Welcome back to the slaughterhouse. 'Hostel Part II' is every bit as brutal, blood-soaked and unapologetically exploitative as the original 'Hostel.' Unfortunately, it's just as flawed as well, with writer-director Eli Roth delivering an often hilariously contrived and entirely unnecessary sequel.
Given the first film's $50 million-plus domestic gross, I suppose it's no surprise that Sony ordered up another installment, but as I discussed at great length in my recent review, 'Hostel' was a concept in search of a movie. It didn't have genuine characters or a story; its only sell was a situation (albeit one that proved intriguing enough to lure moviegoers in by the busload). The basic premise was simple: unsuspecting American backpackers get lured into a mysterious hostel, only to wake up tied and primed for torture, having been sold to the highest bidder in a depraved, bizarre human murder auction. Alas, despite an admittedly compelling (if disturbing) premise, once the trap was sprung and the horrors unleashed, the film degenerated into a "torture porn" extravaganza that had such a threadbare plot that in the end it served as nothing more than a showcase for all the different ways you can maim and kill someone.
Like most horror sequels, 'Hostel Part II' doesn't so much continue 'Hostel' as it remakes it. After a bit of opening business that ties up (or, in this case, severs) the loose ends left dangling at the end of the original film, we get a replay of the same basic set-up. This time, however, Roth flips the gender of the victims, swapping out the three party-hungry frat boys of the first film with three female American college students traveling abroad. Laura German (last seen blowing her brains out in the 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' remake) plays smart and resourceful Beth, the natural leader of the group (and the obvious "final girl"). Bijou Phillips is Whitney, the beautiful but bland barbie doll whose sole purpose is obvious the minute she appears on-screen. Finally, Heather Matazarro ('Scream 3') is Lorna, the "geeky" one, and the only hint of comic relief in an otherwise humorless film.
To Roth's credit, he does counterpart the victims this time out, delving a bit deeper into the minds of the organization's customers. These are by far the most interesting scenes in the film, as we meet Todd and Stuart (Richard Burgi and Roger Bart), two American businessmen who are looking for a little thrill in their dull suburban lives and figure that buying a couple of girls to murder is just the ticket. It is Roth's only genuinely clever conceit in the film that he uses the pair's ever-changing dynamic -- Todd is the supposedly gung-ho ringleader, while Stuart is the passive tag-along -- to effectively critique the patriarchal impulses at work in such an endeavor. Unfortunately, this is the one area of the film where Roth doesn't go far enough. What might have provided a cohesive thematic focus to the film all but disappears once the chainsaws start to roar.
It's when the sadism begins that 'Hostel Part II' loses any last semblance of credibility it might have once had. Looking like the villain's lair from an old James Bond movie, the gargantuan hostel is so over the top and hi-tech gothic that its mere existence is ludicrous. How an organization could fund something like this, let alone keep it under the radar is unexplained; and given all these disappearing American college kids, are we really to believe that the crew from Dateline's "To Catch a Predator" wouldn't have been knocking on their door ages ago? For a film that's supposed to be so timely and so shocking, Roth just hasn't created a plausible vision for an idea of that should be truly terrifying in its implications.
As a result, by the time we get to the film's actual torture scenes, they aren't scary -- they're just gross. Without the surprise factor of the first film (we know exactly what's in store for the characters, which negates the tension), Roth's only option is to go more over-the-top, but his taboo-busting methods of torture fail to illuminate in any way. As the film's last 30 minutes plod on, we're back to the same old cliches of screaming girls being chased through dark corridors by vicious male killers waving their phallic symbols all about. Even the big "turn the tables" moment is a re-tread of scenes we've seen in so many other, better, horror flicks.
Let me say state for the record that I'm not offended by movies like 'Hostel Part II' (they're too silly for that). I also don't believe they should be censored. I only wish that filmmakers like Eli Roth would be more honest about what they're putting on the screen. Despite all their talk about theme and meaning and import, the only reason movies like the 'Hostel' flicks are made is to push the limits of on-screen sadism and stroke the fragile egos of the filmmakers by testing the audiences' endurance. (The more we gag, the more they pat themselves on the back for a job well done.) Remove the torture from a film like 'Hostel Part II,' and there is no reason for it to exist, no matter what Roth says.
Considering that 'Hostel Part II' failed to eke out even half of the box office take of its predecessor, it would seem that this time around, audiences agreed. The weakest entry in the 'Hostel' franchise (and apparently the last, according to Roth), 'Hostel Part II' proves that no matter how many inventive ways a filmmaker can come up with for killing off his characters, it's no substitute for a compelling story.
(Note that Sony presents this Blu-ray edition of 'Hostel Part II' in its "Unrated Director's Cut," featuring footage deemed too gruesome for the film's R-rated theatrical run.)
In my Blu-ray review of the original 'Hostel' a few weeks back, I praised that disc's transfer, which was bright, sharp, colorful and largely natural. Unfortunately, this Blu-ray edition of 'Hostel Part II' does not match that level of quality.
First off, colors are way over-pumped and fleshtones are too orange, making nearly everyone in the film look like a wax figure. The film's cold but moody photography is also not helped by the excessive skewing, with heavy blues and greens ruining any sense of realism. The level of detail is hindered not only by the fuzzy colors but also the surprisingly high level of noise throughout. Dark scenes can look downright terrible with a severe black crush turning shadows into an inky murk, washing away all fine texture. There is also a good deal of horizontal jitter, so slow pans tend to reveal the dreaded jaggies. There is even some edge enhancement, which creates noticeable halos.
On the plus side, brighter scenes perk up a bit, and at least the transfer is sharp throughout, with consistent black levels. There are also no obvious compression artifacts, such as banding or macroblocking. Still, these minor positives are hardly enough to offset this transfer's poorly-reproduced colors, excessive noise and obscured detail. In short, this one's a real disappointment.
Thankfully, the audio is much better than the video. Sony provides an uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit/6.9mbps) that's effective and atmospheric.
For a medium-budgeted film, 'Hostel Part II' sounds particularly good. The quality of the source is tip-top, with a cleanliness to all of the elements and a heft of bass that really impressed. Surrounds are aggressively used, with minor ambiance and forceful discrete effects both expertly attenuated. I loved the way Nathan Barr's score merges seamlessly with the effects, bleeding to all of the channels to unsettling effect. Dialogue is also quite well-balanced, and I encountered no volume level issues.
Sony has gone all-out for the video release of 'Hostel Part II,' piling a load of extras onto both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the flick (with the latter getting a little bonus exclusive, as well... see the "HD Exclusives" section below).
Much like the first 'Hostel' Blu-ray, there's a wee bit of overkill in the commentary department, with three separate tracks included. Roth's solo commentary is by far the most entertaining, if only because he finally lets loose on his critics. This one has to be heard to be believed, with Roth assailing those who dare critique the 'Hostel' flicks as mere "torture porn" as not only misguided, but irresponsible, as they should be directing their anger instead at graphic media depictions of real-life atrocities like Katrina and 9/11. Although his contention that the 'Hostel' flicks are in fact critiques of "capitalism" (this from a man whose made millions off of the exploitation of human suffering) is laughable, it's clear that he believes absolutely everything he's saying with complete sincerity. Director commentaries don't get more revealing than this.
The other two commentaries are disappointing by comparison. The producers track with Eli Roth, his brother Gabriel Roth and Quentin Tarantino is bland. Tarantino apparently saw Roth's first film 'Cabin Fever' about "eight times," and hails him as some sort of genius of horror. In between on-set stories of party shenanigans, we get nuts and bolts production info on filming in Prague, the challenges of the conditions, the set design and lighting, etc. Mostly pedestrian, and quite boring. More fun at least is the group cast chat, which sees Roth joined by Laura German, Vera Jordanova (the crazy chick with the sickle) and Richard Burgi (who doesn't show up until about a third of the way through the track, and then laughs non-stop). Of course the one person I wanted to hear from -- poor Heather Matazarro, who apparently had to endure days hanging upside down naked while being slowly sliced by Jordanova -- is absent. There is, however, a lot of interesting detail on the audition and development process, and for once, Roth is actually not an annoying presence, instead prompting the cast with some sharp questions.
Next up are a host of featurettes and additional footage, though unfortunately all are presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only. (Bummer -- what good is gore in standard-def?) "Hostel Part II: The Next Level" is a cut above (sorry, couldn't resist) your usual EPK. Similar to the full-length doc on the first 'Hostel' disc, this one is a video diary of sorts from the shoot in Prague, from the first pre-production meeting through to the editing and scoring of of the flock. Running 26 minutes, this is a very nice capsule version of all the detail imparted in the overabundance of commentary tracks, and is definitely the place to start for the mildly curious.
"The Art of KNB Effects (6 minutes) is a by-the-numbers look at each of the main gore gags, from the "bathing in blood" sickle scene to the infamous castration scene (featuring the lamest fake penis I've ever seen). "Production Design" (7 minutes), meanwhile, is just that, focusing on the skill and craft that went into designing and building Robb Wilson King's sets. Finally, I was looking forward to the contextual featurette "A Legacy of Torture" (23 minutes), which promises a host of scholarly types (including Eli Roth's own father, psychoanalyst Dr. Sheldon Roth) providing historical background on the depiction of torture in art and cinema. Unfortunately, this one is padded with way too much plot recap, film clips and EPK interviews with Roth. It feels like an extended commercial with bursts of insight, instead of the other way around. Oddly, the video quality is also much poorer than the other featurettes, with the image looking noticeably washed out.
Next up are ten Deleted Scenes that run a little over 12 minutes in total. Most are extended character bits from the first half of the film, with nothing really of note for gorehounds, although there is a slightly extended version of the opening prologue murder, which makes the fate of one key character quite clear. Note that there's no commentary included, but Roth has written introductions for each scene. The quality of this material is also better than the featurettes, and in my opinion the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video here even surpasses the main feature, if only because it hasn't been all tweaked to hell.
Odds and ends include a 6-minute "Blood & Guts Gag Reel" which isn't all that funny, except for some outtakes involving that fake penis. There is also a substantial 26-minute episode of the radio series, "The Treatment" with Eli Roth interviewed by host Elvis Mitchell. I still find it hard to believe that Roth thinks that creating a horror movie where the villain is "just like the guy next door" is somehow fresh, but he does seem genuinely jazzed by the same formula pioneered thirty years ago with 'Halloween.'
Finally, there are three theatrical trailers for 'Vacancy,' 'Tekkon Kinkreet' and 'Resident Evil: Extinction,' which is still in theaters as I write this. For whatever reason, there are no trailers for 'Hostel' or 'Hostel Part II.'
Like its predecessor, 'Hostel Part II' boasts a compelling premise, but unfortunately writer-director Eli Roth misses some grand opportunities for disturbing insight. This Blu-ray release is a mixed bag, too. I was underwhelmed by the video, but the audio and extras are excellent. If you've been dying to own 'Hostel Part II' on Blu-ray (and you know who you are), this release should fit the bill, but otherwise this one's probably best avoided.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.