American horror films have long been lagging behind their far more brutal and efficiently horrifying Eastern counterparts. Director Eli Roth, whose Cabin Fever proved to be one of the most refreshingly original fright flicks in years, seems to have taken notice of this with the gleefully sadistic Hostel. Roth has also seemed to taken a page from the Japanese horror masters, especially the infamous Takashi Miike (who has a cameo here). While I’ve certainly tired of the “long-haired ghost” crap and the Japanese obsession with possessed home electronic devices, Miike’s films represent a very dark and gruesome sub-genre of J-cinema that has even the most hardened of gorehounds doubled over the porcelain and crying “uncle”. While Roth doesn’t quite achieve those results with Hostel, it’s certainly not for lack of trying.
With the assistance of Quentin Tarantino, who serves as the film’s producer, as well as a brilliantly old-school marketing campaign that evokes the promotional jargon of early 70’s exploitation (“Warning: At recent advanced screenings of Hostel, paramedics had to be called to blah, blah, blah”), Roth has delivered a film that is really not the fearsome beast it claims to be, but is still much more violent and intense than your average studio picture, as well as an enormously entertaining throwback to the glorious pre-political correctness cinema of the “grindhouse” era.
Paxton and Josh (Hernandez and Richardson) are two red-blooded American college students backpacking their way across Europe for one last adventure before settling down as cogs in the corporate machine of life. Along with their newfound Icelandic buddy Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), the pair hit Amsterdam on a quest for hash and hotties. However, the boys soon find out that Amsterdam’s no longer the hottest spot in Europe, when a friendly tip sends them to a swinging hostel in a Slovakian town. It’s a place where the woman are hot, the parties endless, and the nightlife…well, it’s just killer.
While Hostel takes its time getting to the actual horror part of the film, once it’s there it doesn’t let up, and the forty minutes or so leading up to it plays out like a twisted mélange of 80’s sex romp and Euro-Trip, but funnier and with many, many, many more breasts. The dichotomy of the first and second halves of Hostel makes for a very interesting juxtaposition, and is a nice bit of cinematic sleight of hand as it makes the film’s conclusion seem that much darker and more demented than it all really is. When I saw the film in theaters I left thinking that it was like two movies for the price of one, but upon my second (and third, and fourth, and fifth, and...) viewing of Hostel I discovered that this flick is also one hell of a good suspense yarn, especially in a final act that oozed 70's style thriller appeal.
I also noticed lots of subtleties that I missed the first time around, and, with the guidance of the four commentary tracks on the DVD from Sony, any cool things I may not have noticed were pointed out for me by folks like Quentin Tarantino, Boaz Yakin, Scott Spiegel, Harry Knowles, and, of course, Eli Roth amongst others. The commentary tracks, combined with a really great behind-the-scenes documentary, offer just about all of the insight you could possibly need about the film (as well as a weekend's worth of entertainment, because each of these commentary tracks are hugely entertaining, informative, and hilarious). There's also a "Kill the Car" feature that allows you to watch the pre-teen criminal element of the mysterious Slovakian village dismantle a vehicle (and its occupants) with bricks, bats, and brawn. You can switch to various angles using your remote, and Roth is kind enough to tell us which angle features a kid throwing an actual brick that almost brains one of the actors.
I'm actually surprised that, after a weekend of watching pretty much nothing but Hostel, I can not only see myself watching it again, but plan on doing so soon. This is an infectious film (Cabin Fever pun sort of intended), that features a very likeable cast, great production values, an absorbing story, and fantastic extras that will have you spinning this disc over and over and over...
In the word's of its director, this Hostel DVD is "wicked cool".