Get a room!Josh Jabcuga pays a visit to Eli Roth's HOSTEL and decides to inspect the comforter for stains (blood stains, you pervert!) in this week's Squib Central. He also examines some other horror films that have left him with a lasting impression over the past few years.
Say what you will about the Bush administration cracking down on televised halftime nipple shots and perverted morning-drive shock jocks, but the past few years have been a real blessing in disguise for fans of horror movies. This isn't to say the MPAA has gotten any more lenient (it hasn't) or less arbitrary in its edit-enforcing codes (it's not). More likely than not, horror fans have the DVD format to thank.
In what was initially a marketing ploy, and in many cases still is, studios found they could double- and sometimes triple-dip by releasing multiple versions of the same (in theory) film. Audiences, nay, consumers, were treated to unrated, uncut, unedited and unseen director's cuts. Mostly they were spruced up with a little bit of filler to justify a heftier price tag, or a second release. In the case of Criterion, fans, here mostly with highbrow tastes, were given the chance to view masterworks as they were originally meant to be seen by the visionaries who conjured them up in their heads. For gorehounds, as is the case with Lions Gate's "Unrated Widescreen Cut" of "Quentin Tarantino Presents Hostel Written and Directed by Eli Roth," it probably means more blood, guts, and boobs. (The box also boasts of the DVD being "Sicker and More Twisted.")
Unable to catch HOSTEL in any form in the theater, I cannot attest to how sicker or more twisted this version of the film is. I can say it is leaps and bounds better in quality than the bootleg I bought in Times Square this past January, but I digress. How this film (the authentic, studio version, not the out-of-focus, camcorder shot bootleg) ever managed to get released, without massive edits and still maintain an R rating both boggles my mind and delights me to no end. Remember a few years back when Rob Zombie was having all sorts of fun battling the MPAA because they kept pissing all over his edits every time he tried to submit HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES? This film is easily 10 times more unsettling (for that matter, Rob Zombie's THE DEVIL'S REJECTS was leaps and bounds more disturbing and violent than his debut, and that seemed to fare just fine with the old buggers at the MPAA). Do we dare think for a moment that the MPAA is getting soft on us?
Whatever the case, the version of the film available recently released on DVD is possibly the best horror film of its type since God knows when. Of all the horror films I digest on a pretty regular basis (I do profess to have a well-rounded diet, though), three films of the last 10 years stand out. They are HOSTEL, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (what a great year for horror fans, not to mention being able to catch a new Romero zombie flick in theaters) and THE OTHERS. THE DEVIL'S REJECTS was all over the place, sure, but it had deft strokes on display in many scenes and had no right being as good as it was. THE OTHERS, with Nicole Kidman, was more along the lines of quiet and certainly creepy horror, which is sadly missing from 99% of horror in any medium these days. The film was overshadowed that year by THE SIXTH SENSE, but its strong word-of-mouth opened up the eyes (and wallets) of many film goers. Quite the contrast to HOSTEL, THE OTHERS is perfect evidence when people point to things (and their shadows) that go bump in the night as being scarier than actually being able to see the monsters, human or not. The problem lies in the fact that most filmmakers aren't content with simply showing us the monsters, or explaining to the audience the motives of the beasts, but rather, prefer to show us in fine KNB F/X detail the ghouls, goblins and madmen chopping up their prey in bits and pieces, sucking them bone-dry, and then bludgeoning their next victim with said skeletal remains.
HOSTEL is of this latter camp. It leaves nothing out. It's a grindhouse flick that would make even the masters of that bygone age of cinema blush. Think Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE meets NBC's FEAR FACTOR. The premise is brilliantly simple. A couple of buddies go backpacking through Europe for one last hurrah before they return to school to become lawyers and, you know, grown-ups with responsibilities whose only sense of relief is through watching horror DVDs.
Written and directed by Eli Roth, who is following up the film-that-got-away, CABIN FEVER (which was a solid little splatterfest itself until completely derailing in the last ten minutes to the point of self-parody), HOSTEL presents a director who is confident in his abilities, and is exemplary of an artist who knows how to cross-pollinate genres to great effect. Perhaps those final 10 minutes of CABIN FEVER gave way to the genre masterpiece that is HOSTEL. Or perhaps Mr. Roth got a little help from his friends, most notably, the Mighty Q himself, Quentin Tarantino.
So what's so scary about a bunch of dudes backpacking through Europe, you may be asking? Not a thing. Certainly not when they manage to take a few hits in Amsterdam and then manage to head to a hostel where all the women look like exotic Maxim cover girls who only want to trip out on E and have sex with Americans. This is just part of a ploy to capture Americans (the vixens receive less for luring and capturing other ethnicities; apparently us Americans make for some mighty fine sport to kill). The sexy sluts with the looks that kill manage to pull the ol' "I'll sleep with you, get you to lower your guard, and then take you for all your worth" trick by, well, sleeping with the Americans, doping them up and getting them to lower their guard, and then disposing of them to some wickedly S&M-type baddies, who belong in a club that pays big bucks to kill people any way they see fit, preferably backpacking Americans.
Two-thirds of this film is literally gut-wrenching. It's the type of film that dares you not to look away, like some type of initiation. HOSTEL is a difficult film to review since the plot is so basic that to dissect it too much would be to divulge too much to the uninitiated. Let's just say one of the movie's greatest assets is the notion that anything can happen. Many horror films attempt at doing this but fail miserably. You've seen it before: Okay, we start with 10 high-school kids and slowly dwindle down to the two or three top paid "name" stars in the movie and see how they manage to foil the villain. The cast here is thin. We need them to survive. There'll be no movie without them. Eli Roth convinces us that death will ensue and somehow the movie will keep going. How? Why? Did they really just show that?
The true test of a film of this nature is how it stands up to repeat viewings. Funhouses and haunted mansions are adrenaline rushes the first time, and then once all the scares are revealed to you, any subsequent visits become more about "How did they do that" than "What will they do?" HOSTEL is so spectacularly crafted that you'll want to watch the film more than once. I predict that 10 years from now this film will carry weight of mythological proportions, like that first love that gets better in memory and placed on a pedestal that never existed in real time. Horror films are known for doing this. How many times have you fondly remembered a movie that scared you as a teenager only to watch it again in your adult years, possibly with a child of your own, and either you or your child looks at you, shrugs their shoulders and says, "What's the big deal?"
Don't ever forget that every horror movie is some kid's first and favorite. For us adults, we've already had our firsts and cherish our favorites (most in my age group claim Freddy or Jason as their own). Whether it's your first or just another round in a steady diet of horror films, HOSTEL will leave you with a lasting impression.