Cinema for Sadists

Despite a botched ending, 'Hostel' is a horrifying, thrilling torture flick

The recent "torture film" craze includes the wretched Saw movies and anything with Orlando Bloom in it. Now comes Hostel, which represents the kind of cinema that makes you wonder how such a repugnant film has any merit or value. There comes a time in a movie critic's career when films like Hostel finally cross the line, have no appeal and render the critic fed up and disgusted.

Fortunately, my time has not come yet. Hostel is a good horror movie--and if its ending were better, it would be a great horror movie--by a guy who seems to know a little something about what's scary.

By the way, that man is not Quentin Tarantino. The film has been marketed with the "Quentin Tarantino Presents" banner, leading more than a few to believe this is his next film. Nope. He's just a pal of director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever), and he supposedly endorsed Roth's sicko idea from the beginning. Hostel gives off the impression that Tarantino and Roth watched the Saw flicks, decided they were for "pussies" and plotted their own take on the torture genre.

A couple of American tourists (Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson) are making the rounds in Amsterdam. One particularly sleazy fellow recommends a location in Slovakia where the girls are really hot. The boys trek to the hostel where, indeed, the women are not hard on the eyes, and they actually have a spa and continental breakfast. After a raucous night at a local disco, one of the boys wakes up bound to a chair, sharing the room with a masked sadist who is planning to do some experiments on him.

I don't want to give everything away, because one of the film's attributes is the slow reveal of what's actually happening to its victims and how they've come to wind up in the torture chair. As for those torture scenes, they are quite brutal, and it's surprising that the film managed to get an R rating. If there's an unrated version coming out on DVD later this year (and there probably is), watch out, because that is going to be one hellacious viewing experience.

Don't let your dog be in the room while it's playing. It'll cause all sorts of issues.

Roth keeps the dark sense of humor that helped make his bizarre Cabin Fever such a throwback delight. In the tradition of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films, Roth supplies his movies with decent laughs and legitimate scares. I'm not calling Hostel a horror-comedy, because the moments of dread far outweigh the chortle-inducers. It has a sick underlying sense of humor that helps make this sort of film more tolerable.

What makes this movie so scary is Roth's brazen confidence as a horror film director. The man must be a pretty meticulous planner, because his film doesn't feature flashy editing and cheap shocks. The scares are old-school and straightforward, sometimes making you wish for those cutaways, because Hostel can often be a tough film to endure, as any torture film should be.

Perhaps with the box-office success of Hostel, the recent glut of PG-13 horror films will come to an end. Studios had become stuck in the trend of releasing pictures intended as R-rated films (Wes Craven's Cursed, for example) with the safer rating in order to attract a younger audience. This resulted in "horror lite" at the movie theaters, and good scares were hard to come by.

The film holds up until its final act, when it becomes a routine revenge thriller. For a good three-quarters of its running time, Eli Roth has made one of the scariest movies in years. However, it is not the film to be watched before that annual pilgrimage to Amsterdam. You might find yourself canceling reservations and burning your passport before the credits run.

About The Author

Now Playing

Hostel is not showing in any theaters in the area.

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment

What others are saying

  • Now Playing

    By Film...

    By Theater...

    Tucson Weekly

    Best of Tucson Weekly

    Tucson Weekly