When Cabin Fever became a surprise hit you knew it was only a matter of time before director Eli Roth got behind the camera for a follow up. 2005's Hostel went on to do huge box office and has spawned one sequel to date and it's the arrival of that sequel that lead to this new two-disc un-rated release of the first movie in the series. The film is the same in content here as it was on the first release, though as you'll note later in this review, a few new extra features have been thrown into the mix.
Hostel follows Josh (Derek Richardson) and his friend Paxton (Jay Hernandez), a pair of twenty-something American guys who decide to head to Europe for a backpacking vacation. The pair arrives in Amsterdam where they smoke some weed and Paxton tries to get Josh to bed down with a prostitute in hopes that it will help him get over his ex-girlfriend. While out on the town one night, the pair hook up with a local named Alex (Lubomir Bukovy) who tells the guys about a hostel in Slovakia that's supposedly full of hot Eastern European women who go crazy for American men. The pair, accompanied by an Icelandic guy named Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) who hooks up with them along the way, decide to try their luck and it's off to Slovakia they go in hopes of scoring with hot and willing women.
When the three friends arrive, the hostel is exactly what Alex said it would be and there is no shortage at all of beautiful and very, very friendly girls wandering around. The guys figure they've hit the jackpot and almost immediately start mingling with the ladies, but they soon find out that there's more to this hostel than meets the eye. When Oli disappears, Paxton tries to figure out what happened to him and the girls convince he and Josh that he's gone to an art show. They head off to this supposed art show but it soon becomes painfully obvious that the girls are part of a bigger and far uglier plan than either Paxton or Josh could imagine.
Hostel benefits from a great premise but unfortunately it just takes too long to get going for it to work. Then there is the fact that the male leads are really little more than a couple of annoying frat boys - this makes it hard to care about them in the least and rather than root for them, we almost want them to get slaughtered right off the bat so that we don't have to listen to them. The set up for the film is completely weak, which is a shame as once the film picks up in the last forty-minutes or so, Roth shows he's very capable of directing some good, intense scenes of horror. The film does not shy away from violence or gore at all (you could make the argument that it rubs the viewer's face in it!) and there's some great, dark, gloomy atmosphere on display but there's just no tension. The film isn't scary, it's just gory.
Had Roth put more effort into crafting an interesting story out of the excellent premise, Hostel could have worked and had Roth put more effort into creating some interesting characters Hostel would have worked but sadly neither happens and we're left with a nasty, gory little movie that offers little else besides the bloodshed and the nudity. Granted, the bloodshed and the nudity are handled well and provide no small amount of exploitative content to feast your eyes one but once the film is over, nothing resonates and there's no lasting impact at all. Hostel looks good and the use of sound in the film is at times extremely impressive and there's no doubt in this reviewer's mind that Roth has it in him to make a great horror movie - but Hostel isn't it. It's a loud, noisy, bloody picture that simply burns out and fades away.The DVD:
The 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this new double disc release doesn't look to be any different than the transfer that appeared on the previous release, which is fine as the picture quality was decent to begin with. Hostel is a very dark film and a very murky looking film so don't go into this one expecting super revelatory detail or eye popping colors as that was simply not the director's intent. That said, there's a bit more print damage here than you'd probably expect to see on such a recent film and detail levels could have been better at times. Edge enhancement pops up in some spots though mpeg compression artifacts are never a problem nor is there much in the way of aliasing to complain about. Flesh tones look fine and color reproduction is also good but again, the movie is supposed to look dark and gritty so expect that before you pop the disc in.Sound:
Audio options are provided in English, French and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks with optional subtitles available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. Closed captioning is available in English only.
While the video quality is only decent and not particularly remarkable, the audio quality on this release is very good indeed. The rears are used to really bring some of the more intense scenes to life and the effects sound great whizzing at you from all directions during a few key moments in the film. Dialogue stays clean and clear from start to finish and the score packs enough punch that it does help out with the atmosphere and the tone of the picture. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to report and the levels are all properly balanced. A bit more bass would have helped in some spots but aside from that, Hostel sounds great. Again, however, you're not likely to notice much difference between the audio on this release and the audio on the previous DVD.Extras:
Many of the supplements on this disc are going to seem way too familiar to those who picked up the last release but there are some interesting new supplements here to reward the die-hards who will want to double-dip or the give those who want to check out the film reason to prefer this new release over the previous one. Spread across the two discs are the following extra features:
Disc one starts off with four separate commentary tracks, each one carried over from the previous DVD release. Overkill? Definitely! Regardless, here's an overview. Track one features Eli Roth with producers Quentin Tarantino, Scott Spiegel and Boaz Yakin. This is the best of the four tracks as the participants are all recorded together in the same room so there's a nice conversational feel to the talk. The focus of this track is how the project came together and the producers have a fair bit of input here, talking about they all came on board to get Roth's film moving. They also cover shooting locations and what it was like working in Eastern Europe, casting the film, and some of the more risqué content in the film. There's a lot of good-natured humor in here and no dead air to slow things down. There is a lot of back patting and self congratulatory talk, but it doesn't interfere with the discussion nor does it dominate the commentary so it's a little easier to forgive this time out.
The second commentary is screen specific and it features Eli Roth, producer Christopher Biggs and documentary filmmaker Gabriel Roth, all three recorded in the same room. This is a pretty interesting discussion as it goes into a lot of detail about why specific locations were chosen for the film and what was involved in setting up the shoot in Prague. By this point, we're starting to get a fair bit of repeated information but at least this time around there's an enjoyable and jovial mood on the track and their thoughts on the importance of sound in the film are quite interesting. Other topics covered here are effects, casting, location shooting and various on-set problems that took place during the shoot.
The third commentary is a screen specific commentary track from Eli Roth who appears here all by his lonesome. Roth talks about how the success of Cabin Fever allowed him a bit of freedom with this project, how he came to become involved with Tarantino, and the involvement of the studio in the film. He also repeats a lot of the same information that's been covered on the first three tracks and while it's nice to hear Roth's take on the origin of the project and about some of the personal struggles he had to deal with to get this done, by this point it's hard not to be tired of the commentary tracks.
Commentary number four is pieced together from comments by Roth, editor George Folsey Jr., Ain't It Cool News guru Harry Knowles, and actors Barbara Nedeljakova and Eythor Gudjonsson. Again, there's a lot of self congratulatory talk here with Roth and Knowles going back and forth about how much they respect one another's work and this gets tiresome after a while, but thankfully the comments from the other participants are pretty interesting with Folsey's input in particular standing out. He points out where various edits were placed and explains why and he gives us some interesting insight into what his role really was on this project and how he tweaked parts of the film to heighten tension and to make things more effective. The actors really just talk about how they came on board and why they were cast in their respective roles.
Also carried over from the last release is Hostel Dissected, a three-part fullframe documentary that runs just over fifty-five minutes in combined length. Here we get interviews with pretty much all of the principal cast and crew members involved in the production, from actors and actresses to make up and effects technicians. While this documentary doesn't really get super in-depth in regards to any one specific part of the movie it does do a good job of explaining how the film was made by showing us some behind the scenes clips to go along with the interview segments.
The Kill The Car multi-angle featurette that was on the first release appears here again. For those unfamiliar with it, basically it's a two and a half minute clip where we can watch the kids who trash the car towards the end of the movie do their thing from three different angles.
The only extra exclusive to this new release is the Director's Cut Ending which is an eight-minute segment that shows Roth's original intention for the film's finale. Without wanting to spoil it for those who haven't seen it, let it suffice to say that this is a much more open-ended take than the one used in the final version of the film and it leaves much of the actual resolution to our imaginations. It's a more original ending than the one used for the film, but it doesn't bring the same sense of closure to the movie.
Rounding out the extra features on the first disc are some animated menus, a chapter selection sub-menu, and trailers for Hostel II, Rise: Blood Hunter, Blood And Chocolate and Vacancy.
The second disc starts off with the all new Music And Sounds featurette which, at twelve-minutes, gives us a reasonably thorough look at what the sound design team did to give the film such an intense mood. We get a tour of the studio where much of the work for the film was done, as well as interviews with composer Nathan Barr and a few of the audio technicians who worked their magic on the project. We get also get a peek at the orchestra recording the film's score. If you're interested in the way that sound can affect a film, you'll probably enjoy this segment as it's quite interesting.
From there, another new exclusive featurette, Set Design, gives us an all too brief five-minute look at how the sets were designed and what went into getting them physically built. We see some of the sketches and production art as well as some clips of the construction but we're not really given enough time to delve too deep into this process and as such, this segment really feels like little more than a surface dusting.
Up next is a half hour documentary entitled Hostel Dismembered which is a thirty-minute featurette that contains interviews with Roth, Tarantino and a few others involved in the project including Takashi Miike. This segment takes a look at the nastier side of the film and it explores how Roth was going for a very real, unpolished feel with the film and it details the now infamous torture scenes that the film has become known for. While it is interesting to hear about some of this material, too much of this is covered in the commentary tracks and the documentary on the first disc.
Another new featurette, the eleven-minute KNB EFX documentary, features interviews with the three men that make up the famous effects team as they wax nostalgic about their work on the picture while we're treated to some interesting clips and behind the scenes bits pertaining to their work. While it could have been a little longer and a little more in-depth, this is quite an interesting segment and well worth peeking through.
Also carried over from the prior DVD are the ten deleted scenes. Running eighteen-minutes in length, these are presented with little text intros from Eli Roth explaining why they were taken out of the film. None of these really change the movie much but it's always nice to see material like this included. The deleted scenes are as follows: Who Ate All The Pies?, Hypnoza, Oli And Vala In The Spa, On The Way To The Art Show, The Coffee House, The Factory Flashes, Police Station, The Toothless Cabbie, The Witch Finder Speech and Exploring The Village. Most of these are pretty brief and save for Coffee House, they're under two minutes in length.
Also new to this release is The Treatment which is a twenty-six minute radio interview where Roth talks about his motivations for making the film as well as his thoughts on the current trend of horror films. He repeats a lot of what we've heard on other supplements in regards to the origin of the film and details regarding the making of the movie but the chat is still worthwhile if you want to hear about how he feels about the horror movie industry.
Rounding out the extra features are the ten-minute Takashi Miike interview that was found on the previous release, four photo galleries (Behind the Scenes, On Set, Barbara Nedeljakova and Hostel Artwork), and a brief exclusive clip of Eythor Gudjonsson eating a lamb's head, apparently quite the tasty treat at his home back in Iceland. Animated menus are also included. The disc comes housed inside a keepcase which in turn fits inside a slipcase that features identical cover art and text.
If you own the previous un-rated release of the film, this two-disc set just doesn't bring enough new material to the table to make it worth the double-dip. That said, if you don't own the film and you know that you want to, this is the version to go for as it does throw some more extras your way. As for the film itself? Obviously it has its fans and it is effective in certain ways but Hostel probably isn't something you're going to go back to time and time again. Consider it a solid rental.