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Sorry, Nikki: It’s Gore Galore For Eli Roth

EXCLUSIVE: Eli Roth is at the center of Clown and Aftershock, two horror projects that have just been set up to be fully financed by Cross Creek Pictures and Vertebra Films. Roth will produce and be the creative godfather of  both. Though Roth few years ago swore to my Deadline colleague Nikki Finke that he was done with horror efforts she derided as “torture porn”, Clown in particular returns him to hardcore horror. “With horror, you have to live in the danger zone,” Roth told me. “People are hungry for the next Freddy Krueger, Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees, and while that has to be earned, we think this cursed clown suit can do it. I am giving us permission to go as hard at this as possible. I know I said I was moving away from horror, but old habits die hard. You think you’re over certain kinds of music and then you hear a Dead Kennedys song and say, ‘Why did I stop listening, I love the Dead Kennedys.’ Clown will not be making Nikki’s top 10 list for sure, and I’d like to apologize in advance to her, and to the MPAA, for what we’re going to put them through to get an R rating.” Jon Watts will direct Clown from a script he’s writing with Christopher D. Ford that spawned from a mock trailer they made, which appropriated Roth’s name at a time when he’d never heard of the team or the movie concept. Ford and Watts do commercials and music videos, and they generated the spoof trailer to get attention. It worked when Roth liked what he saw. CAA set Roth up with Cross Creek president Brian Oliver and Vertebra’s Steven Chester Prince to generate films, he showed them the mock trailer and they agreed to fund a feature transfer. They also agreed to finance Aftershock, a thriller which Nicolas Lopez will direct from a script he has written with Guillermo Amoedo. Lopez hails from Chile, and the film is set during the aftermath of the February 27, 2010 Chilean earthquake that hit 8.8 on the Richter scale, created a tsunami and claimed the lives of more than 480 in one terrifying event.

Roth, best known for directing the Hostel films and for taking a baseball bat to the craniums of Nazis as one of the stars of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, is getting more into producing. His most recent effort, The Last Exorcism, grossed more than $60 million worldwide on a miniscule budget mustered together by Roth and Strike Entertainment partners Eric Newman and Marc Abraham. Roth is also producing Man With The Iron Fists, which he wrote with director RZA, and a remake of Funhouse. He’s also working on his next directorial effort, the science fiction vfx extravaganza Endangered Species, which he’s yet to share with financiers.

On the Clown film, in the spoof trailer and the upcoming feature, a loving father dons a clown outfit, wig, bulbous nose and pancake makeup to entertain at his son’s sixth birthday after the clown-for-hire is a no-show. Unable to take off the clown garb, dad’s personality changes in horrific fashion. He and his family race to break the curse of the evil outfit before he undergoes a complete transformation into a homicidal killer with over-sized shoes. Roth told me: “I loved how ballsy they were, issuing a trailer that said, ‘From the Master of Horror, Eli Roth.’ Some people thought I’d made the movie, or that it was another fake Grindhouse trailer. The first thing they said was, ‘Thank you for not suing us, but I told them, ‘This is Hollywood, and while it’s tradition that every movie eventually ends up in a lawsuit, you only sue when you are fighting over profits. It’s no fun to sue before there’s any money.’ But I really felt these guys deserved a shot, and that people are truly freaked out by evil clowns. It’s new territory to make this a version of The Fly, where this guy can feel himself changing, blacking out only to find blood all over his clown suit. You’re sympathetic toward a monster until the monster actually takes over.”

Roth was equally enthused over Aftershock. Lopez directed the Spanish-language hit Que Pena Tu Vida (loosely translated, it means Fuck My Life), which was apparently seen by every Chilean not trapped in a mine. It became the highest grossing Chilean-produced pic of 2010. Roth loved Lopez’s 2004 film Promedio Rojo and they’ve been trading ideas since. “Fuck My Life, which was about how to break up with someone in the age of Twitter, has been a smash, and he’s going to make a series on a number of subjects that will have titles like Fuck My Wedding,” Roth said. “I’d told him to let me know when he was ready to make an English language film and then he told me about this earthquake, which turned the country into a shaking amusement park ride. There was no electricity or phones, all hell broke loose and everybody was communicating on their iPhones, which became their flashlights. We thought of writing a supernatural element, but his description of the buildings and towns leveled, anarchy and looters being shot from helicopters, was terrifying enough.” The film will follow the lives of several characters trying to survive the quake’s aftermath.