Exclusive: KURT SAYENGA: The Showrunner and Director behind, ‘Eli Roth’s History of Horror’


AMC’s highly anticipated second season of the documentary miniseries Eli Roth’s History of Horror, premiered Saturday, October 10th 10/9c. Season one is available to stream on Shudder and AMC+, with the DVD/Blu-ray available now.

Latin HorrorEli Roth’s History of Horror‘ shares a place in the AMC Visionaries series, which looks to document both the artistic and sociopolitical influences of a highlighted aspects of pop culture, alongside ‘James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction‘ and ‘Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics‘. This series hosted and executive produced by the celebrated horror director Eli Roth, best known for the notorious horror films ‘Hostel and ‘Cabin Fever.

Accompanying the second season of this television series is a second series of the podcast, ‘Eli Roth’s History of Horror Uncut. Season two, like season one, features uncut and unfiltered interviews of talent featured on the show, including actor Bill Hader and actress Megan Fox.

“[Horror] is a genre made by outsiders and misfits, for outsiders and misfits of all colors, sexual orientations, genders [and] religious beliefs.” – Sayenga

‘Eli Roth’s History of Horror’ showrunner/director KURT SAYENGA.

The creative talent behind the camera for the series and podcast is the showrunner, director, writer, executive producer, and primary interviewer, Kurt Sayenga. In our exclusive interview with Sayenga, he shares with Latin Horror his past career accomplishments, his passion for horror, some behind the scenes magic, and hopes for a season three.

A major influence on Sayenga, as a creative leader, interviewer, and writer, was in the 1980’s Washington DC Punk rock scene. He shared that his interest for the scene started, because, “I love music, and I loved underground music. I just naturally fell into that set of friends”.

Among Sayenga’s DC punk friends included band members of Fugazi, one of the most famous and influential bands from that scene. He designed many of Fugazi’s early album covers, most notably ‘Steady Diet of Nothing and ‘13 Songs.

In the late 1980’s, Sayenga created the underground magazine ‘Greed‘ (1986-1989), where he was the editor and head writer. He started the magazine noticing how, “I knew all of these people who I thought had a lot to say and wanted to express themselves artistically, and they could do it through music, but there really wasn’t another way to do it.”.

The content of ‘Greed focused on music and comics, which gave Sayenga the unique opportunity to interview a multitude of talents overlooked by mainstream media, from punk luminaries Sonic Youth to comic trailblazers Los Bros Hernandez. Sayenga noted the experience he gained from ‘Greed‘, “Made it a lot easier for me as an interviewer. At this point, I’ve interviewed thousands of people.”

In the early 1990’s, Sayenga began working in television programming, at The Discovery Channel. At first, Sayenga recalled, “I had a job just watching television programs for them. Just things they would acquire and writing whether if they were worth putting on, or not. Then, somebody decided to do a show on WWII, and they’re looking for somebody new that could write about WWII. History was one of my majors in college, so I took that and wrote that.”

Through writing, Sayenga found his way deeper into post-production work at The Discovery Channel as a director, producer, and showrunner for science documentary films and series, especially science ordinated. Most notably ‘Through the Wormhole, ‘Breakthrough‘, and ‘Stuff Happens’ Hosted by Bill Nye.

Having a strong connection to science, Sayenga recalled, “I grew up in a family that was science-based.” Adding, “We were also interested in rockets, engines and how things work. I think that interest has come out in a lot of the films I’ve done”.

Sayenga also believes, “This country just needs science programing that people can sit and watch and not be bored to tears by. That’s really what I’ve tried to do, is to try and make them fun and interesting”. Creating entertaining documentary programming, contributed to the dark captivating visuals of ‘Eli Roth’s History of Horror‘.

When becoming involved with ‘Eli Roth’s History of Horror‘, Sayenga joked, “I just talked my way into it”. Having a vast knowledge and passion for film history and being a horror fan, Sayenga was the perfect choice for this series. His favorite horror films include John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing, Universal’s ‘Frankenstein‘ and ‘Bride of Frankenstein, anything Alfred Hitchcock (The Lodger, Frenzy, Psycho), ‘Audition‘, and ‘Carrie.

Over the two seasons, Sayenga has interviewed nearly a hundred and sixty people. Happily sharing, “In this case, it’s just been pure fun talking to people. Because most of the people I talk to, also love movies and love horror. So, there is always something to talk about.” Among his favorite interviews are special effects artist Greg Nicotero, director and musician Rob Zombie, and legendary horror director Joe Dante. Sayenga praised Dante as, “A walking film encyclopedia and has something interesting to say, or usually know the backstory to every film you can ever think of”.

When collaborating with Roth, Sayenga revealed, “We’ve never had a disagreement about anything. If anything, it’s always just Eli always wants more stuff, and as do I”. Their biggest challenge with content is keeping episodes within the forty-two-minute limits.

Sayenga also revealed, “Through knowing Eli, I’ve been exposed to a lot of things I never would have seen, like ‘Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals, in particular.” Both have shown interest in the possibility of a book version of the series, if the opportunity comes. For now, the focus is on the show and the accompanying podcast.

Season one highlighted an array of horror talent, including Latino talent, both in front of, and behind the camera. Most notably, Guillermo Del Toro (Cronos, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Shape of Water), Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk till Dawn), George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead) and brother-sister duo, director Andy Muschietti, and producer Barbara Muschietti of ‘It‘ (2017) and ‘It Chapter Two (2019).

For season two, the two notable films with strong Latino influences are analyzed, the classic 1933 ‘King Kong and ‘UsKing Kong’s special effects featured a creative collaboration with the trailblazing duo Willis H. O’Brien and the Mexican sculptor and model maker Marcel Delgado. Delgado went on to work on special effects on an array of iconic films of the Golden Age of Hollywood, most notably ‘The Wizard of Oz, ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and ‘Marry Poppins. ‘Us features the Kenyan-Mexican Oscar-winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o, as its leading actress. After Us, Nyong’o went on to star in ‘Little Monsters making a name for herself in horror.

Spanish horror is also analyzed in season two, through two films, ‘To Kill a Child‘ and ‘Pieces. ‘To Kill a Child‘, a critical analysis of the impact of war on children was directed by Spanish-Argentine director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador. Pieces‘, is a slasher cult classic, directed by Spanish cult film director Juan Piquer Simón, which became enthralled in the UK “Video Nasty” controversy of the early 1980s, due to its boundary-pushing imagery.

Another influential film mentioned in the series is the rebellious, yet controversial horror film ‘Cannibal Holocaust‘. Though an Italian film, it included Indigenous Latinos in its cast and was filmed in Leticia, Amazona, in southern Colombia. This film falls under the unique class of Latino ordinated horror films made outside of the Americas continent or Spain. The majority of films made in the genre known as Latin Horror comes from the United States, Latin America, or films of the Americas collaborated with Spain.

Sayenga and Roth hope for the possibility of a third season, which they would like to explore in-depth the topics of classic horror and international horror, including Latin Horror. Possible Latino stars and film creators who could highlight Latin Horror in film and television history could be Guillermo Del Toro, Robert Rodriguez, Issa Lopez, Gigi Saul Gurrero, Alejandro Burgés, Danny Trejo, Benicio Del Toro, and Andy and Barbara Muschietti. Notable films which could also be mentioned: ‘Santo Sangre‘, ‘Good Manners‘, Tigers Are Not Afraid‘, ‘El Vampiro‘, ‘Hostel, Universal’s Spanish language ‘Dracula‘, and ‘The Purge‘ franchise. In American horror television, Showtime’s ‘Dexter was heavily influenced by Latino culture, set in Miami, Florida, with Latinos in essential cast positions (Lauren Vélez and David Zayas) and as special guest stars (Jimmy Smits and Edward James Olmos).

Toward the end of our interview, Sayenga expressed how “I hope that [the audience] will see this and both learn a few things or at least revisit some of the films that they know…And they will seek them out”. Further elaborating, “Overall [audiences] will see just how flexible the genre is and how many different styles it can contain and that’s really its beauty.”

List of Season Two Episodes:

Episode 1: “Houses of Hell” (October 10)

Explores the famous and infamous houses in horror, from haunted houses, to isolated cabins, and murder homes. Familiar faces from season one, including Stephen King and Rob Zombie speak about the homes that haunt our dreams, from the infamous The Amityville Horror to the blood-drenched House of 1000 Courses.

Episode 2: “Monsters” (October 17)

A unique episode evaluating the history and evolution of special effects in horror from practical special effects to CGI. A few of the impressive monsters in this episode, are the alien from Alien, the monstrosities of The Thing, and the groundbreaking special effects of the 1933 classic King Kong.

Episode 3: “Body Horror” (October 24)

A subgenre of horror which has a vast definition from creatures to torture, infused with a wildly wicked imagination. Highlighted unforgettable films which are covered, are the experimental Videodrome, the tragic tale The Fly, and the bone-chilling Audition.

Episode 4: “Witches” (October 31)

Premiering most appropriately on Halloween, examines the female-dominated horror genre, with director Arti Aster as a featured episode guest. Among the films are silent and visually groundbreaking film Haxan, current hit The VVitch and the classic Suspiria.

Episode 5: “Chilling Children” (November 7)

An in-depth evaluation of the role of children in horror, especially as predators. Child horror stars are interviewed and presented with their notable films, such as Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) and, Patty McCormack (The Bad Seed).

Episode 6: “Nightmare Nine” (November 14)

Highlights nine nearly unclassifiable horror films and their influences in the genre as a whole. These nine films feature the groundbreaking The Wicker ManThe Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and the controversial Pieces.

There will be SANGRE!
Justina Bonilla
Justina is a Mexican-American freelance writer and journalist based in Orange County, CA. She has written for a number of publications. Currently, she is also a contributing writer for Latin Heat Entertainment. In her spare time, she volunteers as a film blog writer for the non-profit arthouse cinema, The Frida Cinema, in Santa Ana, CA. Her areas of expertise include retro pop-culture (film, music, and television), Golden Age of Hollywood, cult-films, classic horror films, Latino American cinema, Latin horror films, and the history of American rock ‘n’ roll.

LATIN HORROR interview with ‘Murder In The Woods’ actress SOLEDAD ST. HILAIRE

Previous article

LATIN HORROR interview with ‘Murder In The Woods’ Writer & Producer YELYNA DE LEÓN

Next article


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Login/Sign up