I can't stand Eli Roth. Everyone on the Internet has a strong opinion about him one way or the other, and the only difference between the two sides is that one is utterly fucking wrong. There are legions of horror fans who like him. There are oozy corners of the Web where he is worshiped and glorified. There are even fan clubs teeming with girls who think he's the zenith of swoony hotness or whatevertheheck fangirls think. They are all tragically mistaken. Don't take it personally, fangirls -- your momentary idiocy is part of the human condition. We're all morons about something. I think Jeff Dunham's kinda funny.
But Roth is indefensible. His persona, actions, and body of work stand for the victory of a wretched set of luck and circumstances that solidify the current septic tank state of the American Dream. There's also the small matter of his blatant lady-issues -- you can just picture him ranting about how women are all psychotic whores, as evidenced by the string of crazy wenches he's banged since high school (I'm surmising here -- thankfully I have no insider knowledge of Roth's love life). He's the horror movie version of a Portnoy-era Philip Roth -- all the Jewish angst and thrashing lady-rage, with no self-awareness or insight. But putting aside all female indignation, he has committed a terrible act: single-handedly taking what some apparently think is an Oscar-worthy film and turning it into a fucking joke.
If you love horror, you can overlook his treatment of women as vaginas-that-bleed and his puerile humor and God-killing dialogue and the fact that he admits to taking his father's life savings to fund a film filled with jokes about gay squirrels and the N-word, because his movies are semi-decent. Cabin Fever isn't great, but it's willing to go some interesting places. Hostel is bad, but the torture scenes are undeniably entertaining. Hostel 2 is lethargic and lame -- but it has a great moment, that pre-torture-scene montage that belongs in a highlight reel. Taken solely as campy horror movies, these are enjoyable, and Roth gets props (though claims of his "reviving the genre" are grossly exaggerated - take one look at anything Ti West has done, it all makes Hostel look like a Chocolate Rain retread). Of course, most important to the Hollywood Overlords, Roth's movies made money -- Cabin Fever was Lionsgate's highest grossing film of 2003, and Hostel pulled in a hefty $47 million domestic. (For the record, the sequel made $17 mill.)
But any respect or admiration halts there, for the simple reason that the rest of Roth's career - and even the success of Hostel -- has rested on the unbelievably lucky move of becoming Quentin Tarantino's shoulder monkey. His Holy Tarantino-ness sprinkled "Quentin Tarantino Presents" dust on Hostel, which subsequently lured scores of twenty-something Americans sweating over the idea that they'd get sold to torture dungeons by slutty Eastern Europeans if they ever set foot in Slovakia. Which, for some of the frat boys I knew in college, doesn't sound like such a bad scenario. Yet somewhere in the afterglow of Quentin's pixie dust, Roth had a hallucination and got the idea that he was an actor. Like Tarantino, Roth's one of those directors that puts himself in every one of his movies. Which is perfectly fine if it's a campy horror flick and you're the stoner-douche whose entrails get gobbled by a flesh-eating virus. Even in Cabin Fever, his acting was bad -- but that was the point. It was all in good fun.
Only after the syrupy joy of fame descended, a disconnect occurred in Roth's brain. A delusion of grandeur so great, it topples acting empires. Specifically, the delusion that he had any God-damn business being in a Nazi movie that expects to be taken seriously.
Which brings us to Inglourious Basterds. As a whole, it wasn't good. Many people whose opinions I respect spilled adoration on it like the freaking Magi. I don't get it. It was dull, and smug, and plodding. The title characters of the film were also irrelevant -- the entire plot could have happened without the presence of the Basterds. They were a silly sideshow. Let's be honest: The only thing that saved this movie from Death Proof levels of obscurity is the subject matter. We humans love us some revenge fantasies, and killing Hitler is just about the Everest crest of those. Without the orgasmic joy of seeing the Führer blown to little Nazi pieces, this film would be a boring flop propped up by the institutional weight of a famous director and the presence of the biggest movie star on earth. It would make $15 mill on opening weekend, Harvey Weinstein would grumble through fistfuls of M&Ms about how he'll turn a profit in DVD sales, Nikki Finke would cackle at his failure and sacrifice another goat, and life would go on as normal.
But no, we've got bloody spattery Hitler-death on our hands, so instead Basterds is a massive blockbuster and everyone loves it and if you don't love it you must be some Eichmann-worshiping fascist I mean it was sooo awesome everyone says so and no I don't really get that whole scene in the bar and why does the blond chick have to prattle on for 20 minutes about nothing but it's the best movie ever and if you don't think so that means you love Hitler.
Does the film have redeeming value? Yes: The acting. The performances of every non-American cast member are astounding. It's like the human condition is chewed to its raw elements and regurgitated directly into our souls by these actors -- the airily dazzling Diane Kruger, the simmering Melanie Laurent, and of course Christopher Waltz, oozing a lizard-smooth quatri-lingual evilness that no villain has ever captured onscreen.
But transcendent acting or no, the Achilles tendon is sliced from this movie by the presence of Roth. He is laughable. Beyond laughable. He appears to be laughing at us during the scenes! Oh look, I'm in a Nazi movie! Get the hell outta here!
Meanwhile, we're left thrashing in our seats, wondering, "What the f%#? Did we miss something? Since when is this man an actor? Like a real actor? The kind of actor who can appear next to people who have spent careers making this into an art form? And in a Nazi movie no less? Would you cast Pauly Shore in Sophie's Choice? No, you would not!"
As such, Roth destroys the film. He sucks you out of the Spell of Magical Movieland into the seeping craphole that is Hollywood reality. His presence downgrades the movie from a plodding but well-acted fantasy into a giant inside joke. Haha oh look it's the dude who directed the Thanksgiving trailer where the cheerleader on the trampoline gets a knife up the crotch! And he's totally hot! Haha isn't that just so funny! And thus the spell is broken, and you're back to being confronted by the fact that Hollywood is one big reach-around where your buddies stick your non-actor butt in Nazi movies next to shoo-in Oscar winners and then sit back and laugh at all the stupid slobs who buy it. Think of the potential alternatives for that role. Think of what they could have done with it. You couldn't get Adrien Brody? What, his post-Darjeeling Limited paycheck is too high? This is the only time modern audiences have ever seen a big powerful Jewish man bash a Nazi's skull, and it's freaking Eli Roth? My relatives are screeching from their Birkenau graves! Ok maybe they aren't -- but they would if they'd seen Cabin Fever.
As such, Inglourious Basterds must be stricken from the record and removed from the Best Picture list. If you disagree, you clearly love Hitler.
This piece originally appeared on The Awl.