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Director Eli Roth’s year-round haunted house, The Goretorium, has opened its doors to the horror-hungry throngs. From human-sized meat grinders to zombie strippers, this latest Las Vegas fright experience offers enough bizarre visions to fuel nightmares for the next dozen Halloweens.
Roth shared his thoughts on building his haunted Mecca - including the joys of working without a ratings board - and revealed which part of the Goretorium made him almost want to throw up.
Where did you get the idea for the Goretorium?
These pop-up haunts have become a huge thing all over the country, and they do them really well in Los Angeles where I live. There’s Knott’s Scary Farm, and Universal Studios does this thing called Horror Nights. They only do it for 18 nights out of the year and I remember 10 or 12 years ago I went to Horror Nights. And I literally had tears in my eyes. I hadn't had that much of an adrenaline rush, heart-pounding experience. It was like being a kid being taken to a horror movie that was too scary for you. It was so intense; I had the biggest smile on my face. I didn’t think I could experience that again. It was true euphoria.
I then became sad that I had to wait an entire year to do it again. And I thought, I love horror movies year round. I think they are the single best date movies because your date is always going to grab your hand. I thought my dream was truly to build a year round haunted house, build one in Las Vegas, and have a place that was ground zero, really build a Mecca that was like Disneyworld for horror fans.
It sounds like what you’re trying to do here is crank the horror volume up to 11. I mean if it’s scaring you, what chance do the rest of us have?
None. That’s what I wanted. I basically built this 10 million dollar project. I mean most people spend a few hundred thousand dollars at the most on these things. There’s never been anything built at this level. It’s an intense, intense experience. And I walked through it so many times, I mean I designed every room, I did all of the scares. We had a terrific design team and people I worked with but I was like, I want to have this and that. Even knowing what happens in every room, having planned it myself, having directed the actors, it was terrifying. My heart was racing. I was anticipating things and it still got me. It’s really, really scary. I wanted to build a haunt that would terrify the most hardened horror fans.
You’ve set the Goretorium in a fictional 1960s hotel called the Delmont. Why did you pick a hotel? Why the 60s?
The idea with Goretorium is that I want to be able to put them in a few key cities around the world like New York, one in London, one in Tokyo. And I wanted a theme related to that city and I thought OK, we’re in Las Vegas, what does everyone love about Las Vegas? I wanted to have something that was in that Ocean’s Eleven - Rat Pack era. That kind of classic 50s and 60s Las Vegas. And I thought, wow wouldn’t it be great if we had a hotel where all these murders happened and it was shut down and its now being reopened? And you can see the sights of all the slaughters, and things go terribly wrong and you get thrown into the basement. And you’re in the bowels of this place, and all these horrible murders and things are happening, and you see them still going on. I just thought that it really lends itself well to Las Vegas. I wanted something that was in the spirit of the city, where we could put in casinos and literally have a one-armed bandit slot machine. That was part of the fun of it.
What can we expect upon arrival? Without giving away all the surprises.
It’s a fully immersive experience. Imagine the scariest horror movie that you’ve seen and then you’re walking through it. So you’re taken in and there’s the actors that are the scare performers. They don’t touch you, but there’s some of the jump scares, the things that pop out. But then there’s resonating scares. There are lots of illusions. I worked with this illusionist Franz Harary who’s incredible, who designs stuff that if you look up close, you can’t understand how he’s doing it. I actually didn’t want to know how he built stuff, so it would retain its mystery for me. So it’s pretty amazing.
This is the first time I’ve been working without a ratings board. You know, I can really, really let my imagination run wild. And if it’s the darkest, sickest most horrible thing? We’ve done it.
You wrote Cabin Fever about a flesh-eating virus after you yourself contracted a skin infection. Did you transfer any of the things that happened in real life to you or other people into the Goretorium?
I probably based it more on H.H. Holmes than anything. You know, I read about his haunted hotel where he was chopping people up and he had vats of acid, and he was trying to grow a race of giants. He was taking people from the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893. It’s fascinating what he did. He built this hotel that was never finished, he just kept building it. It was an entire city block where you’d turn on the shower and gas would come out. There were stairways that went to nowhere. He would hire people to work on it and they’d come after him for money and he’d put them in vats of acid and kill them. So all of the stuff we put in there is very much inspired and influenced by H.H. Holmes. The book “The Devil in the White City” is about him.
Where do you get your dark imagination? Does it have anything to do with your family? Your father is a psychiatrist, your mother is an artist …
I think it’s just how I’m wired. There was a show called "Curiosity" that I did an episode for on the Discovery Channel called “How Evil Are You?” When I see anything horrific my frontal lobe can’t process it, it’s too upsetting for me. So I think that I’m a very sensitive person. And certainly growing up Jewish, hearing about all about the Holocaust, hearing about all those things that happened – “if your grandparents hadn’t gotten out of Poland, that would have been you.” As a kid you hear those things, and you think that human beings did it. There is nothing worse than a human being, that’s the real monster for me. So I think that that was probably the biggest influence on anything. But the truth is I’m just a very sensitive person, and I deal with it in a very strange way.
And did the Goretorium trigger any of those sensitivities?
There were some points that were legitimately freaky. We have a guy named Billy, who’s the nicest guy, who has got some sort of rare tumor under his eye, they had to take his eye out. In the surgery they found out he was allergic to anesthesia, so he went into shock and they took out half of his palate. The long and short of it is, he can reach his finger up his mouth and poke it out his eye. It’s a socket. It’s the creepiest thing. So of course we hired him for the Goretorium and he’s so happy, he’s like “God has a master plan - I was meant to work at the Goretorium.” I’m like, “Dude, I’m going to make you a star.” Literally, like when he put his finger through his eye coming through his mouth, I actually felt like I almost threw up. But at the same time I wanted to hug him. And I was like, this is going to be the greatest thing ever and for him. It’s like what he sort of wants to do but isn’t allowed to do. But now he has a context in which he can deal with this thing that happened to him. And people are going crazy for him. So there’s a lot of that. We have seven-foot guys. We have little people working in there. We have zombie strippers. It’s amazing. I feel right at home.