By Shawn McKenzie 01/08/2006
Last year, 2005, didn’t produce a whole lot of really great horror movies that I liked. For every movie that I enjoyed, like Undead and Saw II, I hated that many more, such as High Tension and Alone in the Dark. I’ve only seen one horror movie in 2006 so far, but Hostel gives me hope that this will be a good year.
When you are a young heterosexual man backpacking in Europe, you have one thing in mind…and it isn’t touring historic landmarks. It is finding an endless supply of good drugs and hot horny women, which college-aged American friends, law student Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and aspiring writer Josh (Derek Richardson), are doing. They are traveling with their new friend from Iceland, Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), a guy that they met in France (he wears an orange jacket all of the time and bills himself as “The King of Swing”), and they are currently in Amsterdam (shocker!) They try going to a local coffee pot shop, but all they see are a bunch of other stoned Americans, which didn’t excite them. They go to a disco, where they are kicked out (Josh makes the mistake of taking out some cash from his fanny pack, which apparently is extremely uncool.) They go to a brothel in the Red Light District, but once again Josh spoils the fun by whining about his ex-girlfriend (the other two appeared to have some fun though, if only briefly. Oli seems to get the most action, whether it’s a quickie with a girl in the disco that he films on his cell phone camera, or having fun in a bondage room in the brothel.) After leaving the brothel, they go back to their hostel, and they discover that they are locked out, since it was past the hostel’s curfew. Oli knows of a guy who can let them stay in his apartment for the night. The guy’s name is Alex (Lubomir Bukovy), and he has a weird thing on his lip. After getting high, Alex realizes that the trio has not had the fun that they expected in Europe. He tells them that he knows of a hostel East of Bratislava, Slovakia, where there are extremely hot women who really get horny for American tourists. He proves his statement by showing them his digital camera, where it has a picture of him surrounded by a few hot naked women. They are convinced that this hostel is the place to go, so they hop on a train and travel there. On the train ride, they meet a weird Dutch businessman (Jan Vlasák) who eats his salad with his fingers. For some odd reason, the man makes a move on Josh, and Josh freaks out, making the businessman go to a different cabin. Once they arrive at the hostel, they ask for a private room, but they are forced to share it with other roomies. Fortunately, their new roomies, Natalya (Barbara Nedeljakova) and Svetlana (Jana Kaderabková), are a couple of smokin’ hot women who immediately get naked in front of them (this is where the movie starts to resemble one of those soft-core Cinemax flicks, but as the movie goes on, you will realize the reason behind this madness.) They invite the guys to join them in the spa, which they willingly submit to. Later, they go to a club, where they have fun with the ladies. Josh’s asthma acts up, and he steps outside to puff on his inhaler. He is confronted by the Bubble Gum Gang, lead by its leader (Patrik Zigo), who demand gum from him, or they will rough him up. The Dutch businessman saves Josh from his predicament, and they share a drink. The businessman tells Josh that he has a daughter that he wants to get back to, and they resolve their differences. Josh goes back to the club, and he and Paxton go back to their room and have sex with the girls. Oli hooks up with the front desk girl Vala (Jana Havlickova.) The next morning, Oli ends up missing, and after searching for him for a while, they assume that he just took off. They party a second night at the disco, in which Josh gets too drunk and he is led back to his room by Vala. Paxton goes to the bathroom in the disco, but he finds out that he has accidentally stumbled into a storage room, where he is locked in for the night. The next morning when he finally gets out of the storage room, he finds out that Josh has checked out. He goes to the girls, who appear to be out of it. Natalya eventually leads him to a “museum,” where Josh has supposedly gone to earlier. He finds out that the museum is actually an underground business called Elite Hunting where rich clients, such as an American businessman (Rick Hoffman) and a German surgeon (Petr Janis), pay $25,000 for the thrill of torturing and/or killing bound-up foreign tourists. He finds some familiar faces, including a Japanese girl named Kana (Jennifer Lim), who had been looking for a missing friend of hers back in the lobby of the hostel earlier, in one of the rooms where she was being tortured. Paxton needs to find out what happened to Josh and Oli in order to survive.
Eli Roth, the director and co-writer (with Randy Pearlstein) of the surprise cult 2002 hit Cabin Fever, has brought back everything that every growing boy needs in a horror movie: gratuitous nudity, explicit language, drug use, and of course…sick graphic violence. After years of PG-13-rated so-called horror movies, Roth wants to bring back the “scares” in “scary movies” (and apparently the “whore” in “horror movies.”) I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again…if a horror movie can’t be truly scary, than at least it needs to be creatively sick. Fortunately, this movie adds a mixture of both (with the latter being the more dominant aspect.) I haven’t been actually scared at a horror movie since 1996’s Scream clued me in to how unreal they are, but a few of them have made me occasionally jump or squirm. This movie did both.
There is an interesting tale behind this interesting movie. Roth had a late-night conversation a while ago with aint-it-cool-news.com website founder Harry Knowles, who clued the director into a Taiwanese website that he knows of that advertises giving rich people the thrill of killing people for a price. They would find desolate people willing to give up their lives to be the victims of this service, with the proceeds going to their families. Knowles thought that it was one of the sickest things that he’d ever heard of, and Roth agreed with him. He had an idea to make a movie about it, but he wasn’t sure how to proceed. Finally, he told his friend Quentin Tarantino about the idea as he was asking for some career advice, and Quentin flipped out over it. He practically demanded Roth to write the script, in which he would personally co-executive produce. Roth switched it from Taiwan to Slovakia, and he wrote, directed, and produced it in less than one year. What he came up with was a variation of Richard Connell’s 1924 short story, The Most Dangerous Game, which has been adapted several times. Every time I see one, they disturb and fascinate me at the same time. This movie was no exception.
The acting was fine…at least for a horror movie. None of the lead characters became particularly sympathetic, and I don’t want to spoil anything, but the order of victims disposed were not in the way I would have predicted, which was appreciated. Hoffman’s brief appearance was the comedic highlight, but if you have seen his movies and television appearances, that isn’t a surprise (he’ll be distributing more hilarity this month on the second season of ABC’s “Jake in Progress.”)
As I mentioned earlier in this review, most movies in the last few years have been a little too safe. In order to bring in the younger audiences, the studios have produced PG-13-rated movies that are low on actual scares. On the flipside, the few R-rated movies that came out didn’t have a good (or coherent) story to back up the graphic violence. High Tension had some impressive horror special effects, but the story itself was too confusing and stupid to be enjoyable. This movie was the opposite. The effects were impressively gross, and the story was interesting. I knew that it was a horror movie going in, but I wasn’t sure at first. In the beginning of the movie, it looked like 1985’s National Lampoon’s European Vacation or 2004’s Eurotrip (both great hilarious movies), but it turned into a twisted terror romp.
I was in a question-and-answer session following the screening of Hostel with Roth, and I wondered if he was going to be primarily a horror director. I didn’t get the impression that he wanted to be pigeonholed, but that he just wanted to go after interesting stories to make movies about. At least with this movie, Roth might begin to be one of my new favorites.
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