‘Twas Friday lunchtime: the first ever screening at my local Vue for Hostel Part II, Eli Roth’s follow-up to his original 2005 movie. There were just four of us in the cinema: three guys and a gal. Barely 10 minutes had elapsed when the gal walked out, never to return.
She’d survived an initial shot of on-screen viscera, but the second time she spied blood she was gone. I’m not quite sure what she was expecting from a sequel to a film in which a woman gets her eyeball gouged out (by her torturer – boo!) and snipped off (by her rescuer – hurrah!), but whatever it was I hope that next time she at least glances at the poster before she picks a movie to see. Carry On Camping this ain’t.
Even among horror fans, there’s been much hand-wringing over the recently coined ‘gorno’ sub-genre (basically, films depicting torture that don’t cut away before their, usually extremely violent, money shots). As one chap remarked on a message board after he’d seen Hostel Part II, he liked the film but felt rather uneasy about sharing a cinema with the kind of people who’d stump up cash to see terrified women strapped into chairs begging for their lives while gloating men set to work on them with power tools.
I can see what he’s getting at, but I don’t think it’s anything new or particular to this latest strain of horror movie (doesn’t he get the same feeling watching, say, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or numerous slasher flicks?). And I think unease is as worthy an emotion as any other that films have provoked. Horror, by definition, should horrify. And one way to do that is to show me something that makes me uncomfortable; something that makes go ‘crikey’.
On this count, Hostel Part II trumps the original film, which I regard quite highly. The set-piece around the midway point pretty much defines the term ‘torture porn’. I suspect that its mix of female nudity and copious blood-spraying will provoke a few walk-outs across its UK run, which is a shame as Roth goes on to prove that when it comes to sexual savagery he’s an equal-opportunities filmmaker.
Red stuff aside, though, I don’t think that Part II is up to the standard of the first film. In many ways, it feels like a remake. The basic stories are pretty much the same, and the three female leads all possess similar character traits and serve similar narrative purposes to the three males from Hostel.
Plus, with everything about Elite Hunting having previously been explained, the sequel is missing much of the original’s suspense, which only really kicks in during the final couple of reels, when some interesting twists appear – one of which I especially liked, as it appeared to comment on the difference between fantasy and reality, which could be read as a kind of ‘do you see?’ to critics who rag on horror fans.
(As an aside, after I left the cinema, I read a newspaper story about a cold-blooded, vicious, random murder that chilled me to the bone, proving that my reflexes as a human being are nothing out of the ordinary. Storytelling is an art, and art is a safe way to experience the adrenalin whoosh of fear and horror. The emotions stirred up by real-life attrocities are a traumatic world apart.)
The film’s ending seems to come far too quickly and is telegraphed early on with an otherwise throwaway line of dialogue, but the finale manages to be tense and horrifying – and destined, I’m sure, to go down in splat-flick history. The coda adds a cartoonish wink to proceedings, which I’m undecided about, but at least it doesn’t feel like a lead-in to a third movie.
Summing up, if you liked Roth’s original Hostel, I think it’s worth seeing Part II. It’s not as all-round satisfying, due to the flaws I’ve noted above, but when it starts showboating it impresses in the same discomforting way that the first movie does. Just keep your expectations in check – and your buzzsaw at home. You don’t want your fellow cinemagoers thinking you’re some kinda crazy person now, do you?