Eli Roth’s History of Horror

4 out of 5

Created by: Eli Roth

Everything that was frustrating and uninteresting about AMC’s Story of Sci-fi, as hosted by James Cameron, is absolutely countered by Eli Roth’s History of Horror for the same network.

While I definitely got hyped for Roth with Cabin Fever, and remained moderately enthused through Hostel, I sort of lost the thread after that, feeling like his filmmaking skills – while informed by tons of wonderful influences and energy – were limited.  But whenever I would hear the guy talk, the earnestness of his passion and a great deal of intelligence that, for better or worse, is often evidenced by a lot of directors, brings me fully back around; adding to that, while it’s a “who knows what goes on behind closed doors” judgment, is that he seems like a legitimately nice guy.  I like Roth, and he effects the exact kind of horror buddy persona you’d wish for in a conspiratorial conversant, chattering over minutiae you both like and dislike.

So the fact that he does just that for seven episodes of History of Horror is a good deal, at least as long as you’re comfortable with Roth’s knowledgeable everyman style of presentation and persona.  He sits around a macabrely-decorated table with Greg Nicotero and an, unfortunately, mostly silent Rob Zombie (another guy I do like hearing from), covering big ol’ topics like zombies, and slashers, and etcetera, generally focusing on a heavy-hitting movie from each subgenre which defined or cemented said subgenre, then spotlighting other highlights from the years thereafter.  “History’s” scope isn’t limited to simply the norms, either, stepping off into enough indie and foreign inclusions to make it clear that this show is definitely for those with interests beyond the cursory, while also presented with the kind of grounded, non-slavering approach that gives legitimacy to the films it highlights.  Similarly, the interview participants, well spliced in to the various film clips and roundtable discussions, nab notables – directors, actors – but then also some people off the beaten path, but absolutely relevant to the conversations, almost everyone with something interesting to say, or a fun point of view.

I mentioned the quiet Zombie – that is one of the downsides.  I realize you can’t force the guy to speak, but his (what could be seen as) reticence unfortunately makes it feel like he’s not a participant at all, which ironically fits in with typical conversations where two horror geeks geek out while the art movie fan stands aside and nods about George Romero but pish-poshes talking about slashers.  (Which isn’t to say Zombie doesn’t like horror – we know he does – but it’s too bad they couldn’t somehow edit in more opinions from the guy.)  There’s also the way the Roth / Nicotero / Zombie scenes are presented: it’s absolutely clear they were shot at the same time, and as one discussion.  Which is fine, but again sort of adds to the impression that “we don’t have time to talk about these things at length.”  It’s just sitting down for an afternoon chat and then on with the show.

But I feel these are minor quibbles.  Anything about horror that I feel like I could show to someone rather averse to the genre to get them to at least appreciate some of its potential depths is a good thing, and History of Horror exceeds that “at least” mark by far.  The “worst” thing about it then, for sure, is that it’s only seven episodes long.