Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Some Thoughts On Hostel Part Two

NOTE: This post was written after I first saw Roth's film in the theaters. Since then I have seen it several times and I wanted to point out that my initial problems with the film have faded. HOSTEL PART TWO is a tremendous film that improves with each viewing. I will eventually take a longer look at it, but I wanted to point out that the couple of problems I have listed below don't apply for me anymore. Actually I love HOSTEL PART TWO so much at this point that it made me revisit Roth's first two films, and I must say that my admiration for them as grown as well.


I am going to wait until I can watch HOSTEL 2 on disc before I post a full fledged review of it but I did want to post my initial thoughts and reactions to it. First I would like to ask why in the world was this film was released in the Summer movie season opening against OCEAN'S THIRTEEN and SURF'S UP? I went Sunday afternoon and the theater was empty. I don't mean a relatively small crowd for a weekend, I mean totally empty. I typically like being in a theater alone but for horror and comedy, the audiences reactions are always a highlight. Just before the lights went down for Disney's UNDERDOG trailer (No, I'm not joking) one guy came in and that was it. I totally believe had LionsGate opened Roth's film up back in the early part of the year or in the fall it would have made triple the money it did this past weekend. But it didn't and, after all the discussion and debate this film has caused, it ended up performing very poorly at the box office and will no doubt be gone in a few weeks. I suspect the DVD will perform big but still I am disappointed in its take not just for Roth but for hard R horror films in general.

My feelings towards HOSTEL 2 are for the most part very positive. Roth continues for me to be improving with each film. He has yet to make a great film but I came out of HOSTEL 2 with the feeling that he will someday soon.
My biggest problem with the first HOSTEL was it's opening section. While I appreciated all the abundant nudity, much of the frat boy humor really grated on my nerves and I found myself really disliking the lead characters. Roth has solved this problem for me in casting three very talented young actresses this time as his leads and making them not only likable but very human. One of the aspects of HOSTEL 2 that works incredibly well is that I do indeed come to really like these three young women and I don't want anything to happen to them. By doing this Roth has made the second half of his film much stronger, the horror feels more heartfelt and real.
I was surprised that overall HOSTEL 2 is a bit toned down from the first one. Outside of two magnificent gory set pieces the new film concentrates much more on the characters and dialogue than the first. I felt this worked mostly to its advantage, again I missed some of the originals over the top extremities but overall I preferred the new film to the first.
Much has been made of Edwige Fenech returning to the screen for this film and her involvement was the thing that really made me want to see it in the first place. I have to admit that seeing "and Edwige Fenech" at the end of the opening cast credits gave me chills. Unfortunately her scene is very short. She looks ravishing and it was incredible seeing her again but I wish Roth would have given her a bigger part. There were two roles specifically in the film that I thought she would have been suited for that were considerably larger.
Two more small but very welcome roles were the great Luc Merenda as an Italian detective and a chilling cameo by director Ruggero Deodato that tips its hat to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and turns out to be a highlight of the film.
Roth's love of the genre really comes through in this picture. Referencing everything from BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE to FRIDAY THE 13 PART TWO to Jean Rollin's FASCINATION, HOSTEL 2 works splendidly as a nod to the films Roth cut his teeth on as a youth.
The cast is exceptional, I was particularly taken with Lauren German. She is a splendid young actress and she invests the role of Beth with a lot of depth and emotion. Also good are Bijou Phillips, Heather Matarazzo and the statuesque Vera Jordanova. In the role of the two main auction winners, Roger Bart and Richard Burgi both are chilling at portraying the very worst aspects of male aggression, cynicism and hostility.
The two goriest scenes are startling and quite brilliant. Specifically the Mrs. Bathory moment is one of the wildest and most effective horror scenes I have seen in a long time. Shot beautifully and played out with wild abandon by both Monika Malacova and Matarazzo, this is a go for broke sequence that proved as haunting as wince inducing. A scene like this would have been unthinkable in an American horror film a few years ago. Less effective but still pretty jaw dropping is the castration sequence. If the Bathory sequence recalled BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE then this is Roth tipping his hat to both CANNIBAL FEROX as well as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. I was frankly amazed by what the MPAA let Roth get away with in this scene and the final payoff with the dog was brilliant.
Okay now the problems. HOSTEL 2 is nowhere near a perfect film and one feels that it could have been a lot more than what it is. Roth gets a little rushed sometimes. The spa sequence starts off as really hypnotic and dreamlike but it soon collapses into just another chase scene. The Prague children aren't used as well in this one as they were the first and I feel he should have thought there scenes out a bit more or just left them out all together.
The film's biggest problem is its very last scene. I don't have any problems with how the film ends but I just wish Roth would have given it a little more thought and life. In what could have been a chilling moment that would have recalled Brigitte Lahaie's scythe wielding peer walk in FASCINATION, the scene instead plays out too quickly. The scene isn't the disaster some fans have made it out to be but it is a let down. The major thing it has going for is German's intensity but man I would have liked to have seen her walking towards the camera in a long tracking shot like Lahaie in Rollin's film. I also again think the kids could have been left completely out although the last few moments in the film reminded me of the gleeful children in Bava's TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE which isn't a bad thought to end the film on.

So overall I am very happy with HOSTEL 2. Roth still hasn't made a film that is as good as his idols but give him time, this guy is very young. Does he occasionally stick his foot in his mouth, sure he does but don't we all? What it really comes down to is that at the end of this film he took the time to thank Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci, Edwige Fenech, Ruggero Deodato and many other names that I never thought I would see mentioned during the closing credits of a modern American horror film. Great film or not...Eli Roth is okay in my book.


Rogue Spy 007 said...

Spoilers here as well, but I guess anyone reading the comments will have seen the movie.

I saw this on Saturday night. The theater was dead. There were maybe ten people in all in there on a Saturday night of all times. I knew then that this movie was in trouble. I had pretty much figured it could go either way. Most people I talked to around here were not fans of the first one. They were pretty much disappointed with it and said they would not see this one, at least until it hit dvd shelves.

I didn't see the "Underdog trailer." I saw the new Jet Li and Jason Stathem movie, Fantastic Four 2, and a few others of that nature.

I do think that releasing the movie in the summer blockbuster season was a mistake. Plus they opened it against some big movies. I guess they thought the audience would be different. It will probably do better when it hits dvd. I would like to see it again then.

I actually did like this one. I didn't think it was perfect. It didn't let me down like the first one. The first one had very unsympathetic and unlikeable characters. I couldn't care less whether they lived or died. I though the first half where it was basically a frat boy comedy was out of place. Don't get me wrong. I love nudity as much as the next guy, but this wasn't what I was expecting. On to the new movie. To be honest I was pretty happy to see Jay Hernandez's character lose his head in this one. I loved the scene in the hospital with him being questioned as well.

I did enjoy all the cameos. I did enjoy all of them for us horror fans in the know. I did wish Edwige Fench had had a bigger role. It was way too short. She still looked very radiantly beautiful in it. I would have loved to have been one of her art student.

I did enjoy the four main female leads in the movie. They all did great jobs. I liked all four of them. I was sad to see what happened to them. I'll admit though that I was more turned on by the more mature aged women in the movie. :-) Lauren German was especially great among the young female leads. She's beautiful, especially in a girl next door way. She was talented and really captured the role well.

I do think the bloodshed and gore could be been upped a little more. There were certain things that I cringed at in that department. I loved when the dogs got hold of Richard Burgi's character. I did enjoy his and Bart's character's conversation when they were out jogging. The castration scene had me wanting to grab hold of my own. There were other great scenes as well.

I was really transfixed by the Bathory scene. That was amazing. The lighting, the setting, the way the murder was done, etc. was amazing. It was a wonderfully done scene in my opinion.

I don't think the kids were used as well in this one as the other. I did love them playing soccer with Vera Jordanova's head
I do think the ending was a little bit rushed. It didn't have as much impact as I had hoped.
It was neat though getting a chance to learn more about the villains of the movie. We got to see more of the behind the scenes action of the auction and then the workers at the factory. That was neat. I'd love to have learnt more about them.

Overall I was very pleased. It wasn't a perfect horror movie. There aren't many of them these days anyway. I think Eli Roth is getting better. It's a shame that this didn't do that well. It's a bad sign for Hard R movies. I hope though that this isn't a sign of things to come. I would like to commend Roth for making a pretty cool horror flick.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks for the comments,
Sounds like we had similar reactions to the film. I am looking forward to revisiting it on dvd when it comes out later in the year.
I have officially added 'being eaten alive by two angry dogs' on my list of ways I do not want to die. That was a very effective sequence.
One thing that made me wince for some reason was that moment when German put that needle in that guys ear to threaten him. Ouch, that got me for some reason.
I agree about getting to see the auction process really adding a strong dimension to it.
The Bathory scene is among my favorite scenes in a long time. Really well put together and well done. The actress playing her reminded me of the great Italian Actress Francesca Neri, who appeared in Almodovar's Live Flesh as well as many other films. I thought that actress was really striking and frightening in how much she was enjoying herself.
Glad to hear your comments...I think the film will be even better on dvd as I have heard it was softened a bit for the theater.

I saw "War", the Li and Statham trailer too, I like both of them so I will check that out.

Rogue Spy 007 said...

Yeah I do think we saw the movie in a similar fashion. I guess great minds think alike. :-)

I do want to see it again on dvd, especially since I had heard too that it was toned down some for theatrical release.

You are so right. It would be a horrific death to be eaten alive by two vicious dogs. That was so gross, but definitely effective. I didn't like when she put that needle into his ear. That bothered me more than I thought. I usually get freaked out by something getting put in a person's eyes.

To me the Bathory scene was one of my favorite scenes I've seen in a horror movie in a very long time. It was brilliantly done all around. You know. I was thinking that the Bathory actress reminded me of someone. I couldn't quite place it. I bet it was Neri I was thinking about. She was very sexy to me. She also seemed to be quite enjoying herself.

I also saw the trailer for "The Invasion," starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.

Jeremy Richey said...

I hope "The Invasion" turns out well. I really like all the previous "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" films, especially the 1978 version and Nicole Kidman is one of my favorite actresses. It looked okay, Daniel Craig will definately help as he is beyond cool. Nicole needs a good film and hit, I am curious to see how it works.

Rogue Spy 007 said...

I was trying to think when was the last time Nicole Kidman had a good movie. It's definitely been awhile I guess. My favorite of the Invasion movies was the one with Donald Sutherland and Leonardo Nimony. I do think Daniel Craig will add something to this one. I'm glad to see him in the cast.

Jeremy Richey said...

Nicole has had some really bad luck, I think Dogville and Birth were the last quality films appeared in. I think she is a phenomenally gifted actress and I have admired that she is always willing to take risks, I really hope that "Invasion" turns out to be a good project for her.

Cinebeats said...

Sadly the theater I saw it in with my guy Sunday night was totally empty except for one other couple and two high-school age girls who giggled a lot but seemed to be enjoying themselves.

I will add that i was more horrified by the trailers I saw for the upcoming "comedies" (I use the term lightly) called Good Luck Chuck and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, than ANYTHING I saw in Hostel 2. the best trailers I saw were for the Raimi produced horror film 30 Days of Night and that Jet Li and Jason Stathem movie. I will now confess that I have a serious "thing" for Stathem who I happen to think is the best modern action star we've got and man o' man is he damn cute! But enough of my fangirl ravings... Onward to Hostel 2! Plenty of spoilers ahead...

Like yourself Jeremy, I think Roth continues to improve as a director and I believe Hostel 2 is his best movie yet, which makes it's box office failure all the more sad.

Without a doubt, my favorite stuff in the film were all the scenes with Stuart (Roger Bart) & Todd (Richard Burgi). From the great opening scene of the online auction to their bloody & gory deaths, these two guys really impressed me with their acting. Roth's best writing was on display during the scenes with those guys. My very favorite moments of the film (besides the auction) was the musical interlude as the guys were getting ready to torture their victims. Brilliant stuff!

I also really liked Lauren German as Beth. She was totally forgettable in that awful Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, but she really impressed me in Hostel 2. She did a great job of dealing with her budding sexuality and her attraction towards another woman in the film. She was also great in the end when she got really tough and stripped Stuart of his manhood.

I loved the Fenech and Deodato cameos, but I wish Fenech would have also played the Elizabeth Bathory role. Maybe she said no? Or maybe an art teacher budget would not get her a room at the torture palace?

Speaking of Bathory, I thought that scene was really well done and creative. It was a great way to bring female killers into the Hostel realm and drive home Roth's obvious point about wealth and power corrupting individuals and turning them into monsters.

I did find Heather Matarazzo's performance as Lorna a little too sugary sweet for my liking but in the end I enjoyed her role and believed her character. I think she really nailed the dance scene where she meets a guy she likes and unfortunately follows her heart to her death.

The one thing that didn't work for me was the ending. I think the movie could have been much more powerful if it had ended with Beth getting her tattoo. I also wouldn't have minded if the beginning with Jay Hernandez dragged out a little longer with a bit more suspense.

But really, those are minor complaints in the scheme of the whole film. All in all I really enjoyed it and it confirmed for me that Roth is the best American director making horror films right now.

I owed Dennis over at the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog a long response to a conversation I've been having with him about Hostel 2 where I go into many more details about the ideas behind the film which I find fascinating and you might find them interesting. You can read them here.

Hopefully no matter what side of the political landscape you sit on, my opinions won't bother you too much or at the very least, hopefully you won't take them personally.

At this moment in time I'm equally disgusted with Repubs and Dems and I'm waiting for another American revolution to take place so I can join in the fun. ;)

And finally, I'm really sad that the film didn't get a better critical response and find an audience. It's a shame that Roth's film is being treated so poorly and I think American critics and audiences will be able to appreciate it more in the future. Thankfully European critics have been much kinder to him and his work. They seem to understand it in ways that go over many American's heads.

Cinebeats said...

I fogot to mention that I do have go disagree with you about the spa bit which I really enjoyed. I loved how Roth tossed out logic and went for style and mood like so many European thrillers do.

I also thought the kids were used great in the scene were they toss one of their own to the rich killer who then shoots him on the spot. It was a brutal bit but one of my favorite parts of the movie. My blood ran a bit cold after that.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Kimberly for your thoughts on the film. I look forward to reading more at the link you provided.
Actually after seeing it a second time over the weekend most of my reservations went out the window and I enjoyed it even more. My main complaint with the spa sequence at this point is that I wish it would go on longer. There is something really hypnotic about that section of the film.
Seeing Fenech in the Bathory scene would have been incredible and that was specifically the role I wish she would have had. I also thought she could have played the female cop in the hospital in the first scene. I too wondered if Roth offered her the Bathory part.
I'm glad you pointed out Roth's interested in how wealth and power can corrupt people. That seems to be one of his clearest and most resonant points and what do you know, very few mainstream 'critics' have even bothered noting it. It puts him even further in the realm of many of the great Italian directors, as many of those films were so political in nature and so interested in struggles between the classes.
I am going to post a full review of the film when it hits dvd as there were several sequences, including that amazing split screen auction montage, that I want to spend more time on.
Personally, like you, I am more on the liberal side but at this point I share your disgust with both parties and am frankfully dreading some of things they are going to try to use as scapegoats in the next election.
Anyway, thanks for your comments Kimberly, I'm glad to hear that you liked and admired the film. It is a shame that it hasn't done better and is being attacked by not only the expected horror clueless critics but also fans...I suspect though that the film will age very well.
I can't wait for the dvd.

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