Hands up who likes Eli Roth’s Hostel? Ah yes, quite a few of you, and as you can see I have my hand up as well. Now who likes Eli Roth’s Hostel II? Some of the hands have gone down, including mine but still a fair number of you. Now, who likes Hostel III? Okay, I’ll just ask the question again in case you didn’t hear me. Anybody? Okay, so we all know how we feel about that one, and now one last question – does anyone remember a 1989 movie called Intruder about a bunch of staff trapped in a supermarket overnight and being systematically hacked to pieces by an unseen killer? Quite good, wasn’t it? Why is that important? All will soon be revealed.
I will freely admit that I am a huge fan of Eli Roth’s original Hostel. When the film was released in 2005 the reviews were mixed but tended to either praise it highly or be totally vilifying, which is always a sign of a film worth a look as far as I’m concerned. Whether Hostel was actually social critique, political satire, or as The Guardian put it “silly, crass and queasy, and not in a good way” (but then it would, wouldn’t it?) most importantly Hostel was a terrifically entertaining nail-biting thriller that took the scenario of the stranger in a strange land and the young traveller way out of his comfort zone in particular and racked up the violence and tension to an almost unbearable degree. The idea was strong enough that Roth’s rather immature approach to certain scenes and situations could be ignored because its central idea was just too good, and fortunately the film moved quickly enough that the viewer didn’t have time to stop and think too much about some of the more ludicrous elements. I’ve watched it several times now and while the film is far from perfect it’s a testament to Roth’s skill that the first time you watch it the film does sweep you along while unnerving you on the way.
A soundtrack to die for
There are plenty of things to like about Hostel – the actors are believable, with the central characters eventually becoming quite endearing, the tension builds up beautifully in the final act, the Eastern European locations (and extras) are filmed in the kind of unsettling way that makes you think Roth really knows what it’s like to be lost and alone in a foreign land, and to cap it all the central conceit is horribly believable, i.e. that whatever dreadful thing you can imagine, it’s probably happening somewhere in the world and someone is making a lot of money out of it as entertainment. Not least of Hostel’s high points is its music score. In his liner notes to the soundtrack album composer Nathan Barr states that because the movie was filmed in the Czech republic he could not help but be influenced by the famous Czech composer Smetana, whose Ma Vlast he cites as a specific influence (Barr played the cello part when his college orchestra performed it). The music score is splendid and not at all typical for a modern low budget Hollywood film, with a decent-sized orchestra playing music that’s not just Smetana influenced but has a decent dose of Bernard Herrmann too.
Barr returned to score the sequel, Hostel II, and his music is one of the very few things I can commend about that film, which needed more than just changing the sex of its victims and sporting a ludicrous twist to make it work. There is one terrific scene that rips off many a Countess Bathory Euro-horror but other than that the film is really quite tame. Hostel contains a cameo by Takashii Miike, as if Roth is acknowledging that director’s work on his own effort. It’s therefore somehow weirdly appropriate that Hostel II feature cameos from Ruggero Deodato (director of Cannibal Holocaust, House on the Edge of the Park and others) and Edwige Fenech (the still-gorgeous star of many a seventies giallo) because at the end of the day the film it most resembles is one of those fairly uninspired 1970s Euro efforts, the kind that would exhibit flashes of creativity when they could be bothered (which wasn’t very often). Despite the hysterical claims of the broadsheets at the time (one particular Sunday supplement carried a picture of machine gun-legged Rose McGowan from Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror on the cover and illustrated its feature on the ‘disturbing new trend in horror’ with Hostel II stills) the sequel was a disappointment.
Can Scott Spiegel deliver a triumphant third film?
But I never learn, and the other week Hostel III found its way into the DVD player, the main reason being (and it’s not much of a defence I know but I’m sticking to it) that it was directed by Scott Spiegel, chum of Sam Raimi, co-writer of Evil Dead II and writer and director of the enjoyably daft Intruder that I mentioned at the beginning. Perhaps with that kind of pedigree and its new setting of Las Vegas Hostel III might be a mischievous satire on gambling and the US entertainment industry with a few decent asides for us horror fans in the know?
Hostel III is awful. Really, really awful. For a film series that has built its reputation on scenes of extreme horror and was instrumental in the creation of a genre that some critics disparagingly refer to as ‘torture porn’ (and more on that another time) Hostel III is remarkably light on the gore, and disappointingly heavy on stupidity, tediousness and poor special effects. This is made worse by the fact that the opening scene is genuinely witty and sets up audience expectations for an entirely different kind of film. Plus Nathan Barr’s music returns but again only in the first few minutes when his track ‘Village’ from the first Hostel gets played after the main titles. I know it was naive of me to be expecting something better but in the world of horror I pride myself on being an eternal optimist. Sadly Hostel III leaves the viewer with little to be optimistic about, and even the most undemanding gore-hound will most likely be making record use of their DVD player’s fast forward facility. Save your money, but not to buy Hostel IV.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
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