Hostel Part II: Unseen Edition Review
Beth (Lauren German), Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) are travelling through Europe on an expensive holiday, staying in good hotels and enjoying lessons in painting in the warm evening sun by the riviera. Fortunately, Beth has inherited a very large sum of money from her mother and so the cost of the trip does not concern them, only that they look out for each other and keep safe in parts of Europe that were, until relatively recently, under Communist rule.
Catching a train east, they meet Axelle (Vera Jordanova), who treats them to drinks on the train before asking them to join her at an exclusive spa in Slovakia. The hotel they are staying in is beautiful and the bellboy treats them like royalty. That night, they attend the Harvest Festival and are romanced by a string of eligible young men. Lorna leaves for a trip down the river with a man named Roman, Whitney heads back to her hotel room with a guy she met that night while Beth catches up with another American staying in the same hotel, Stuart (Roger Bart) who is holidaying with his brother-in-law Todd (Richard Burgi). What Beth doesn't know is that Stuart has won her in an online auction and that Todd has bagged Whitney, with both of them winning the right to torture and kill the young women. Down river, Lorna is knocked unconscious and dragged into a gothic building where she is hung upside-down, hacked at with a scythe and drained of blood. Soon, Beth and Whitney will be joining her there...
Remember that? The World According To America? It was meant to be a satire of the view that the stereotypical American has of the world, with Europe, Asia, Africa and South, Central and even more northerly America being populated by a mix of communists, cannibals and Canadians. And dragons too! Eli Roth, no doubt a very smart man, understands that this is a foolish way of looking at the world. However, he also knows that the way to appeal to an audience of Americans who are suspicious of things beyond their borders is to feature a cast of creepy foreigners who want to do nasty things to US kids. And if well-educated Europeans can appreciate both the satire of the film as well as not minding their being portrayed as bearded goons, feral children or morally corrupt aristocrats, so much the better.
Hostel: Part II, like Hostel, has it both ways. Eli Roth's main cast of American tourists have a rotten time of it in Europe. Contrary to the usual image of a suave Frenchman kissing a tourist on her hand by way of greeting, Hostel: Part II has a train full of European teens and tramps threaten our heroines by doing everything but slapping them across their faces with their erect cocks. Sensitive Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) has her detailed and beautifully-written notebook stolen while Beth and Lorna are described as, "stupid fucking cunts" by a group of guys who are upset at their not sleeping with them. This, however, is not the half of it. Meeting Axelle, which looks like a stroke of good fortune at first, soon turns out to be the most awful thing that could happen to them as she takes them to a part of the world in which feral children terrify them, ignorant locals ogle them and rich businessmen stare at their pictures on their computer and Blackberry screens.
Then again, with this being a Hostel film, such things pale alongside the very worst thing that could and will happen to them. The hotel they are staying in is a front for Elite Hunting, a group of rich Slovakians led by Sasha (Milan Knazko), who offers equally rich businessmen the opportunity to torture someone of their choice. All that he demands of them, in addition to the money, is that they do not leave without killing. That is the contract.
Eli Roth builds Hostel: Part II slowly. There are suggestions of Dario Argento and Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now in the feeling of dread that permeates the rich European setting. While Beth, Whitney and Lorna make the most of these locations, even to the warm waters of the spa (filmed in Iceland's beautiful Blue Lagoon), and become deserving of our sympathies, it is the boorish Todd who enjoys the excesses on offer, snorting cocaine in the back of a limo and sleeping with prostitutes as he waits for his Elite Hunting pager to ring. Contrary to the reputation of this film and of Eli Roth, Tood must wait. He busies himself with running, with enthusiastically explaining Elite Hunting to Stuart and mentally readying himself for what is coming.
What is coming is, of course, grand scenes of torture. A scythe scratches at Lorna's skin while a naked woman (Monika Malacova) lies underneath her in a parody of the habits of Elizabeth Bathory. Whitney, Beth and Miroslav (Stanislav Ianevski), a young man also resident in the same hotel, are tortured in separate rooms. Whitney is taunted by Todd, who swings a circular saw at her head. Miroslav is strapped to a table and has slices of flesh cut from his leg by a cannibal (Ruggero Deodato) who later sits at a table and eats them. Beth, meanwhile, is handcuffed to a chair and has Stuart, who was noticeably concerned about her at the hotel, change almost completely. He snarls at her, spits at her and threatens her with the tools of torture that he has laid out before him. Selecting the sharpest blade, he begins cutting into Beth.
Which seems like a good time to leave that description of the film. What comes thereafter in Hostel: Part II bears some relation to what British MP Charles Walker described as being, "[from] beginning to end, it depicts obscene, misogynistic acts of brutality against women...an hour and a half of brutality!". Although he does admit, "Hostel: Part II,which I have not seen...has been reported on by a number of people I trust." Walker cited the film under his attempt to make it illegal to possess extreme pornography. It may be that this viewer is somewhat jaded by horror films but there was nothing in this film to cause me to feel horrified, never mind to blanche in horror. Eli Roth could have done much, much worse had he wanted to and in watching Hostel: Part II, I sat thinking about what he could have done differently and noted that in each scene of torture, the actual bloodshed depicted on the screen fell some way short of what was possible. A scene of castration, which will be a highlight for many, could have been a good deal more gruelling had Roth had the pliers clamped even more tightly to the penis in between them or had them being pulled hard on it so to cause the skin and flesh to tear. As it is, it's somewhat fumbled with it being over in mere seconds when Roth could have extracted much more horror out of the situation.
As such, I came away disappointed in Hostel: Part II, a bit, "Was that it?" With the reputation that surrounded the film on its release into cinemas, I had expected a movie that had its audience either fainting in the aisles or fleeing the cinema. Then again, with Quentin Tarantino's name on the cinema posters, perhaps what Roth brings to the genre is, above all else, a talent for hyping his own films to such an extent that they can never hope to deliver on the promise. This viewer walked away from Hostel: Part II with that same feeling of disappointment that came with watching Reservoir Dogs (ear-cutting not shown onscreen), Pulp Fiction (not half enough buggery) and Kill Bill (blood and gore hidden behind animation and black-and-white). There's nothing as shocking here as little Linda Blair stabbing herself underneath her nightdress and shouting, "Fuck me!" or Shelly gorging on her own hand in The Evil Dead. Another recent film, Vacancy, delivers more scares while there are a good many films that deliver more gruesome moments.
But it is funny, sometimes hilarious. A cat lapping at a headless body sat a breakfast table is an early highlight but the laughs keep coming, not least with the various clumsy attempts at kidnappings, Roth's littering the script with red herrings and the Grand Guignol excesses of the bathed-in-blood scene of torture and murder. Stuart is a comedy psychopath who does everything but curl up in the corner, suck his thumb and cry out for his mother while Todd backtracks so quickly on what he spent the entire film talking up that its a godsend when Elite Hunting's Alsatians smell his fear, guilt and cowardice. Some of these are intentional and some not but they show that Roth wasn't really interested in making a film that would have an average audience struggling to sit through scenes of excessive torture. Certainly the bonus feature of the snuff movies in Vacancy is much more difficult to watch, even in only being a little over eight minutes, than anything in Hostel: Part II, making this a film to entertain a Saturday night crowd of teenagers but not ever really wanting to upset them gratuitously. Nor the rest of the world for that matter, who could have been much worse done by. Even the feral children, who pop out of the woods like Mary Poppins' sweeps, come good in the end and, by then, keep on delivering the splattery bloodshed that one keeps hoping for.
What I will say in defence of Hostel: Part II is that, with its European setting, it does look lovely. I'm something of a fool for Euro-thrillers with a rich gothic look and Hostel: Part II looks wonderful, with the autumnal setting that gives the film a quiet, chilly tone until the final thirty minutes or so of violence. No matter that it's several thousand miles away from the Central European home of the film, the Blue Lagoon of Iceland fits right in. However, while that background to the film, might be appreciated by some, it will be the scenes of torture and murder that are the reason Hostel has an audience and the DVD doesn't really disappoint.
The best-looking scene in the film is the killing of Lorna with the sweat and moisture on her skin being evident (and very detailed) on the DVD presentation, which just gets better on hearing the clear rasp of the scythe against her flesh. The candles that flicker in the background, the silence in the background, the clank of chains and the moaning of Mrs Bathory as Lorna's blood drips and then sprays onto her make this is a standout scene in the film. It's almost beautiful. Later on, the whereabouts of the Elite Hunting club are the typical psychopath stomping ground of a disused warehouse but, even here, the grime, dirt and dried blood of the place look good. With a good deal of screaming going on behind doors that quickly open and close, it's harder to appreciate the audio track but there is the moment of black comedy with the Italian cannibal to lighten the film. However, one won't ever be disappointed by this. The film may have moments of silliness but the DVD is an above-average release that ought to keep plenty happy this Hallowe'en.
Commentaries: There are three on the disc, the first with a very animated Eli Roth on his own who talks from the beginning to the end of the film about his response to the reaction to Hostel, about the fans of the film, about its production and offers budding filmmakers tips on how to get a film made. It's impossible to listen to this seriously throughout, not that what Roth has to say is nonsense, more that he tends to be a bit scattershot in his approach. He describes Hostel: Part II as being his reaction to the Bush administration, making it clear that Bush and Cheney, in their willingness to send American troops to fight in Iraq, are as bad as those tourists bidding for torture via Elite Hunting. That he then praise those same troops and explains that Hostel and Cabin Fever are popular on military bases doesn't reveal any conflict in what Roth has to say but that there is very little consistency in it. He pretty much says what comes into his head, which makes it all the more entertaining.
The second track features Roth, his brother Gabe and Quentin Tarantino and again, it's a chatty, noisy track that sees three friends talk about plenty but very little that is specific to Hostel. Tarantino is as much of a movie-fan as ever but you know what you're getting into with him. He also takes in European guys on trains, the price differentials between men, woman and whether a Polish girl would cost more to torture and kill than an American guy. This track, though coming with plenty of good humour, only really works if you can take Roth, Roth and Tarantino geek talk. Finally, there is a group commentary with Roth and actors Richard Burgi, Lauren German and Vera Jordanova. This last track is the least interesting of the three in terms of just random thoughts from Eli Roth but refers to the film much more than the other two. There's much in this that refers to the actors auditioning for their roles, how they prepared for the scenes of torture and their memories of filming. All three of these commentaries are subtitled.
Hostel: Part II: The Next Level (26m29s): This could be described, if one were feeling charitable, as a making of but it's more a feature that follows the production from the US, through Iceland and into the Czech Republic, picking out various shots along the way. In the background to all of this is a contest between the producers to build up the best body over the shoot - looking very pasty and out-of-shape, they're up against the very toned Mark Bakunas, who they suspect of doing steroids - but this, like Eli Roth's commentary, is a fairly random affair that picks out moments without any real purpose to it.
The Art of KNB Effects (6m03s): Alongside the likes of Tom Savini, Rick Baker and Rob Bottin, KNB EFX are one of the stars of horror movies with Greg Nicotero's CV going back to Evil Dead II, Phantasm II and Day of the Dead. This short feature looks at their work on Hostel: Part II, how Eli Roth became a decapitated head in a storeroom and how to make a fake cock that will be a tasty treat for a dog.
Production Design (6m44s): With a making-of and the special effects out of the way, it's on to the less interesting parts of the production, namely set design, models and the building of locations. Proving that Hostel: Part II wasn't an entirely random affair, there are plenty of still images of production drawings before we are taken on a tour of the sets.
Hostel: Part II: A Legacy Of Torture (23m46s): We begin with a quote from Plato, "The good dream of what the bad can do!" but soon steps into a mix of general horror and torture through the ages to the fear that comes with watching a film like Hostel: Part II. It turns out that torture isn't an entirely new idea but whereas that might be a novel concept for those without any knowledge of history but for the rest of us, this is a quite a light affair. However, the sketches of various implements of torture and the actual medieval devices themselves isn't bad, particularly the Ripping Table, which is as uncomfortable a thing as it sounds.
Deleted Scenes: There are ten scenes here each of which last for a minute or thereabouts. None of them would have been out of place had they been left in the film but via a page of onscreen text, Eli Roth explains why it was that each one was cut. Although there does seem to be a note of regret in his cutting of a male nude that was filmed in response to some of the complaints that he received about Hostel.
The Treatment (26m37s): This radio interview with Elvis Mitchell allows Eli Roth to talk about the making of Hostel: Part II, the casual violence in society and the background to the story of the film, taking in the war in Iraq and the kind of businessmen that he meets in hotels while promoting his films. Interviewer Elvis Mitchell doesn't interject very often and simply allows Roth to get on with explaining his film in an often interesting way but not quite a patch on any of the commentaries.
The Blood and Guts Gag Reel (3m22s): Hey...some funny dogs! And some wild over-acting, some fluffed lines, a lot of goofing about and how best to place a pair of shears around a false cock. Just like any other Gag Reel then...without the cock, obviously.
Finally, there are Trailers for Vacancy, Spider-Man 3, Walking Tall: Lone Justice and Pumpinhead 4: Blood Feud.