What I find most amusing about "torture porn" flicks like Saw, Hostel, and The Hills Have Eyes is this: The outraged and the intimidated choose to dismiss these films as mindless gore-fests, when in fact they're all a pretty effective bunch of psychological horror movies. It's the threat (and eventual arrival) of the red stuff that keeps us gritting our teeth and wringing our hands through these films. Some would have you believe that Eli Roth's Hostel: Part 2 is nothing but a 91-minute slog through wall-to-wall body parts, when in fact the flick is more of a tight-fisted slow burn that whacks you in face with two or three really horrifying sequences.
Roth's original Hostel is, in my opinion, a very darkly clever horror movie. It subverts your expectations at several turns, it offers a fairly unique spin on the old-school "slasher" conventions, and it displays a canny balance between pitch-black humor and horror best described as ... dreadful (which I mean as a compliment). The sequel ups the ante in several regards, not the least of which is the fact that instead of three men being terrorized and tortured, we're now asked to join three young women on their trek towards doom. Roth not only knows how sensitive we (rightfully) are about violence towards young women, and you know what? He plays those strings quite well.
The plot is a mirror image of the first film: Three 20-something women take a trip from Italy to Prague. Along with a lovely new friend named Axelle, the threesome plans to spend a few days at a rather exotic spa ... and a few quick nights at a particularly untrustworthy hostel. If you're reading this review, it's probably safe to assume you've seen the first Hostel, so you pretty much know where we're headed: The gals get snatched up by an underworld syndicate that makes a ton of money by "selling" young flesh to a network of bloodthirsty clients. What's new in the sequel is that we get to see the other side of the transaction. One of the most disconcerting scenes in the first Hostel comes when our frantic and bloody hero comes across an American businessman. The kid hears a familiar accent and thinks he's safe. Wrong. H2 raises the stakes by allowing us to see the whole process, from how the "goods" are auctioned off to the psychological dysfunction that might lead to such a "purchase." It's all very grimly fascinating, and because we know it's all make-believe, we can just give in to the storyteller and enjoy his nasty little campfire story.
Call me a splatter apologist if you like, but I find just the concept all kinds of creepy: Be careful who you trust when you're in foreign lands, you pushy little Americans, because there's all sorts of horrors out there just waiting for you. And yet Roth is still just clever enough to inject his horrors with a few scenes of absurdly bleak humor, as if to say: Yeah, my goal is to creep you out and give you a few jarring shocks, but c'mon: It's still supposed to be fun. And to those who somehow believe that "extreme" horror is something new, I propose you do a little research before calling the material found in the Hostel flicks the beginning of some bleak new revolution.
Much ink will be spilled over one particular scene: It involves two women, a scythe, a rope and a bathtub. Some will see this sequence as the nadir of horror cinema, the lowest of the low, a vile and reprehensible piece of hack filmmaking, and something to be shameful of. To that I'd say this: It's also a shockingly well-constructed sequence. The packed house I saw the film with was stunned into silence by this scene. A formerly raucous audience of laughers and hooters had been struck dumb by a scene of true horror. And yeah, they sure seemed to enjoy it. Shocked one moment, nervously chuckling in the next, and then cautiously cheering our heroine towards (maybe!) an escape.
If the Hostel films came (subtitled) from France or Japan and played only in the arthouses, they'd be hailed as brilliant. But since they come from Lionsgate and a colorful guy like Eli Roth, they're often dismissed as "torture porn," which is one of the stupidest phrases I've ever heard. Tell me one porno movie that could get away with delivering nothing but foreplay and a handful of brief sex scenes over the course of 92 minutes. But in the horror genre, what's reviled today is celebrated two decades later. I'd like to go on record today: While obviously very harsh and most definitely NOT for all tastes, both Hostel flicks are damn fine horror movies.
As for the DVD, I'll begin by saying something pretty obvious: The fans will not be disappointed. First off, Roth went back and added some extended scenes, all of which up the gore factor quite considerably. (The "Bathory" scene is even more horrifying now, as is the final slice that had guys around the world squirming in discomfort.) The film is presented in a starkly lovely anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer, with audio delivered in Dolby Digital 5.1 English or 2.0 French. (Optional subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.)
Extras-wise, you're in for a treat. Pick between one of three separate audio commentaries: a solo track with Eli Roth; a producer's track with Roth, his brother Gabriel, and Quentin Tarantino; and an actor's track with Roth, Lauren German, Richard Burgi, and Vera Jordonova. If you want the facts, go with the first track. If you want movie geekery all over the place, go with number two. For something looser and sillier, check out the third.
Next up are four fine featurettes: Hostel Part 2: The Next Level is a 27-minute collection of candid on-set footage, impromptu interviews, and general silliness. The Art of KNB Effects (6:02) focuses on the meat of the matter. Production Design (6:43) covers, yep, you guessed it, and Hostel Part 2: A Legacy of Torture (23:44) brings a little perspective to the long and unpleasant history of torture. You'll also find ten deleted scenes, each of which are preceded by some explanatory notes from Roth regarding their omission.
Also included is an audio interview between Eli Roth and film critic Elvis Mitchell, a 3.5-minute Blood & Guts Gag Reel, and some previews for 30 Days of Night, Boogeyman 2, Rise: Blood Hunter, Resident Evil: Extinction, Kaw, Pumpkinhead 4: Blood Feud, and something called ... FEARnet.com!
Bottom line: The Hostel flicks are not for all tastes. Me, I think they're a bloody breath of fresh air in a generally stagnant pool of studio-backed horror flicks. And if you're also a fan, this DVD will earn some heavy rotation in your player. Just keep it away from the little kids, eh?