The Last Exorcism - Producers Eric Newman and Eli Roth
Producers Eric Newman and Eli Roth © 2010 Judy Sloane

Both Eli Roth and Eric Newman have produced successful horror movies, but never together. They have remedied that oversight with their new movie The Last Exorcism.

Done in a faux-documentary style, it tells the story of Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), who is making a confessionary documentary to debunk the ritual of exorcisms. The only problem is, when he goes to a remote farm in Louisiana to perform his ‘last exorcism,’ he is bombarded by an evil he can’t explain or handle.

Eli and Eric spoke with us about the movie, which opens today, August 27th, 2010.

Eli, why didn’t you want to direct this yourself or act in it?

The Last Exorcism - The main poster
The main poster © 2010 Lionsgate

Eli Roth: First I think my acting would have ruined it on many, many levels! Eric and I had been talking about producing projects together. I loved Dawn of the Dead and Children of Men, and we’d been looking to collaborate and Eric had this idea of doing this documentary of an exorcism gone wrong, and Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland were set to direct it when I read the script. I read it and it was truly one of the scariest, interesting and most compelling scripts I’ve ever read. Every time I thought I had it figured out, it took me in a new direction

We lost our directors to another movie, The Virginity Hit, so there was a window where I thought, ‘Yes, I could step in and direct it.’ I tend to be the default guy, if we lose a director, ‘Eli can step in. He’s the back up plan.’ Eric saw Daniel Stamm’s film, A Necessary Death, and he called me and said, ‘I think we’ve got the guy.’ He sent me the film and I watched it, and we called Daniel. That was it.

It’s been ten years since The Blair Witch Project, why to you think the time is right now for another faux-documentary?

Eric Newman: Reality television probably has something to do with it, it’s a format this acceptable to people. One of my favorite movies of last year, which was really an unthinkable idea ten years ago, District 9, begins as a documentary and then just throws it away and you don’t care. You’re in it. And I think that’s what led us to this movie. I think the philosophy both behind the origin of the movie and the execution of the movie, was this obligation to establishing an authentic reality.

The form was dictated by the story we wanted to tell. We wanted to tell the story of a guy who was very honest about who he was, what he did and how he did it, and was inviting you in to see him do it. And you believe him, because he knows better than you do that there are no such things as demons, that it’s all nonsense. And then when he starts to panic, when it starts to turn, if he’s scared, you’re scared. If you walk into this movie, and you don’t know anything about it, you’ll swear it’s real.

Eli Roth: Yeah, we all have high-depth video on our iPhones, so people are very used to shooting things. But I think when you have a filmmaker like Daniel, who truly understands how effective it can be by eliminating that fourth wall, by eliminating make-up, and the camera becomes the audience’s eyes, so eventually when it’s time to get the hell out of there ‘we’ are running for our lives, trying to outrun our destiny. It’s truly terrifying.

Can you talk a little about Daniel’s casting for the film?

The Last Exorcism - The second poster
The second poster © 2010 Lionsgate

Eric Newman: If there was one thing we were certain of it was that he was going to be able to get real authentic performances out of his cast, and he definitely did. His casting instincts were perfect. He really made all the right decisions, particularly with his cast and their performances.

Eli Roth: Everything had to be real, and there was no such thing as a minor character, it’s all pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. If there was one false note, then the whole symphony would fall apart. He really made it feel real, like no one is acting at any point in the movie. He approached it as a character piece, and a psychological thriller. The film at its core is a psychological thriller about a girl who might be crazy, and letting the horror happen naturally.

Were you surprised that it got a PG-13?

Eli Roth: Yes. We gave Daniel the creative license to do whatever he wanted – as gory or as not gory, he was to cut it where he felt it was right. Lionsgate said, ‘If they are going to make us cut the good stuff, we’re going to rate it R.’ It just so happened, it came back PG-13. I think what happened was they probably watched Piranha 3D right before our film! That’s an R rated movie. And it’s appropriate for that story.

If this was rated R, certainly with my name on it, it would set up expectations, and viewers would come out going, ‘Oh, it wasn’t as violent as I thought it would be.’ Whereas now as a PG-13, people go in knowing it’s more psychological, and they come out going, ‘My God, who are those actors?’ And that’s what we want. We want people thinking of the story and how great the performances are, not, ‘Oh, I was expecting more violence.’

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.