I don’t know how much faith I’d normally have in a DTV sequel to HOSTEL that Eli Roth didn’t have anything to do with, but this one has a good pedigree: it’s directed by Scott Spiegel. He’s no visionary, but he’s not a nobody either. He was one of the producers of HOSTEL, he was the co-writer of EVIL DEAD 2, he directed that grocery store siege movie INTRUDER, he co-wrote THE ROOKIE with Boaz Yakin. Most important for this though he directed FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2: TEXAS BLOOD MONEY, which for a long time was one of the best DTV movies in existence, especially among sequels to theatrical releases. To be honest I haven’t seen it in years, but I remember it being relentless in its use of gimmicky POV shots, putting us into the perspective of a dog doing push-ups, an oscillating fan, the inside of a bat’s mouth, etc. If you could accept that it was gonna be a low rent follow-up to a better movie it was a fun time.
Well, HOSTEL PART III (coming December 17th) doesn’t have too many of those POV shots (it does have guy-getting-his-face-cut-off-POV and one from inside a mouth that bugs are crawling into), and it’s ugly and cheap looking compared to the other ones, but it’s an enjoyable movie and a smart way to do a sequel. I’ll try not to go into too much detail because what I enjoyed about it is the way it keeps pulling out new surprises and twists and reversals on the expectations we have based on having seen the other movies. I’m not saying it’s MARTYRS or anything, but it does a good job of making you feel like you know where it’s going and then suddenly doing a violent U-turn without telling you to hold on first.
If the guys in the first HOSTEL didn’t go on a trip and instead stayed home and watched a movie, which movie do you think they would watch? Well, probly back then it would’ve been WEDDING CRASHERS, but now days it would be THE HANGOVER. Don’t get me wrong, I thought that movie was pretty funny, but it is something of a sacred text among the douche community, so I like that now there’s a HOSTEL with the same basic setup: right before a wedding the groom’s bros (including DRIVEN’s Kip Pardue, now playing yuppie scum instead of naive up-and-comer) bring him on a wild (and hidden from the bride) hooker-filled bachelor party trip to Vegas. And, you know, things get out of hand, but not in the same way that they do in the HANGOVER movies.
As in all HOSTELs there are loose women who perhaps are untrustworthy, beefy bored-looking security thugs in leather jackets, sadistic super-rich people, scary warehouses, roofies, misdirection, occasional torture and mutilation. Despite their continued reputation as “torture porn” the HOSTEL movies are not about trying to get you off on torture, or about rubbing your nose in it for long stretches. The torture is just there long enough to make you squirm and tell the characters to get the fuck out of there. Just like a good slasher movie you’re rooting for them to get away, even when they’re assholes.
And most of these guys are assholes, it’s sort of back to part 1 territory in that sense. But Spiegel’s sense of humor (he’s one of Sam Raimi’s childhood Super-8 buddies) and the lower production values make this even more of a goof. There definitely aren’t any scenes as grueling as the Countess Bathory/Heather-Matarazzo-hanging-upside-down scene in part 2.
In HOSTEL, the Elite Hunting Club security guys watch porn movies while on duty. In Part III one of them is watching BLACK DYNAMITE.
Setting it in Las Vegas takes away one of the major elements of the first two HOSTELs: that classic tourists vs. locals tension. It’s like in TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, those kids shouldn’t be nosing around on somebody else’s property. It’s rude and it’s dangerous. HOSTEL has that same conflict but with arguably more obnoxious characters. It takes advantage of the guilt and embarrassment I feel about my countrymen going into someone else’s home and being assholes. And of course there’s the “it’s dangerous” part of it – as rational humans we don’t understand what goes on behind Leatherface’s mask or behind his metal door, as foreigners we don’t really understand what’s going on in this town. The fear of the unknown.
Well, obviously this part of Vegas is a place designed for exactly those type of obnoxious tourists, there’s no problem with them being here. And the feeling of being lured in and tricked that they had in HOSTEL is sort of the whole vibe of Vegas. One character even comments on it. There is no problem with them being foreign to the place, but in Vegas there is that knowledge that brutal security teams and mafia are behind every mirror and every business, even if you don’t know about the Elite Hunting Club.
And it definitely maintains another major element of the previous HOSTELs, the idea of there being an elite class that enjoys basically using everybody else as cum rags. None of the protagonists are poor (and one of part 2’s has Bruce Wayne money) but it is the super-rich, the 1% I guess, who can say “You know what, I think I’ll treat myself to a dressing-up-in-surgeon’s-gear-and-drilling-a-guy weekend getaway. I work hard. I deserve it.” In the Vegas version the elite class are not only the “hunters,” but also high rollers, big stakes gamblers who watch the torture from a viewing room and bet on what will happen. Maybe the best image in the movie focuses on the pantsless lower body of a cocktail waitress doing her job, undisturbed by the mayhem erupting on the other side of the glass.
HOSTEL PART III is a DTV sequel in the old tradition of the DARKMANs and the FROM DUSK TILL DAWNs. It’s kind of a freebie sequel. If it was a theatrical release it would be a little disappointing, but as DTV you’re glad they made it. You can enjoy it without it completely counting. Some people who don’t really like the first two might even like it better, but maybe not. Alot of its cleverness comes from familiarity with the other two. It knows what you expect and it uses that knowledge against you, keeps playing tricks on you.
I’m being kind of vague, partly on account of I don’t want to ruin the little twists that made the movie fun for me, but to be honest alot of it has already left my head. I enjoyed the movie enough that it made me go back and re-watch the other two, and those kind of took over my thoughts. I’m not sure if I ever watched HOSTEL a second time on video, I might’ve. But I definitely only saw part 2 the one time in the theater. Watching them again I like them much better than I used to. And I don’t know if you guys would agree but when I go back and read my original reviews I feel like I missed the boat on both of them. The things I railed against seem pretty arbitrary now, I’m not even sure what my problem was, and I spent too much time on the unfair reaction I thought they got from others. It’s funny how different things seem when you’ve got some distance and you’re removed from the context of the time (what was said in the advertising, what the initial critical consensus was, what other horror movies had come out recently, what you were expecting going in, all that shit that doesn’t even come to mind when I watch it now).
This time HOSTEL got me going from the great opening credits sequence: closeups of blood, teeth and soap suds as some guy mops up an ungodly mess, whistling to himself the whole time. Then it goes into this story about three dudes in Amsterdam trying to get laid, and finding out about this too-good-to-be-true village full of hot women who will fuck any guy. I mean, it’s true, but they do it so they can sell the guys to a criminal organization that offers them up to be tortured by rich people. HOSTEL was THE SURE THING for the Bush years.
As I remembered, the protagonists are pretty obnoxious, and they die in reverse likability order. Watching it now that seems much more deliberate than I thought at the time. Back then it seemed to me like Jay “prequel Carlito” Hernandez was kind of a dipshit because Eli Roth relates to that type of guy, but now I think he’s just trying to challenge us to go along with the guy that didn’t seem like the hero. I still don’t think it entirely works, but I definitely let bygones be bygones when shit gets bad, and I root for the guy to get away. Plus, he earns hero status in the scene where he has a chance to get away but hears a girl screaming and goes back in to try to help her. (Whether or not his amateur medical assistance for her hanging eyeball situation is helpful I will leave to the experts.)
And I forgot about some of the stuff that really works: the kid apologizing for flipping out on the old guy that put his hand on his knee, not knowing that’s the guy that’s gonna torture him; the great scene where Hernandez has to play along with a client who’s psyching himself up to go kill somebody; the hopeless attempt to not only escape but to maintain custody of his two severed fingers in case they can be re-attached. There are a few horrendous bodily mutilations to get through, but this still has a little bit of the CABIN FEVER type of fun, funny horror. I forgot about the great crowd pleasing moments at the end (SPOILERS: the Marcellus-Wallace-on-the-crosswalk-esque running-over-the-girls scene, and the hilarious buying-out-the-pack-of-wild-kids scene, with the insane head-caving-in shot).
One thing I had definitely not seen is the “director’s cut” ending. I put that in quotes because Roth says on the commentary that he prefers the theatrical cut or unrated ending, which is the one part II follows up on. He didn’t buy that the protagonist would do what he does in the scene. But it kind of blew me away, I thought it actually qualified as shocking.
In the ending I’d seen before Hernandez has escaped, and he sees that the businessman who tortured his friend to death is on his train. He ambushes the man in a train station restroom and slashes him to death with a scalpel. A simple revenge ending.
The ending I hadn’t seen before is not nearly as graphic, but goes way further over the line. In this version the businessman goes into the restroom, and he’s washing his face in the sink. The camera slowly moves in on him from behind, like Hernandez is sneaking up on him. Suddenly the businessman turns – but no one is there. The scalpel is abandoned on a sink. I guess he had second thoughts.
But the sicko’s not out of the woods yet. His beloved daughter is in the women’s restroom. He waits for her, worried, and it takes forever. He goes in to check, she’s not in there. He rushes around the station in a panic, yelling her name.
A train pulls out. Through the window we see that Hernandez is on it, holding a leather glove over the mouth of the daughter, trying to stop her screaming and crying. The end.
Holy shit! I couldn’t believe that. I did not expect this guy to go that far. But then again, how far is he going? I love the ambiguity of it. Is he gonna kill a little girl? Even just kidnapping her, that’s fucked up. But maybe he thinks he needs to rescue her from being raised by a sadistic murderer? We don’t really know.
What the fuck is he doing? How far is he even gonna get, trying to gag this crying little girl in front of all those people? It’s fuckin crazy. I never seen an ending like that. I loved it.
And I love how comparing the endings messes with our sense of morality. We’re on board with him chopping the guy’s fingers off, sticking his head in a toilet and slitting his throat. For that we can applaud. But he kidnaps the daughter, then we turn on him.
I actually prefer that ending. But I guess I can understand why they were afraid of it. And the one they went with is fine. Either way, I’m on the HOSTEL train now. I like it.
I remember I liked HOSTEL PART II better than the first one. I was surprised to re-read my review and see that I was pretty mixed on it at the time. I still like it better than part I, but I’m not mixed. Now I think it’s a really good movie, a great sequel and one of the best American horror movies of the decade, for whatever that’s worth.
The first obvious advantage is the less hatable protagonists. The part 1 dudes were just horny assholes on a trip trying to get laid, the part 2 ladies are art school students taking a weekend trip out of town. Yeah, Bijou Phillips is kind of a bitch, always talking shit about Heather Matarazzo, but you feel bad for Heather, and Lauren Germane is a solid Final Girl who is smart and capable and willing to climb over a wall with bare feet. In the slasher movie tradition she seems to notice what the others don’t notice and suspect something is up, although she doesn’t really accept that it’s really happening until it’s too late.
The girls are lured to the same village and hostel as in part 1. The guys were lured there with the promise of tons of hot chicks who will fuck them, in this one we learn that they lure girls there the opposite way: by telling them about a spa where they can get away from guys. Between the foggy spa and the night time outdoor parties (with music and dancing and villagers in festive masks) this one has more atmosphere and production value than the first one. It cleverly works as ominous and creepy to us (since we know what’s going on here) but also as something that would seem like a great time to the unsuspecting.
But the sequelizing masterstroke is the B-plot about two white collar American dudes becoming first time clients of the Elite Hunting Club. Instead of planning some big rafting trip or something the thing they’ve always dreamed of is to pool their money to go to Europe and pay to murder. One is a macho alpha male who’s really pumped about it, the other is meek and has second thoughts but is curious and sort of being pushed into it. He questions himself and his buddy tries to convince him that they’re just doing what everybody would if they could, that man’s nature is fucked up, etc.
Through movie convention we’re almost tricked into siding with the wimpy guy, because he’s not entirely sure about paying money to torture and murder an innocent girl. So he’s the good guy! And through their eyes we see more of the nuts and bolts of the operation, starting with the diabolical auction montage of rich people in board rooms and on golf courses, or even watching their grandchildren riding a carousel, checking their phones and bidding on our protagonists based on their passport photos (scanned by the kid at the front desk of the hostel, same guy from part 1). (I was gonna quote THEY LIVE’s “It figures it would be something like this” here, but then I re-read my original review and that’s what I did the first time around. Alike minds think alike.)
I think PART II really hits the horror ball out of the park of terror with the (SPOILER) death of Matarazzo’s character. Roth uses the diabolical trick of killing off the least deserving character first and most horribly. She’s not just drilled or something, she’s hung upside down naked while some guys casually light candles and set some mood lighting and then a lady with a Countess Bathory fetish lays nude beneath her, slashing playfully at her with a scythe and hornily rubbing the spillage all over herself. I gotta admit that even though I’d seen and liked the scene before I still had to look away a couple times. What sells it is a fuckin balls-out performance by Matarazzo, who you can tell is really hanging there by the way the veins pop out of her neck. One of the commentary tracks confirms that it was not some type of digital trickery. They couldn’t believe how game she was and she even did multiple takes and asked if there was more she could be doing. The other actresses were on set and it sounds like they kinda felt like the other rappers in “Scenario” when they heard Busta Rhymes’s verse.
That’s the most horrific scene, but there are other ones that show that things are not looking good for our girls here. This time we actually see Sacha, the head of the operation, who keeps the literal head of part 1’s protagonist as a souvenir. So this guy is not playing around. When a pack of street kids like the ones who ultimately (temporarily) saved the hero’s ass in part 1 interfere (and not in a very severe way) he slowly points a gun at each of their heads, and just when it seems like he’ll leave it at that he forces them to choose one among them to be executed. And they do it. It’s a cold fuckin world. How is some aspiring painter who likes going to spas gonna get through this gauntlet?
Watching it now I think HOSTEL PART II is a great sequel. It does what the first one did better and adds alot more layers to it. It builds off the premise and mythology and shows it from different, more interesting angles. It has a part where the torturers are trying on different masks and shit they could wear and joking around like a couple of normal dudes. It’s kinda brilliant.
Man, is somebody gonna let Eli Roth direct another movie soon? Let’s get this going, Hollywood.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.