Thursday, May 31, 2007

Jason watches "Hostel: Part II"

[update added June 8, 2007: Welcome to everyone coming here to read my "Hostel: Part II" review. You just drove my site traffic through the roof. I hope you enjoy my review. If you're looking for spoilers, however, there's not much here. But please enjoy my little ol' blog, anyway. And if you're in the SF Bay Area (and I assume you're horror fans), check out my ongoing reviews of Another Hole in the Head festival. It's continuing through next Friday, and most movies still play again. Also, in August check out Dead Channels. Okay, now read my review, below.]

That's right, I got invited to a sneak preview, courtesy of my friends at Indiefest. Not only that, but Eli Roth was there and assured us we were the first audience to see this movie. Woo hoo!

Okay, to let you know where I'm coming from, I loved "Hostel", and see it as much more than just "torture porn". Particularly, I see it as primarily a political film that's simultaneously about the fear of Americans and the fear of being American (what greater allegory for our foreign policy than a bunch of rich Americans tromping across the world looking to get laid. And notice how nearly all the gore comes after the line "Mission Accomplished" is delivered). I also loved it for it's skill and risk-taking in breaking the genre conventions. I loved that the stereotypical straight-laced guy doesn't survive, and the wild man (who specifically says he's not the responsible one) does. And I love the tonal shift halfway through, where it goes from a sex romp to horror and torture (and draws parallels between the two).

But enough about part I. Right off the bat I'll say, as far as explicit gore, if you're a fan of the original you will not be disappointed with the sequel. I'm struggling a bit with spoilers, since so much of getting fans to this movie will be based on statements like, "Dude, you gotta see this movie, they actually...[spoiler deleted]. And you really see it!" I think I'll trust in that to happen naturally, I'll just guarantee there are scenes that will make you say that (at least to your sickest friends). Eli totally pushed the limits of an R rating (it's kinda hard to believe he got away with it, but in the Q&A he actually talked about how reasonable the MPAA was when he explained he's making a sequel to "Hostel", not "Happy Feet". No kids are going to walk into it accidentally). So enough about that, trust me the gore delivers.

As far as the story, first off there's no need for a tonal shift. Everyone in the audience knows what's going on, so there's no need for the Hostel or the factory to be a secret. As a result, the gore is spread throughout the movie instead of loaded all into the back 20 minutes like part I.

It actually starts off with Paxton (Jay Hernandez) on the train where we left him at the end of part I. But it quickly switches to the story of three women: Beth (Lauren German), Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and incredibly annoying nerd Lorna (Heather Matarazzo, who as an aside will always have a special place in my heart for "Welcome to the Dollhouse", a movie all about how much Junior High sucks when your name is Wiener). Parallelling their victim story is the story of two clients: Stuart (Roger Bart) and Todd (Richard Burgi).

Yes, you get to see more of how Elite Hunting works, but mainly from a clients point of view. You do meet the apparent leader (CEO?) of the company, and get walked through the process, but the machinery is still somewhat clouded in secrecy. Which is good, since I think it's important to the horror that the company have some mystery (and the more you get into the logistics, the less plausible it all seems). What is important is meeting the clients and going through their journey. These aren't total off-the-wall sickos, these are businessman with wives and kids. Stuart in fact isn't really sure he wants to do this, but is goaded into it by Todd, who talks of how you can tell when a guy has that edge that only comes from having killed someone. He seems to be treating it almost as a retreat workshop in how to get ahead in business. And that to me is really the soul of the movie. While the first one is global, political, about America and it's relation to the world (and itself), this one is more personal. It's about the fear of money--both the fear of people with too much money, and the fear of what you might do to get more money. This is a film that implicates everyone who has ever put on a suit and pretended to be someone they're not just to further their career (interestingly enough, Todd actually shows up to the factory in a suit, Stuart in a sweater). One major departure from the original that highlights this difference is the "purchasing" process. Gone is the fixed price that valued Americans so highly above all others. Now price is set by an online bidding system.

Alright, enough of the clients' story, back to the girls. They're art students in Rome, on holiday to Prague. On the train, after being harassed by some men, they're talked into going to Slovakia by art model Axelle (who of course is part of the conspiracy). There they stay at the same Hostel as in part I, with the same creepy desk clerk (Milda Jedi Havlas, who originally got the job on part I when he was a PA and the actor playing the desk clerk didn't show up). Although they're lured there by promises of a natural hot springs health spa, once there they're invited to a harvest festival (sexy good times!) where people dress up in "scary" costumes, drink, dance and have a good time. I mention the harvest festival only because I love the juxtaposition of the goofy monsters with the horror we know is about to unfold. It's like Eli Roth is throwing down the gauntlet and saying, "this is what it's like to be fake scared--it's laughable and not scary at all. Now I'm going to scare you for real!"

I should say something about violence against women in this movie. It's there, but it pales in comparison to the violence against men. There is a sexual tension to some of the violence (particularly one particularly fetishistic kill), but mostly it's more about power than sex. Honestly, I think part I is a far more sexual movie.

Finally, I should mention Ruggero Deodato's cameo. He's the director of one of the all time greats, "Cannibal Holocaust", and shows up credited at the Italian Cannibal, much as Takashi Miike showed up as a client in part I. In fact, Eli talked about how "Hostel" was inspired visually and tonally by recent Asian horror movies, but part II is inspired more by 1970's Italian giallo films (giallo is Italian for yellow, and describes a particular style of movies inspired by trashy thriller novels that were printed with plain yellow covers). I'd say that style is most apparent in the fetishistic kill I referenced above.

Damn...just thinking about Deodato's cameo makes me want to reveal a huge spoiler. Okay, I'll try to do this carefully. Film/horror geeks should get this, but casual movie goers shouldn't. There's a particular act of violence that takes place in "Cannibal Holocaust" that I'm a huge fan of. Other movies that feature this form of violence include "El Topo", "Cannibal Ferox", "Desperate Living", "In the Realm of the Senses", and "Bloodsucking Freaks". I could go on, but that should be enough for the geeks to know what I'm talking about. Anyway, "Cannibal Holocaust" is one of my favorite examples of this, and was arguably the best in terms of explicit special effects. Well, there's a new king, "Hostel II" has surpassed anything I've seen in terms of graphic explicitness. And just for those who know what I'm talking about--and then they feed it to the dogs!

Okay, I think I've said enough now.


Unknown said...

Jason! I finished the new version (the so-called Director's Cut) of "Guidolon" - it's spiffier, tighter, smoother, funnier, and has a new ending and better animation throughout - check it out -

And, Jason, if you or any of your friends want hard copies on DVD of the new version, I'll have those available in a week or so - shoot me an email at or with your snail mail and I'll mail ya some to go along with the (now rare) DVD of the earlier version I gave ya at Cinequest.

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