Editor’s note: The hosts of Horror Movie Podcast are always impressed by the knowledge and insights of our listenership in the emails and voicemails that we receive, as well as in the comments here at HorrorMoviePodcast.com. Once again we’ve asked our listeners to participate in our 31 Days of Halloween by contributing written reviews. This review was submitted by a long-time listener and friend of the show who goes by the screen-name “Sal Roma” … You can follow Sal on Twitter @JTalley986 and on Letterboxd at @Sal_Roma.
Director: Eli Roth
Warning Review Contains Some *Spoilers*
Longtime American friends, Josh (Reeker’s Derek Richardson) and Paxton (Quarantine’s Jay Hernandez) are living it up as they backpack across Europe. Joined by their new Icelandic friend, Oli, the trio encounters a traveler known as Alexi, who promises that the real place to go is the small country of Slovakia, where they can meet and have fun with all of the hot women they could ever imagine. The promised land of Slovakia turns out to be everything the trio imagined, quickly finding a party spot and they each head off for a night of fun with a local girl.
The next day, Oli is nowhere to be found and the hostel staff that the lads are staying at claim that he abruptly left already. While Paxton is unfazed by this news, knowing that for as much fun as they had together, Oli was still a stranger, Josh is convinced that something isn’t right in this little Slovakian town. What Josh and Paxton do not know though, is that Oli is only the first to disappear with everyone eventually discovering what horrors Slovakia has to offer its foreign tourists.
I first saw Hosel when it originally came out in theaters in early 2006 with some old college roommates. At the time, I loved it. It was gory, gritty, and didn’t hold back in its sickness. At the time, I was really wanting to see gritty films again that pushed the limits of what was acceptable after so many years of over sensitized horror that lacked the edge that horror used to have. Prior to Hostel, there were small examples of horror going in that direction with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, the original Saw, and the previous year’s The Devil’s Rejects. Although I’d assume that most credits the Saw series as being responsible for a new fad in horror that would become known as “Torture porn”, I personally credit the success of Hostel. This is namely because while Saw and even Saw II had some nasty looking traps, it also relied on the mystery of who was the kidnapper in the original film and the eventual creation of the traditional big reveal at the end of every Saw film. When it came to Hostel though, it was all about the torture, baby!
Looking back, it’s easy to dismiss Hostel as being an onenote movie, which perhaps it is, but it does that one note so well. This is helped by the fact that the first half is dedicated to creating such a party movie atmosphere that reminded me of films such as American Pie, Eurotrip, and the other popular raunchy teen comedies that had become a mainstream hit a few years prior. The raunchiness of the first half of Hostel lulls the viewer into a false sense of security. Sure, you may be watching a horror movie, but it’s a horror movie that appears to be more concerned with drugs, nudity, and partying. How bad can the horror elements really be? Once the kidnappings officially starts, the viewer is in for a harsh reality check as everything is going to be far more graphic than they could have ever imagined.
And yet, there are still creative elements thrown in along the way. The humor is never completely lost. I still have fond memories of my roommate and me laughing at the sick scene of a businessman talking to Paxton about the anticipation and excitement that he feels moments before he’s able to officially begin torturing some poor victim, that is later to be revealed as Kana, someone Paxton had met earlier in the film. Even today with this most recent watch of Hostel, I found myself laughing at this businessman and loving him because he’s just so gosh darn psyched for everything. How can the viewer not let out some awkward laughter when the excitement this guy is feeling is for something so sick and depraved? In addition, there’s a fun gag involving Paxton, believed to be dead, being transported on a cart with other bodies, but the cart gets stopped when it can’t run over a cut off hand. Again, it’s sick, but it’s in some weird way funny. There’s also some fun scenes with a child-based gang that is constantly looking to steal or threaten their way into attaining possessions. Their final appearance, crushing the skulls of some of the Hound guards, in a scene where I can only describe as, “Oddly comical”.
The other main creative element thrown in is that for the first half of the film, the main character is Paxton’s buddy, Josh, not Paxton. Paxton is the character who seems more reckless in his willingness to just have fun while Josh has the bigger heart and appears to be the more traditionally sweet guy. In a move comparable to Janet Leigh dying in Psycho, Josh doesn’t even make it to the halfway point and from then on, it’s up to Paxton to be the film’s sole proganoist. Over the course of the film, the viewer watches as Paxton becomes more compassionate and caring for others, as he is launched into the unsuspecting hero of Hostel.
Watching Hostel with 2017 eyes, it can feel dated in being insensitive. There’s a lot of homophobic slurs thrown around casually, which can be particularly awkward since this came out just before this PC movement started to properly get going, resulting in far less gay slurs being uttered. I know that a lot of viewers are also uncomfortable with the xenophobia, which was only made worse by Eli Roth’s subsequent film, The Green Inferno, once again teaching audiences that foreign people = scary. Is Hostel insensitive? Perhaps, but I don’t believe that this was meant to be taken seriously. Roth set out to make a party based movie that took a sudden turn and attempted to show its viewers as much gratuitous gore, violence, and nudity as possible. This film isn’t designed to be subtle. It’s in your face with everything it is set out to be. I do also think that this lack of class makes Hostel more ideal for teenage horror fans than older horror fans.
Since I am re-watching this in 2017, the film doesn’t hold much appeal to me anymore. For starters, while it may be extremely early on in the torture porn sub-genre, that’s a sub-genre that became the fad in horror, oversaturated the genre, and eventually fell out of favor. So while Hostel truly is a historic horror film, the graphicness should no longer shock horror fans. Since the film is no longer shocking, the fact that the story is so thin in favor of style over substance, I was left a bit bored in the second half when all of the torture was happening. Luckily, Hostel isn’t the original Martyrs, so time is devoted at the end to show Paxton getting revenge on all of those that played a part in conning himself and his friends to be killed or at least tortured. It’s a bit rewarding, but it also feels forced. Rather than hunt down those who played a part in the con, Paxton somehow stumbled onto all of them. That’s quite a plot contrivance.
Overall, there’s no denying that Hostel isn’t an important film in horror history. Viewers can call it a sick film that lacks any sort of charm, but Hostel played a significant role in creating a popular fad in horror. I don’t believe it holds up too well with modern eyes, but I do find myself oddly appreciating the movie. Perhaps I’m a troubled person or I have a sick sense of humor, but I still find the uncomfortable comedy scenes, such as with the businessman, to be the highlights of Hostel. It’s well worth watching at least once, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for not having any desire to watch it an additional time.
7/10/ and a recommendation to watch at least once
– Sal Roma
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