Ask any horror filmmaker about the influences for their celluloid nightmares and chances are they'll come back with something about their childhood fears and attempting to realize the things that scare them most. For Hostel and Cabin Fever director Eli Roth it has ultimately become a deeply disturbing mixture of the two. Roth's proliferation in the horror genre coupled with his giddy willingness to play the role of cinema outlaw came at just the time the PG-13 blues were leading many genre aficionados to wonder if there really were anymore filmmakers out there who were still willing to break the rules.
As a young horror fanatic, the future New York Film School graduate obsessed over keeping pace with the career trajectory of Evil Dead director Sam Raimi. With a target of 21 as the age by which he should direct his first feature, the ambitious 20-year-old sat down to write a script based on a series of frightening medical incidents that happened to him in his youth. Paralyzed at 12 by a rare virus that strikes one in a million, stricken with a water-borne parasite for which he had to drink poison to stop from eating his insides at 17, and infected with a bacteria that literally caused his skin to peel from his face at 19, Roth adapted the ailments that plagued him into a script for the alternately funny and frighteningly repulsive Cabin Fever in 1995 along with a little help from friend Randy Pearlstein. An independent homage to the 1970s and '80s shockers on which Roth was weaned, Cabin Fever was shot for a paltry 1.5 million dollars in the same North Carolina woods in which his childhood idol had filmed The Evil Dead and went on to spark an unprecedented bidding war when it premiered at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival. When Lion's Gate released Cabin Fever into theaters the following year, Roth was immediately hailed by many horror fans as the true future of the genre. Though some were turned off to the humorous approach that Roth had taken to terror, the more grotesque aspects of Roth's bacterial skin-crawler hinted at a filmmaker not afraid to break from genre convention and play dirty in order to keep his audience squirming in their seats. Of course when your first film creates as big a buzz as Cabin Fever did, what's a filmmaker supposed to do for a follow-up? Armed with the knowledge that his sophomore effort could either make him or break him in the eyes of the horror community, Roth pondered a Cabin Fever sequel and pored through studio scripts in an effort to find the idea that truly terrified him. As fate would have it, friend and fellow film fanatic Harry Knowles of the popular movie website "Ain't it Cool News" contacted Roth just around this time with a story concerning a website that had been brought to his attention where, for a nominal fee, anyone wishing to experience death firsthand could personally murder another human being; the resulting profit generally going to the unfortunate participant's impoverished family. The groundwork for Hostel had been laid.