What did Eli Roth do to deserve such wrath? He had to imagine that, by revisiting his horror classic Hostel a second time, he'd incur some small amount of anti-sequel sentiment. And when it was discovered that girls, not guys, would be the focus of these latest frighteners, gender ethicists would obviously scream chauvinistic murder. But you'd swear that this motion picture maverick, the genre outsider equivalent of someone like Quentin Tarantino (at least in his own mind), tracked down every mainstream critic, broke into his or her own backyard, and peed in their pool. Even worse, he also apparently located all the basement dwelling geeks, ransacked their rumpus rooms, and stole their copies of Halo 3. It clearly has nothing to do with the actual film itself. While not on par with the first, which remains a benchmark in the new post-modern dread paradigm, this sensational redux argues for the series' continued success. Still, there has to be a reason behind the hating. However, jealously or a violation of aesthetic anticipation are not valid decisive defenses.
After wrapping up the last loose end from the previous picture, we are introduced to three young coeds studying abroad - rich girl Beth, spoiled skank Whitney, and depressed loner Lorna. Lured to a Slovakian spa by visiting artist's model Axelle, the girls soon travel to the far ends of the Easter block, check in to the infamous title inn, and prepare to party and relax. Of course, the audience knows much, much better, and it's not long before the gals are being bid on like sick corporeal commodities. Two participants in such depravity are Todd and his sheepish buddy Stuart. Traveling the world looking for the ultimate kicks, the pals have shared many deplorable experiences. But this one may be the icing on their desperately distorted cake. Todd sees committing murder as a way of improving your potential business acumen and 'aura of danger'. Stuart, sadly, has a far more suspect reason for this descent into murderous madness.
Believe it or not, Hostel Part II is not the cinematic abomination the fanboy base and critical community would have you believe. In fact, in a world awash with unnecessary horror sequels, it stands as one of the best, a brazen reworking of the original formula to totally reconfigure the entire gorno genre. What current cultural whipping boy Eli Roth has done here is expand the Elite Hunting universe, showing us the mechanisms of murder as well as the more feminized angles of the business. By making girls the primary target this time, as well as focusing on a pair of potential killers, we learn more about the nature of man, and consequently, the allure of this type of "tourist trap" than any sociological screed. And the best part is, there's blood. Lots and lots of blood. While the arterial spray provided may not rival the revulsion level of the first film, there are set piece moments (made even more juicy thanks to the Unrated Director's Cut tag on the DVD) that steal your breath away with their outright cruelty and physiological intensity. But there is much more to this film than mere babe butchering. Buried inside all the Eastern European evil is a telling statement about gender politics and double standards.
When it was initially released, amid all the messageboard cries of "rip off" and "crap", supposedly enlightened members of the Fourth Estate (and its online equivalent) were calling Roth every misogynistic name in the book. From the ridiculous claim that Hostel Part II was the most offensive horror film towards women ever created (apparently, none of these pundits have seen Last House on the Left, Make Them Die Slowly (Cannibal Ferox), Cannibal Holocaust, Gates of Hell, I Spit on Your Grave, just to name a few) to the more appalling pitch that this filmmaker had no soul (huh?), there came a backlash so severe that it more or less killed any box office potential. Granted, the sequence where Heather Matarazzo's nude body is sliced and diced with a scythe is unconscionable in its brutality (as well as being a nice nod to the legendary Blood Countess Elizabeth Báthory), but when compared to something like the 12 minute ultra-realistic rape of Monica Belluci in French filmmaker Gaspar Noé's Irreversible, the point is more or less moot. Apparently, sexual assault based fantasies are considered more acceptable than an over the top killing.
Even worse, the dork patrol made it more than clear that they felt Roth was merely repeating himself. Review after review argued that the sequel was nothing more than the original Hostel on estrogen. But a careful examination of the story, and the ways in which it gets from Point A to Point B, argues otherwise. Indeed, what's clear here is that, when writing the script, Roth reimagined the entire narrative from top to bottom. There was no bidding war in the first film, no explanation of the rules and regulations of this sordid society. Hostel's finale was formed directly out of suggestions from the action thriller notebook, while the follow up uses psychological skullduggery and individual wealth to bring about a sense of stark justice. In fact, if you took the original movie, changed every element into its 180 degree opposite, and filmed it, you'd have Hostel Part II. From its excellent acting (special kudos to Lauren German as Beth, Bijou Phillips as Whitney, and Broadway's Roger Bart as the wimped out Stuart) to the real sense of dread and unease, the Hostel films remain excellent examples of a cynical, post-millennial desire to shock at all costs. Instead of being more of the same, the sequel only magnifies everything.
Here's a real quandary - it appears that this DVD version of Hostel Part II has been slightly darkened over its initial theatrical release. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen is sharp and crystal clear, the colors vibrant and the details well defined. But when our heroines end up in the abandoned factory, or wander through the Eastern European backdrop during the Pagan Harvest Festival, the lack of light is noticeable. Even worse, moments of bloodletting and violence that offered a shocking level of specificity are, for the most part, less clearly defined. Still when the infamous final standoff between Stuart and Beth occurs, the groin garroting finale is offered in full view.
Unlike the first film, which overloaded its score with wonderfully obscure foreign pop songs, Hostel Part II stays firmly in orchestrated backdrop mode. The use of classical music, especially in the scene where Stuart and Todd prepare for their "date with destiny" is striking, and other moments offered by composer Nathan Barr have the standard shivers down pat. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix is decent, delivering heavy atmospherics to the back speakers, while the dialogue is always easily understandable. If you're looking for an amazing aural experience, Hostel Part II is not that DVD. If you want something solid in the realm of terror, this disc delivers.
First things first - let's address the Unrated classification for a moment. While the original version of Hostel Part II was indeed gruesome, this latest cut is quite graphic. Warning - there will be major SPOILERS offered here, for those of you who haven't yet seen the film. When Heather Matarazzo falls under the scythe, there are more obvious and frequent cuts to her back, and when her throat is finally cut, the flow of vein juice is very intense. Similarly, when Todd gets killed by the dogs, his remains are shown in much longer takes. But the most obvious addition occurs during Stuart's death. The cutting of his penis is prolonged, shown in disturbing precision, and when it's removed, the excessive amount of blood is indeed foul. Elsewhere, there are no major additions - no new scenes or dialogue clarifications. But for those who imagined that the Director's Cut would be more aggressive and extreme, you were right.
As for the rest of the added content, we are treated to three separate audio commentaries, patterned after the first Hostel release. They are known as the Producers track (Roth, Executive Producer Quentin Tarantino, and Gabriel Roth), the Directors track (Roth solo) and the Actors track (Roth, German, Vera "Axelle" Jordanova, and Richard "Todd" Burgi). All three are fabulous, offering catty insights, tons of insider references, and a bevy of backhanded compliments. It has to be said that the Producers discussion does grow tiresome after a while. Both Roth and Tarantino appear to be engaged in a battle of obscure foreign film referencing, and for those unfamiliar with the movies they are championing, it becomes much ado about cinematic overstuffing. Still, it's interesting to hear the performers discuss their approach to the material, and our filmmaker unaccompanied does a wonderful job of explaining his conceptual mythology. Considering that the rest of the bonus material is light on such context, these conversations are crucial to understanding Hostel Part II's reason for being.
The final added elements include a collection of deleted scenes (none of them very exciting or crucial), a radio interview with Roth (engaging), a blood and guts gag real (always good for a juicy, jaundiced laugh), and an international television special entitled Hostel Part II: A Legacy of Torture (entertaining and insightful). The best bonuses include a basic behind the scenes featurette and a look at KNB's terrific make-up and special effects work. Each one offers its own backstage intrigue and creative complements. Overall, this is an excellent collection of content, and should satisfy any fan of the film - that is, until the next revamp of the title comes along.
Hostel Part II is a fantastic sequel, one of the best franchise revisits in the legacy of such motion picture money grabs. Granted, it is definitely not everyone's cup of terror tea, and those who were less than impressed by the original film will definitely dislike what Eli Roth is replicating here. While this critic couldn't get enough of such gender bending antics, he recognizes that not everyone will join his praise propelled bandwagon. Therefore, a Highly Recommended rating will be offered, since it reflects his own personal opinion while giving deference to those with differing views. There is one inarguable fact - the initial hatred and hype surrounding the release of this film was way off base. It was nothing more than kneejerk sensationalism for the sake of self-promotion and publicity. Hostel Part II does everything a good splatter horror movie should - it disturbs as it delights, providing ample examples of nauseating nastiness along with its inventive narrative. It's the perfect companion piece to the extraordinary original.
Want more Gibron Goodness?
Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here