Judge Adam Arseneau likes brothels. Wait, hold on, what did I say? Hostels! I meant hostels.
Our review of Hostel: Part II (Blu-ray), published October 24th, 2007, is also available.
Depending on who you ask, Eli Roth's Hostel either ushered in a new heyday of mainstream horror films in America, breaking boundaries and bending rules or, again depending on who you ask, irrecoverably ruined the genre forever. Hard to say, really. The novelty of the first film, however crude and revolting, admittedly was a cruel twist on horror that lead to endless imitators, flooding the market with "torture porn" knockoffs of wildly varying quality.
Now, Hostel: Part II comes along. How have things changed the second time through? Keep reading.
Facts of the Case
Three American girls enjoy their vacation backpacking through Europe. Beth (Lauren German, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Whitney (Bijou Phillips, Bully), and Lorna (Heather Matarazzo, Welcome to the Dollhouse) are setting out next to Prague, but a chance encounter with a beautiful young woman Axelle (Vera Jordanova) sets the friends on a path to a hostel in Slovakia, where a beautiful spa retreat awaits.
Unbeknown to the tourists, the hostel is in cahoots with an enigmatic business named Elite Hunting, whose clients number the most wealthy and affluent in the world. Men and women travel from all corners of the globe to take part in their activities. For a substantial fee, clients can "buy" victims—usually kidnapped teenage backpackers—and commit any manner of atrocity to them. Recently, three male backpackers found themselves in a gruesome predicament staying at the same hostel.
Teenage American girls are the most desirable of all commodities, and the three women are the subject of a secretive bidding war. The "winners" include two young American businessman, Stuart (Roger Bart, The Lost Room) and Todd (Richard Burgi, Desperate Housewives), who fly out to Slovakia, excited at the prospect of joining the elite club for the first time…
For its flaws, Hostel was a horror film in the truest sense of the word, in that it was plenty horrific. With tension and drama and sadistic gore aplenty, it raised quite a few eyebrows during its release. Interesting then that Hostel: Part II hardly seems interested in such conventions this time around. Sure, it has the gore and the guts, but not nearly as much as one might expect. We know exactly the fate of these three girls—that is never brought into question—but we are not quite as interested in their fates as we were the previous backpackers in the original film. Instead, Hostel: Part II explores the previously unseen aspects of the business side of running a murder factory, of meeting the fabulously wealthy elite who fork over their money in order to join an exclusive club called "Elite Hunting," where they pay for the privilege of being able to murderize people.
Though it is interesting to see the logistics of the murdering business expanded over the previous offering, such added details works both in the film's favor and against it. We meet two young businessmen who are given exactly such an opportunity and their combination of excitement and apprehension as the big moment approaches. The mean-spirited sadism in the first film has been tempered somewhat here by such behind-the-scene access to the mechanisms and motivations behind the murderers, softening the film and producing some lavish social satire in the process. One could not go so far as to call Hostel: Part II a "funny" film by any stretch, but it definitely has a satirical bite to it. The humor here is dark, but perversely enjoyable, a critical send-up of American capitalism gone horribly awry to produce the most outlandish of businesses to meet the demand of murdering people.
Alas, this is something of a double-edged sword when it comes to horror. What little intrigue the first film had came in part from its mysterious and bizarre premise of a murdering factory, of enigmatic gentleman and ladies from all corners of the world descending into Slovakia to buy and sell the right to kill individuals. You had no idea what was going on, and the traumatic realization was part of the original film's horrific punch. In Hostel: Part II, the curtain is pulled back on the Wizard, so to speak, revealing the infrastructure at work in creating and sustaining such a business. Such details make Hostel: Part II a more enjoyable film than its predecessor, certainly more topically ironic, but not necessarily a scarier film, if you get my meaning.
As for the fate of the women, well, it isn't pretty. Like the sadistic amounts of gore and torturous blood in the original, Hostel: Part II has quite a few cringe-worthy moments, definitely pushing boundaries on what a mainstream Hollywood horror film tries to get away with. In this unrated edition, not much has changed from the theatrical cut—only a few slight extended sequences of torture and sexuality—maybe two minutes, tops. The violence, such as it is, is not quite as bad as you might envision as the film spends far more time exploring the dynamic between its two male protagonists psyching themselves up for their first "kill" than it does actually showing anybody get killed. Perhaps expectation raised the bar a little too high in my sick, perverted mind, but I was nonplussed in this regard to Hostel: Part II. Then again, swapping the gender roles around creates another kind of squeamish horror—but more on this later.
All told, this is a better sequel than critics gave it credit for. Within the strange little universe of its perversions, Hostel: Part II does everything a good sequel should do: tie up loose ends from the previous film, expand on the story, and deliver more of the same to satisfy audiences. The interest in exploring the motivations and operations of Elite Hunting as a subplot adds depth and fascination to a film franchise, albeit at the cost of giving away its mysterious secrets. It may hardly be a seminal classic in the world of horror, but as sequels go it could have been much, much worse.
From a technical standpoint, the presentation is quality. Colors are muted slightly, balanced towards heavy red and orange saturation, with some edge enhancement and compression artifacts noticeable on close examination, but nothing drastic. The overall impression is that of a sharp transfer, with fantastically deep black levels, good contrast and a clean, grain-free image. The audio, a Dolby Digital 5.1 track has nicely ambient rear channels that capture tiny environmental details quite effectively. The score, full of strings and slowly rising crescendos and Eastern European-inspired ethnic ballads, sounds fantastic. Dialogue is clear, but not mixed as strongly in the center channel as it probably should—you may find yourself fiddling with the volume. Bass response is nicely balanced towards the aggressive side, rumbling effectively when required.
For a single-disc release, you gotta give Hostel: Part II credit for pulling out all the stops on the extras. Not one, not two, but thee full-length commentary tracks are available: one with director Eli Roth, the second with Roth and producers Quentin Tarantino and Gabriel Roth, and the third with Roth and actors Lauren German, Vera Jordanova, and Richard Burgi. The most interesting of the tracks is the second, with Roth and his cohorts going into the details of shooting and fun adventures along the way, but all three have their merits for the curious.
Supplements include a dozen or so deleted scenes along with text accompaniment explaining their absence from the feature (no "play all" feature, unfortunately,) a three-minute "Blood and Guts" gag reel, mixing deleted sequences of carnage amidst cast outtakes (weird), a radio interview with Eli Roth discussing the film's treatment, and some standalone featurettes. The first, "Hostel Part II: The Next Level" runs twenty-six minutes and acts as a video diary of the film's inception, from the first production meeting to location scouting, shooting and every other detail imaginable. "The Art of KNB Effects," a six-minute feature interviews members of KNB Effects, the special effect company responsible for bringing the film's gore to life. "Production Design" spends seven minutes behind the scenes on the sound stage in Prague constructing sets, and a twenty-three minute feature, "Hostel Part II: A Legacy of Torture" does the all-around rounded standalone feature, interviewing cast and crew about the film. Much of this feature is recycled material from the previous features and film, but it is still a decent examination of the film as a whole. For a single disc presentation, this is a metric buttload of extras to offer up. Nicely done.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Call me prudish, but something peculiar happens when you substitute women in the place of men in a murdering meat factory of carnality. The film gets nasty, unpleasant, and more offensive, if you will; more inherently reprehensible and uncomfortable. Old-fashioned, I know, especially considering screaming women are usually the misogynistic subject of choice in a horror film anyway.
The first Hostel was unexpectedly brutal, with an almost eerie enthusiasm in torturing its victims in graphic glory on-screen. Now, with screaming nubile teenage women the subject of assault in Hostel: Part II, the violence changes somewhat, taking on orgiastic qualities, for lack of a cleaner word. Whether intentional or not, the violence is sexual in nature, all full of molestation and terrible, horrible, no-good very-bad things—themes not present in the original Hostel. Nasty business indeed, and frankly, it makes the film difficult to enjoy.
On paper, Hostel: Part II is a solid sequel, upping the ante over the previous offering, continuing the storyline and expands on the bizarre universe of excessive pay-per-murder, all without running the first film into the dirt. Admittedly, the film suffers due to having the hostel's secrets revealed (making inevitable future installments painful on principle) and by reveling in its cruelty to women, but on the whole was maligned worse by critics and by box-office performance than it deserved.
Worth a rental if you liked the first one.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Eli Roth
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