up selling his own animated series, "Chowdaheads," though the series never made it to air. Meanwhile, he landed a job working as an extra on the long-running legal drama, "The Practice" (ABC, 1997-2004), thanks to his connection to one of the show's stars, Camryn Manheim, whom he befriended while working for Zollo back in New York. As Manheim was on set, Roth sat in her dressing room writing scripts. Around this same period, Roth was diagnosed with a severe form of psoriasis, a painful genetic skin condition which caused his skin to constantly crack and bleed. Incorporating his excruciating experiences into his script for "Cabin Fever," Roth made the monster of the piece a form of flesh-eating virus and in 2001, he finally raised the funds to make his film a reality.
Made on a tight budget of $1.5 million, Roth's gruesome, low-budget horror story about five friends trapped in a backwoods cabin while being devoured by a flesh-eating virus was screened at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival, where it quickly became the subject of an intense Hollywood bidding war. The prize eventually wound up going to indie studio, Lionsgate, which distributed the film later that same year. "Cabin Fever" earned an impressive $21 million in domestic ticket sales, making it the most profitable horror film of 2002, and put Roth into the same elite circle as horrormeisters-turned-star directors Peter Jackson and Wes Craven. After sharing nearly all of his profits from "Cabin Fever" with his cast and crewmembers as deferred compensation, Roth used the remainder of the money to launch his own production company, Raw Nerve Productions. The first film under his new banner was "Hostel" (2006), a graphically violent and borderline repugnant horror thriller about two college students traveling Slovakia in search of sexual adventure, only to become trapped in an international syndicate that offers the idle rich the experience of torturing and killing innocents. Again using a shoestring budget, Roth helmed a massive commercial hit - the film eventually grossed over $80 million - while earning both praise and scorn for ushering in a new subgenre of horror dubbed torture porn.
By this point, Roth had been dubbed the king of the so-called Splat Pack, a loose knit group of horror filmmakers noted for their graphically violent movies that included the likes of Rob Zombie, Neil Marshall and Alexandre Aja. He also befriended and was promoted by Quentin Tarantino, who tapped Roth to direct "Thanksgiving," a fake trailer that was inserted into Tarantino's double-feature homage, "Grindhouse" (2007), co-directed with Robert Rodriguez. Although the film did less-than-stellar box office, any attachment to Rodriquez and Tarantino proved to be instant street cred in Hollywood. That same year, Roth released "Hostel Part II" (2007), a critically maligned sequel that failed to live up to the profitability of its predecessor. He stepped away from the director's chair for a while and found himself in front of the cameras in Tarantino's award-winning World War II thriller "Inglorious Basterds" (2009), as Nazi hunter Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz, and made a cameo as the MC of a wet T-shirt contest in Aja's "Piranha 3-D" (2010). After producing "The Last Exorcism" (2010), Roth collaborated with The RZA as a co-writer and producer of "The Man with the Iron Fists" (2012), a martial arts film set in 19th century China, in which a group of warriors and assassins converge on a fabled town to face off for a fortune in gold while taking on a common foe. The film marked rapper RZA's directing debut and starred Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu and mixed martial artist Chung Le.
By Shawn Dwyer
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