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Filmmaker Eli Roth returns for another "Last Exorcism"

By Zorianna Kit

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Movie audiences have flocked to filmmaker Eli Roth's low-budget horror productions like "Cabin Fever" and "Hostel."

On Friday, "The Last Exorcism Part II," which Roth produced, will be released. It is the sequel to his 2010 movie about an evangelical minister who let a documentary crew film his last exorcism on a girl named Nell.

The 2010 film cost $1.8 million to make and grossed more than $67 million worldwide. The sequel follows Nell as she discovers that the evil force has returned.

Roth, 40, who is also a director, actor and writer, spoke to Reuters about the enduring appeal of films about possession.

Q: When you shot the first film, were there plans to make a sequel?

A: If we had thought about a sequel, we wouldn't have called the first movie the 'last' one. It made $20 million on opening weekend, which was a surprise. The financiers said, "whenever you want to do another one, the financing is there for it."

Q: The first film was filmed documentary-style, but the second was not. What was the thought process behind that?

A: We decided to make the sequel as a straight narrative. In the sequel, the first film exists as a viral video, floating out there on YouTube. So the characters in the sequel recognize Nell as being that girl who breaks her fingers, does her back bend and acts possessed.

Q: "The Last Exorcism Part II" is set in New Orleans. Does the setting influence the film?

A: It's very much part of the story. It's Mardi Gras and Nell is going out and experiencing the world. But there is this thing still following her, this presence out there. So when you're seeing a creepy face, you don't know if it's a Mardi Gras character or if it's actually something quite sinister.

Q: 1973's "The Exorcist" is the seminal film on exorcism and possession. Any film since then on the same topic inevitably draws comparisons. Did that weigh on your mind while making the film?

A: "The Exorcist" came out almost 40 years ago. That was before (U.S. President) Jimmy Carter was in office! I love "The Exorcist." I think it's a masterpiece. But we're making a movie for today's 15-year-old kids. They want their own "Exorcist," not the ones their parents were into.

Q: There have been many recent films on this same topic, from 2005's "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" to last year's "The Devil Inside." What is it that make audiences turn out for them?

A: Possession and exorcism is something that's in every religion and every culture. It's a real primal fear: Is the body a vessel for our spirits? What happens if something else takes over it? Where does the spirit go?

Also, there is a lot of unexplained evil in the world. People need to point the finger somewhere. You can point it at the devil, at evil. With the pope stepping down February 28, a lot of people feel that a gateway to evil will open up. They feel unprotected from evil without the pope there.

Q: Did the first film get any religious support or push back because of the subject matter?

A: Actually, we got a lot of church support because it was very much about faith, the battle between faith and science, and faith wins.

Q: Are there themes of faith in the sequel?

A: There is, but we loved the idea of what if this evil was following you and you actually started to embrace it? What would happen then?

Q: Have you ever met anyone that was possessed?

A: Yeah, I dated her for three months! For a long time I had a crazy girl dating habit. Thankfully, I've recently broken it.

(Reporting By Zorianna Kit; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Stacey Joyce)

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