In all seriousness, Judge Ryan Keefer cooked chili on the day he watched Hostel for the very first time. Care to guess what the secret ingredient is?
Our review of Hostel, published April 18th, 2006, is also available.
Welcome to your worst nightmare.
For better or worse, Hostel and its colleague Saw are two of the more familiar milestones in cinema. As opposed to other horror films that are simply either uninspired or remakes of decades-old work, Hostel takes the horror film and extends it further into the bowels of human depravity, and deeper into the proverbial vat of viscous plasma. So now that it's out on Blu-ray disc, what's the result?
Facts of the Case
Well, his name is all over the film's title, but just in case you didn't know, Eli Roth (Cabin Fever) wrote and directed this little ditty which, simply put, is about three friends backpacking through Europe. Josh (Derek Richardson, Men in Trees) is the nicest and most earnest of the trio, there's the slightly cockier and abrasive Paxton (Jay Hernandez, World Trade Center), and the over the top and rather goofy Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson). One of their stops includes Amsterdam where they see the sights and enjoy the offerings of the land, in more ways than one, but then they are told about a place in Slovakia that is nothing but beautiful women, since all the men went away to war. But as it turns out, they are lured to a place that goes far beyond their imaginations.
Hostel was made on a production budget of approximately $4 million and make it back 10 times over in domestic box office receipts alone. And why did so many people go to see it? Was it due to the word of mouth that the film enjoyed? Was it due to the nudity, which is copious? Or perhaps more disturbingly, was it due to the violence, which is disturbing? I remember going to work one evening and hearing a discussion on Hostel and whether or not it was good. But I remember that the discussion didn't really do much for me then, and does even little for me now. Perhaps it was because I'd heard this discussion or other things about the film, and maybe the perception of Hostel had been built up in my head, but I'm not entirely sure what all the hubbub is about.
I liked where Hostel was going, I really did. But the violence in the film seems to be silly and plays to the audience. The violence might be excessive and over the top, but I think that it's over the top in how cartoonish it is. It seems to cater to the Fangoria crowd, and that's fine, but when you take an easily identifiable situation (like being in a foreign land) and bring in the blowtorches, scissors and bolt cutters, it just seems a bit goofy. In a way, after watching Hostel, I said, "that's it?" because reports of people vomiting in theaters or having heart problems during screenings leave me wondering why there are so many babies in the audience.
Technically, the 2.35:1 widescreen version of the film uses the AVC MPEG-4 codec, and it looks as good as the production values allow. The Amsterdam exteriors with neon and other lights are clear as a bell, and the blood red is pretty vivid. The cinematic and director's ending are included as two separate films on this BD-50 disc, and they both look nice with all the room the disc has. The audio option of choice is the Dolby TrueHD track (Sony normally goes for the PCM love), but everything sounds clear enough and is mostly in front of you, with an occasional surround effect here or there. But the effects are all set up by the mood, which is perfectly fine.
I hope it's not too dark of a metaphor to use, but there are enough extras on this disc to choke a tortured Slovakian hooker. You've got four (!) commentary tracks to start things off. Roth kicks things off with a solo track and explains the reasoning for four commentary tracks. He also says that the track serves as one for film school students and aspiring filmmakers, and he provides a lot of guidance based on what Tarantino and others suggested in the time between his first film and this one. He discusses the benefits of success and the advantages of shooting where he did, along with citing old films he likes and some of the deleted scenes. I understand I don't really do the track enough justice, but it is valuable and worth checking out. Track # 2 is with Roth again, along with his brother (and production documentarian) Gabriel and producer Chris Briggs. It starts off discussing the production, but then meanders a bit into stories that occurred on and off set, along with the requisite thoughts about working with each other. In a sense, this one is kind of boring and does have some more silence in it than the others, but there are some parts that are decent. The third track is hosted by Roth, as he brings in actors Barbara Nedeljakova and Eyethor Gudjonsson, editor George Folsey Jr., and web author Harry Knowles. He speaks with Folsey first, and this portion was the most interesting. Folsey has edited films like The Ringer and The Pink Panther remake, but also spent time on Animal House and The Blues Brothers, and his dad was a Oscar nominated cinematographer on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and worked on Forbidden Planet. I could have listened to Folsey for the whole track, as he discusses the challenges of editing, along with some tricks, opinions, and some familial reminiscing. Sadly, the time among the four participants is split to about twenty minutes apiece. Knowles and Roth don't really contribute too much, it's more of a mutual admiration society for the two. Roth, Nedeljakova and Gudjonsson share some things that happen on the production and their thoughts on the film itself which have some actual value. The final track is with Roth, Tarantino and producers Scott Spiegel and Boaz Yakin. Really this is nothing more than the participants poking fun at each other and at some of the scenes in the film, but there's nothing really substantial here.
But wait, there's more! First up is "Hostel Dissected," an almost hour long look at the production of the film with Gabriel Roth being the photographer. Eli discusses things during the production at various points, but the piece is mainly tongue-in-cheek and fly-on-the-wall, as the "Bubble Gum Kids" start beatboxing and breakdancing during a break in the action, but there's quite a bit of focus to the effects, makeup, and other aspects of the film. "Hostel Dismembered" is a half hour look at the film, presumably done around the time of the film's release. That discusses the genesis of the idea, and there's a lot of interview time with the cast and crew during this particular piece. But you've also got a half hour long radio interview with Roth and journalist Elvis Mitchell, where Roth talks about the film, along with similar genre films and inspirations Roth had growing up. You have three more featurettes that also run a half hour in total length that discuss the music and sound design, the set design, and the visual effects. The effects piece was easily the most entertaining of the three in my opinion. Then you've got a quick look at Gudjohnsson, 10 deleted scenes (running about 20 minutes) are next, and an interview with Takashi Miike (Ichi The Killer), who appears in a cameo role in the film. This piece is particularly informative as he shares his thoughts on filmmaking, this particular film, and what inspires him to create. Four stills galleries are next, along with Roth's original ending of the film, which was (I thought) more disturbing than what was shown theatrically.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The whole concept of being in a foreign land and not having a lot of power or control in your destiny? That part I liked and found chilling, more so than what Josh and Paxton were experiencing. So I guess you could say that it wasn't enough of a snuff film for me, which actually may be a creepier thing I've discovered about myself. I think I'm going to have to lie down.
Aside from the fact that Eli Roth looks suspiciously like Zachary Quinto (Heroes), the only thing I learned about Hostel is that, for my money, it didn't live up to the hype. It had a good idea, but then it was cheapened by the gore. The video and audio aren't particularly special, but the extras are plentiful and well worth the time, making this one an easy recommendation to the horror fan who has a Blu-ray player.
Guilty as far as the film goes, but credit for time served, because of the amount of good extras here.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Eli Roth
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