aka DAVE POLAND’S HOSTILE 2
NOTE: I started writing this review but I realized between actually reviewing the movie and once again responding to the response to the movie, the thing was just too god damn long. So I figured if I split the two topics into two separate columns nobody would notice that it was too long. But then I felt bad about trying to deceive you like that so I admitted that that was what I was doing. But you found it admirable that I treated you as a mature adult so you read the two columns willingly and did not feel they were too long. It was awesome.
Well, I only kind of liked HOSTEL, and I don’t know about this Eli Roth. His movies so far are pretty fun and he made one of the best GRINDHOUSE trailers. But then there was that time when a Fangoria letter writer criticized his use of the word “fag” and Roth decided he was a first amendment martyr and warned that “we live in a dangerous climate of political correctness.*” Dangerous. We get complacent because we are free to release movies like HOSTEL and because we can parody the victims of 9-11 on the MTV Movie Awards and because they can say the n-word on the Cartoon Network and shit. It SEEMS like you can get away with most anything these days but now some Fangoria reader had the audacity to argue that calling everybody faggot over and over again in a movie might promote homophobia. If not for the very few brave souls like Eli Roth, the South Park pricks, that asshole Carlos Mencia, all of the dudes on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, the hacks who do that Family Guy cartoon, Dennis Miller, every jackass on morning, drive time or evening radio, and a few tens of thousands of others, the courageous voices of political incorrectness would be silenced forever. Or, well, not silenced, but people would disagree with them in a letter to Fangoria. That’s one step away from dictatorship.I’m sure alot of good directors say and do alot of dumb things, but come on. The Fangoria letters page is sacred ground. If you’re gonna be a jackass do it in Rue Morgue.
Still, I wanted to see HOSTEL for two reasons. One, Roth talks a good game. Right after the first one came out he said the sequel was gonna be a revenge movie about the character Paxton going back and hunting down these motherfuckers responsible and putting an end to it. More recently, Roth started saying how he didn’t want it to be another crappy retread horror sequel. He was talking about sequels like ALIENS that up the ante and change the rules. He mentioned DEVIL’S REJECTS as a more recent example (definitely a sequel that is better than and completely different from the original). He said he doesn’t have plans for a Part 3 because this completes the story, he compared HOSTEL and HOSTEL PART II to KILL BILL VOLUMES 1-2.
And the number two reason is because he used the word “PART” in the title. Nobody does that anymore. I gotta support that.
Well, just like the first one I’m kind of down the middle on the sequel. It does less of what I hated about the first one, but also less of what I liked. It does explore an interesting new area or two. It doesn’t really up the ante much or change drastically enough from the template of the first one. It sure as fuck isn’t ALIENS or even DEVIL’S REJECTS. Once again both the morally outraged critics and the sensationalistic advertising are gonna cause alot of disappointment, because they’re both describing some crazy demonic nightmare of a movie that is not at all the one now playing in theaters.
If there are any actual horror fans reading this before seeing the movie: DO NOT EXPECT A SHOCKING ENDING! The TV ads brag about “the most shocking ending in movie history,” which is even more of a lie than you’d assume. In fact, I’m only about 75% sure about which part they are talking about being so shocking. I believe they’re talking about a particular scene but it’s not exactly the ending. It must be what they mean but I will allow for the possibility that they are talking about the even less shocking scene that is actually the end of the movie. They are already kind of SPOILERing it by even telling you to expect something at the end. So I’ll just tell you, what they have is not a twist or a surprise, it’s just a bodily mutilation. The ad should say “Don’t miss a body part that only gets cut off every once in a while in movies getting cut off.” Unless they are talking about the last scene, in which case it’s a body part that gets cut off quite often in movies.
I think this advertising is a big mistake. A great ending really can go a long way. Think about when Neo flies away at the end of THE MATRIX and you imagine what happens next. Or when Sally gets away in the pickup truck at the end of TEXAS CHAIN SAW and Leatherface waves the chain saw around in frustration. Hell, even THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK, the way the ending set up a sequel had people who hated the movie telling me they would watch the sequel. Great endings are a good thing, this is not a great ending by any stretch of the imagination. Mildly amusing, yes. But by talking it up they ruined it.
Anyway. The problem I had with HOSTEL was that the protagonists were idiots, just some pricks fiending for pussy, liquor and weed. Roth claims this was supposed to make a satirical point, that they were “ugly americans” out to exploit Europeans and the Europeans exploit them instead. Well, I sure didn’t pick up on that but if I did I’m not sure it would’ve helped it work as a horror movie. You end up rooting for the dude by default because he’s escaping torturers, but a more solid horror movie would put you on his side before that. A good half of the movie was just that 1980s fraternity spring break shit. When the horror movie mechanics actually kick in in the last act, where he escapes from the torture factory, then it’s more fun.
Luckily, Roth tries a different approach this time. The protagonists are three female American art students taking a trip to Prague. Bijou Phillips of course plays the party girl (squeezing the sex and drugs into one character), Heather Matarazzo from WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE plays the nerdy tagalong, and somebody named Lauren German is clearly the Final Girl. I thought having girls get tortured instead of guys might be a bad idea, but it’s actually pretty smart. They are immediately more sympathetic than the part 1 characters, even Bijou (I think she’s always gonna be like this after BULLY, you just gotta accept her as she is). They’re lured to the same hostel by a similar exotic European beauty. In part 1 the guys were baited with the promise of pussy, in this one the girls are tricked into going to a spa. Which I guess is a stereotype, but a more respectable stereotype than the one the guys got. (And check out what these movies say about male and female fears: at the end of part 1 the male gets revenge on a dude who tried to fondle him, in this one the female gets revenge on a girl who pretended to be her friend.)
Anti-HOSTEL hardliner David Poland (see right column) claims that the movie has no subtext, a sign that the guy doesn’t even have rudimentary movie-watching skills. Actually, there’s a pretty obvious class theme, which brings me to what I liked best about the movie. The first major departure from the feel of the first film is after the three girls are captured the camera follows a hostel employee into the back room where he makes color scans of their passports. Then there is a great montage of rich people around the world receiving text messages with the girl’s names and photos, and they begin bidding on the right to torture and kill them. You see all these seemingly normal people in suits, at business meetings, on golf courses, on vacations, at home with the family. Like Roddy Piper says in THEY LIVE, “It figures it would be somethin like this.” The first movie made it clear that the torturers were rich, but this visual depiction drives it home.
The theme is also illustrated by the brief appearance of an Elizabeth Bathory-inspired character. She doesn’t have any dialogue but you get everything you need from the images. She’s obviously very vain, she drops her fur coat and struts into the place naked, and treats torture and murder the way many women would take a bubble bath after a bad day at work. But she’s also Of A Certain Age, and there’s a closeup of the veins in her ankles as she steps into the bath. The legend of Bathory was that she bathed in the blood of virgins believing it would give her eternal youth. But because she was a countess they never even brought her to trial. A rich older lady murdering innocent girls for cosmetic purposes? There’s a little subtext there, bud.
The movie follows two of the clients, a John C. McGinley type macho businessman and his buddy, a henpecked husband who seems hesitant about becoming a murderer. But, you know, it’s a birthday present, and it would be rude not to accept it. These scenes are what make this a worthwhile sequel. Roth makes you uncomfortable by showing that these guys pass for – maybe even are – regular human beings. They treat this as a macho bonding ritual like a hunting trip. Roth even has the balls to make you wonder if he’s trying to make one of them sympathetic.
Through them you also get to understand better how the whole operation works. There’s even a scene where they get to choose their weapons and costumes, and it’s treated like one of those montages where teenage girls try on different outfits together and laugh.
So the sequel improves over the original by having more sympathetic leads plus the creepiness of showing the client point of view. They fixed the bad part of HOSTEL, but I don’t think they matched the good part. The main thrill of the classic slasher movie structure is to watch the characters try to escape, and perhaps try to get revenge. The HOSTEL movies do both, but in this one there’s less time spent on those aspects. And although we’ve seen a thousand movies where the Final Girl escapes just by fighting back in some clever way and then running, Roth’s new method of escape seems like a cop out. BIGGEST SPOILER OF THE REVIEW COMING THROUGH: she doesn’t escape them by outsmarting them or by outfighting them. She escapes by paying them off. It’s not out of the blue, in fact it’s what they call Telegraphed A Mile Away. So it’s not a story-cheat. But man is it unsatisfying. Usually you’re supposed to cheer or breathe a sigh of relief as the Final Girl gets away by the skin of your teeth. Here you just have to say Good job lady, you’re rich. You did it.
I guess it does fit in with that class theme though. You’d expect it to be that the torturers are rich and the victims are poor. But the victims in these movies are rich too, they’re spoiled kids who can afford to go on these hedonistic vacations. In this one they’re rich enough to study abroad, and the Laurie Strode character became a millionaire from an inheritance. In the end she’s just another rich murderer, even if she’s doing it for revenge purposes instead of for getting a chainsaw boner or showing your wife you’re a man.
But what’s more disappointing than the pay-off ending is that things are left at the same place they were in the first one. I understand the George Romero theory of not restoring the status quo in horror movies, but we were promised escalation in this thing. DEVIL’S REJECTS was a sequel to HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES where, in the opening scene, the killers were busted by the cops and had to flee from that house of 1,000 corpses, which they never see again. The first one is a dark and stormy night in a spooky house, the second one is a sunny fugitives on the run road movie. Roth talks like he switched things up that way, but he didn’t.
It’s not bad, arguably better than the first one, definitely stronger than many sequels. But man, I would’ve rather seen that movie where Jay Hernandez gets his bloody revenge. Maybe it’s not the whole movie. Maybe he shows up at the end with some other escapees and they try to raid the place. And maybe they don’t succeed. But at least progress the story along. Show us something we didn’t see at all last time. There are ways to excite the audience other than bodily mutilation. To be used in conjunction with bodily mutilation.
“TORTURE PORN” DEBATE ROUND 23:
This review itself is a sequel, so we have to check in with the surviving characters from part 1. Which brings me to that dude Dave Poland of the Hot Button. In the first review I made fun of him for being so far off base about the movie that he didn’t even understand that the word “hostel” sounding like “hostile” was intended as a double meaning and was not, in fact, a clever joke that he made up. Poland is at it again in his column, claiming that he bought a bootleg of PART II on the streets of Seattle and didn’t intend to actually review it but accidentally watched it in his hotel and was so offended that he had to draw a line in the sand and demand that we, as a society, declare war on HOSTEL PART II and all that it represents. This war will require sacrifice, it could last generations. But when the horror history books are written, what do you want them to say about you? Either you’re with us, or you’re with HOSTEL PART II.Granddad, what did you do about HOSTEL PART II?
The scene that Poland chose as the location for line-drawing was one that I actually had to look away from a couple times. I declare SPOILER. Poor Dawn Weiner gets hung upside down naked. You have to watch her crying, not knowing what’s gonna happen to her. Eventually the “client” comes in, a woman who lays in a bath tub beneath her, cuts her and bathes in her blood. For me the obvious reference to that crazy bitch of a Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory kind of took me out of the scene, which was actually kind of a relief because it’s true, the scene is pretty horrifying. What makes it so tough to watch is that you can tell Heather Matarazzo is hanging there for real by the strain on her face and the way all her veins are popping out on her neck and shoulders. Jesus man, it’s harsh.
But what critics like Poland for some reason can’t comprehend is that the scene should be harsh. This is a horror movie. It’s designed for people who like horror movies, i.e. not David Poland. His argument is that by being so disturbing this movie crosses a line that should not be crossed. He deefends the obvious ludicrousness of his argument by specifying that it’s in wide release and that’s what makes it bad. In other words it’s okay to make these movies as long as you make sure they don’t catch on with mainstream American audiences. Keep it in the arthouse, boys. What happens in the arthouse stays in the arthouse.
So let’s consider how the scene could’ve been made more acceptable. The worst part of the scene is watching Matarazzo hang there, so maybe they should’ve had her right side up. That right there would make the scene completely forgettable, but I’m not sure it’s enough. Her being naked is so dehumanizing and makes her seem so vulnerable, I don’t like it. So maybe they should give her like a hospital gown or a prison jumpsuit. The fact that the torturer was a woman for some reason bothered Poland (he didn’t catch the Bathory reference until somebody pointed it out to him) so let’s make it a dude I guess, and give him a Leatherface remake mask since Poland actually enjoyed that piece of shit, the mask might win him over.
The problem is that now you don’t have HOSTEL PART II anymore, you have the bland, ineffective wave of studio PG-13 horror that led to this current hard-R horror wave in the first place. In this type of movie you’re supposed to upset the audience. That’s what they paid $10 for.
Neither of the HOSTEL movies is a classic, but I believe they would be even further from that status if they were Poland approved. You don’t make classics by being careful to color inside the lines. When Hitchcock made PSYCHO it was shocking just to show a toilet in a movie. In NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD there was a naked zombie, there was gut munching. TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE showed very little gore but upset people just with what it made them think about. DAWN OF THE DEAD was so over-the-top gorey it had to be released unrated. THE EXORCIST, for crying out loud it has a little girl jamming a crucifix in her private bathing suit area. David Cronenberg never worried about crossing lines, he blew up that head in SCANNERS and with THE FLY made one of the most disgusting, and yet soulful, mainstream studio movies of the era. Shit, loan me a book about history’s best horror movies, I could continue this paragraph for a hundred pages. You name me a horror movie that gets its scares by making everybody feel comfortable and safe, and I’ll – well, when you give me the title I’ll go look it up on IMDb, because obviously nobody remembers that movie.
Now, I don’t want to be too hard on Poland because I do agree with his main point. Just because something is allowed doesn’t mean you should do it. You can talk morality in movies without demanding censorship. But if you start making declarations about movies you clearly don’t understand, you just make an ass out of you and you. The guy needs to draw a line for himself and not for society. He doesn’t like horror movies or know much about them. If he did he would know that these two movies are very tame compared to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, CANNIBAL FEROX, NEKROMANTIC, or even Roger Ebert approved classics like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. So how do we draw the line here decades after some of those movies came out way the fuck over on that side of the line?
Let me give a quick primer to the David Polands of the world. You people always use that derogatory term “Torture Porn” to talk about these modern horror movies with stories, often with subtext, with characters who you are clearly supposed to root for who 2/3 of the way into the movie come up against a few scenes of torture or torment and then, hopefully, escape. We’re talking well made movies like WOLF CREEK and THE HILLS HAVE EYES REMAKE which may not be as good as but are clearly in the tradition of now recognized classics like TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE NOT THE REMAKE and THE ORIGINAL HILLS HAVE EYES.
But if these people actually knew their horror they’d know there are subgenres that really could be accurately described as torture porn or gore porn. The main thing that comes to mind is the Japanese GUINEA PIG series, which don’t exactly have plots and characters, they are more like an alien autopsy video and are designed to look like snuff films. In fact, Charlie Sheen saw part 2, FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD, and reported it because he thought it was real. The FBI had to investigate and the filmatists had to prove how they did the special effects. Same thing happened with CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, which is part of the subgenre of Italian cannibal movies, where some westerners go to an uncharted island to document a tribe of backwards dark-skinned savages who eventually rape, mutilate and eat the protagonists. I had to turn off CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST but I did see CANNIBAL FEROX at a horror marathon one time. They not only show women getting mutilated, they show animals getting killed for real. It’s more like accepting a dare than watching a movie.
I don’t enjoy those types of movies, but HOSTEL is not one of those types of movies. Do you think anybody, even Charlie Sheen, would report HOSTEL PART II to the FBI? Come on, man. Not even Emilio Estevez would do that.
But aside from a general unfamiliarity with the genre, the other reason why Poland doesn’t agree that these movies are tame is because he has decided that the audience is supposed to get off on the torture. But no reasonable person can watch this movie and believe that you are supposed to enjoy what’s happening to Matarazzo. Like in most slasher movies, she is meant to be a sympathetic character. The audience is supposed to be with her, be tormented with her, wince at her pain, hiss at the older woman’s enjoyment of it. It’s the same as an action movie, you root for the heroes to get away, knowing that occasionally they might get shot. In PAYBACK (theatrical cut) you almost feel a little shock of pain in your toes when Mel Gibson gets hammered. If the audience shouts “ooooooh!!” that’s becaues they sympathize with his pain, not because they think it’s awesome he’s getting tortured and it gives them a boner. This scene is the same way. Okay, so I don’t think he ever used an upside down POV shot – I’m kind of surprised he didn’t. But still. You are the one hanging upside down helpless. Not the one smiling as blood pours all over you.
To say that you are supposed to root for the deaths of the heroes of horror movies is not only a harsh insult to all fans of horror movies, it’s also just a plain stupid interpretation of how movies work. I gotta assume that these people are just getting overly emotional because they are probaly not stupid enough to miss the point of these movies so badly if they actually sat down and watched them.
Ironically, Poland complained that HOSTEL had “no humor,” when in fact it was pretty jokey. The tone of this one is, I think, much grimmer from the opening credits on. Part 1 opened with a big scary dude whistling as he mops up blood and teeth. That’s a joke. This one just opens with the quiet burning of passports, journals and other personal belongings of tourists (maybe the last batch, maybe this movie’s heroines, you’re not sure). It’s much more serious.
So of course this time Poland says his problem is the opposite of his problem with the first time, that it “treat[s] the subject as a joke.” The widely hated (and quite good) WOLF CREEK is better in his book because it’s more serious about killing. (Actually, WOLF CREEK is alot funnier than HOSTEL II.)
By the way bud, just admit that you downloaded it. I’ve lived in Seattle for years and never once seen anybody selling bootleg movies on the streets. One time a guy tried to sell me a porno on 2nd and Pike, but that was a legit VHS copy in the box and he only had the one movie. That was more along the lines of the guys that try to sell you batteries and razors.
to be continued (unfortunately)
*UPDATE MANY YEARS LATER: When I wrote this I inaccurately quoted Roth's letter from memory. What he really wrote was "Letters like this one reflect a very disturbing trend happening in cinema today: political correctness." I seem to have lost the original magazine and can't find the reader's letter online. I did find this page where someone quoted Roth's rebuttal.
I still think his response is embarrassing. If I remember correctly, the author of the letter was complimentary of Roth's films overall and trying to explain very reasonably how the characters throwing around so many homophobic slurs made him feel as a gay man. He was not saying he didn't have the right or all movies should be clean and comfortable or any of that shit, of course. He was just trying to say look, does it bother you that you might be contributing to this bigoted attitude? And Roth's answer was "I can't hear you, Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb... p.s. first amendment"
I’m writing this 9 years later and I still like Roth’s movies, but I never forgot this incident. I think most of society has come to the side of the letter writer by now, and do not use “gay” as a derogatory term. One character in Roth’s new one THE GREEN INFERNO does though. (I don’t mind the line, I just wonder if he’s becoming the one who’s “out of touch with how young people in America speak.”)
September 15th, 2009 at 1:58 pm
Hey Vern — just wanted to say I’m glad you included the bit at the beginning of this review about Eli Roth and his “courageous” use of derogatory language. Its what I was kinda trying to get at in my reaction to CRANK… just the idea that these guys have that if they can offend people its automatically some kind of great gift to the first amendment. Except that whenever someone tells them they’re acting like assholes, they weep and moan and accuse whoever said it of censorship. Free Speech works both ways, pal. You’re always gonna be free to say what you want, but now people are free to tell you you’re an asshole for saying it, and a lot of us will agree with them that when you degrade people, its kind of an asshole thing to do. Just because you can say something doesn’t make you a hero for doing it.
Of course, some people get offended by everything. And you’re free to call them idiots for it. A few people are always clamboring for censorship and banning and etc, and you usually just have to tell them to cram it. There’s a long and deeply important tradition of knocking over sacred cows, and sometimes you’ve got to cross lines people wish you wouldn’t in order to do it. I understand that, and respect it. And sometimes it produces deeply important, relavent, necessary, and even revolutionary art. Sometimes not.
But maybe it’s also worth thinking for just a second about the consequences of what you say before you say it. If you’re going to hurt or demean or upset someone, is it worth it for what you’re trying to say? That’s a question that ought to cause any artist to struggle a little and wonder about what they’re saying. And don’t pull that smarmy “Its just media, it can’t hurt anyone” bullshit, because if you don’t think art has any impact on people then why are you bothering to make any?
R. Crumb is a hero to folks like Roth because of his decidedly un-PC drawings of black people (women, mostly) back when he was an underground cartoonist. But you know why he’s a hero to me? Because he really thought a lot about how his work was being percieved and used, and eventually decided that he was doing more harm than good and not only stopped drawing people like that, but explained that he regretted doing it in the first place. I would have liked him equally well if he thought about it and decided that it WAS worth it too; although I might have thought he was wrong. I might have said so. But I doubt he would have raged against a “dangerous climate of political correctness,” especially if he had just made a couple mainstream successful studio horror movies which played all over the place with a robust corporate budget to promote them.
Anyway, sorry to waste your time with yet another novel-length comment. But I just wanted
to thank you for your thoughtful and compassionate (yet entertaining) writing on this topic, which unfortunately is something of a rarity on the internet. I always loved your reviews but I have to say that I also have a respect for your willingness to address ethical issues like this one in a frank and empathetic way. Keep up the excellence! BTW, I’m working my way back through your back catalouge of horror reviews. Classic moments