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.
***SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW***
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.