Why Eli Roth Has Made a Career of Scaring People

Master of Horror tells true terrifying tales of people stalked by spooks in discovery+’s “Eli Roth Presents: A Ghost Ruined My Life”

Eli Roth, "Eli Roth Presents: A Ghost Ruined My Life"
Eli Roth, "Eli Roth Presents: A Ghost Ruined My Life" (Photo courtesy of discovery+)

Writer-director Eli Roth likes to scare people and has, in fact, made a damn good career of doing just that. But his reason for choosing the horror genre as his focus goes far beyond that love of jump scares. “Look, the reason I make horror movies is, it’s almost like I want to jinx it from happening to me,” he jokes.

Roth — who made his mark in the horror genre back in 2003 with his feature film directorial debut with “Cabin Fever” and later went on to direct “Hostel,” “Knock Knock,” “Death Wish” and the fantasy film “The House With a Clock in Its Walls” – has taken on two new ventures with discovery+, “Eli Roth Presents: A Ghost Ruined My Life” and “The Haunted Museum.” Both new series are loaded with “I should be watching this with the lights on” moments that will send chills down your spine. And Roth has gained something unique from each of them.

“At least I know what to do if something like [a haunting] happened to me,” he tells TheWrap. “I’ve thought through the possibilities, all of the stuff that has happened to me or that I’m terrified of — what if it did happen to me?” And he’s using that idea as the basis of “AGRML.”  

Before the big merger that lead to what is now discovery+, Roth met with Travel Channel General Manager Matt Butler, who mentioned that ghost shows perform particularly well. Roth pitch him his idea.

“I said, you know, ‘I have this idea that could be one of these shows; tell me if I’m crazy, but this could be a show that runs for 100 years because I would never get tired of watching this.’ He said, ‘What?’” Roth recalled. “I said I wanted to know, do people have supernatural stalkers? Like, what if you’re on a date and your stalker shows up and your stalker is a ghost? And they knock the candles over and they spill the drinks. I said, ‘Does that happen? He said that’s a really interesting premise, and we started looking into it.”

What they found was that it was really prevalent and much more beyond relationships. “An evil entity can get into your life, latch onto you and ruin it. That’s the entity’s goal.”

As he says in the intro to “Eli Roth Presents: A Ghost Ruined My Life,” he has spent his life telling horror stories, “but imagine if those stories were real. And suddenly you found yourself stalked and tormented by an evil spirit and no one believed you.” His show is the actual accounts of terror as told by the victims who came face to face with their demons… and survived. 

“What we found was there was such an incredible range of people that have had this happen to them, and they were often very embarrassed about it and ashamed of it. And the first reaction that anyone has is, ‘Oh, you’re crazy. That’s not what happened. That’s not real,’” Roth said. “So all of these people have this experience of something terrible that’s tormenting them, and nobody believes them. It’s destroying them. They can’t sleep. They lose their jobs, their relationships fall apart. And this is often what the entity wants, no matter how they try to appease it.”

What Roth found really interesting was finding the people this had happened to. Almost all of them talked about their experience for the very first time. “And it was a huge relief to them, because now if they go on a date with someone, they go, ‘Wait, wait, wait. Before we go out on a date, you should probably watch this.’ So I don’t have to explain this thing that happened to them. How do they explain it?”

But Roth didn’t want to know just what happened; he wanted to know how they beat it and got on with their lives.

“Part of the show was to reach people who also feel that way, who might be experiencing this, who are too embarrassed to tell people. That’s why at the end of the show, we go, ‘Is there a ghost, ruining your life? Do you have a supernatural stalker? We want to tell your story,’” he said.

“We’re taking everything at face value and letting them tell us just as honestly and truthfully as they can about what happened to them. And these people were so relieved to get it off their chest, and that someone was willing to not only listen to them, but to take the time to film it. Imagine you lived a horror movie and then I come along and I basically can make a little mini-horror movie of what you lived through. It’s deeply, deeply satisfying for them.”

Roth knows his audience and that audience loves to be scared and spooked and on the edge of their seats. And yes, he likes being scared… sometimes.

“I like being scared when it’s a movie, when it’s a fictional situation, when I’m curling up in front of the television or in a movie theater, or I’m going to watch a scary story or read a scary book — THAT I love,” he said. “I love the thrill of a haunted house, a rollercoaster.

“Being scared of real life? Nobody likes it, but we all love the relief after we make it through. Most fear is imagined, and what we try to really discern between is how much fear am I creating in my mind versus real dangers. Most of the time, when you’re in a truly dangerous situation, you block it out, adrenaline takes over and you just blank. And you just go into some automatic mode, fight or flight. Either your body is built to survive those situations, to escape the lion that’s chasing you, but then often the fear is, you know, what’s that noise downstairs? Just for 20 minutes worrying about it, then you realize that it’s your cat. So a lot of it is imagined.”

“Eli Roth Presents: A Ghost Ruined My Life” airs Fridays, “The Haunted Museum” airs Saturdays, both on discovery+.