Friday, December 30, 2011

Worth Mentioning - Bloodhounds

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.


Cody spent the last week of 2011 taking in a trilogy of torturous terrors. 



HOSTEL (2005)

After Eli Roth's well-hyped debut Cabin Fever hit, the backlash came quickly and he was soon a divisive figure in the horror world. As usual, the detractors were the loudest and most frequently heard voices, but he also gained a solid fanbase. While I haven't completely loved his work, I have liked all of it to varying degrees.

Roth's second film came together when producers were looking for an idea for a horror movie with characters who were backpacking across Europe. Combining backpacker characters with a story inspired by a website found by Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News which claimed to offer a real life Most Dangerous Game experience and Takashi Miike's romance-gone-wrong Audition, Roth pitched the producers the idea of Hostel.

Interestingly, the editor hired to cut Hostel together was George Folsey, Jr., who had been a producer on the ultimate ill-fated European backpackers horror movie, An American Werewolf in London.

The backpackers in Hostel are not the likeable, "knock knock" joke-telling type of guys that were in AWIL, though. The guys in Hostel are at first presented as total douchebags who I would not want to be anywhere near in real life, especially American college student Paxton, whose sole intention on the trip is to get wasted on as many substances as possible and bang any girl he can, even if it means paying for a prostitute. He made pals with like-minded Icelandic drifter Oli along the way. Paxton's fellow American Josh is more mellow and responsible, he's not particularly impressed with Paxton and Oli's plans and would rather actually spend some time seeing the sights. Josh definitely isn't into the idea of prostitutes and "paying to go into a room to do whatever you want to someone". This doesn't stop his friends. When the trio is told a tale about a place in Slovakia where the women outnumber the men and go crazy for American accents, Paxton's prurient interests land them all on a train to this destination.

A lot of the first act of the film is centered on Josh and how uncomfortable he is, not just with the antics going on around him, but even in his own skin. He seems to be having an internal struggle, quite possibly with his sexuality. He severely overreacts when a Dutch businessman, a fellow train passenger, touches his leg. He's able to make it right and buy the businessman a drink later in the film, and another film might've just been about Josh coming to terms with himself, despite his friend tossing around derogatory terms, and figuring out his life... In this one, his life could end up being cut short instead.

The backpackers arrive in a picturesque Slovakian town, check into a very nice hostel, hook up with a couple attractive girls - one played by Barbara Nedeljakova, who I consider to be one of the most beautiful actresses ever. Things are going well... but they gradually become very strange.

We eventually learn that the old factory on the outskirts of town is actually the base of a company called Elite Hunting. If someone has the money and the interest, Elite Hunting will provide them with a victim strapped to a chair in one of the building's rooms, who their client can then dispatch in any way they choose.

A lot of the complaints about this movie are from people who think there's too much time spent on it being a Eurotrip sex comedy before the horror element comes in. Personally, I think the horror element is given away too soon. It's right up front with a murder room being cleaned during the title sequence. When one of the characters disappears, we see their decapitated head and a glimpse of a girl being tortured 32 minutes in. Personally, I think it would've been even more effective if any glimpse of Elite Hunting was held off until one of our leads wakes up strapped to a chair at the 39 minute point, the horror hitting the audience in the face like a cold bucket of water. Just imagine if someone started watching Hostel on a movie channel some night with no idea of what it was, thought they were just watching a Eurotrip sex comedy, then suddenly a character was being horribly tortured and murdered. It'd be a pretty awesome out-of-nowhere twist.


Anyway, I think Hostel is fine as it is. Derek Richardson is great as Josh and has unfortunately been absent from any feature films since this (he missed out on a role in executive producer Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof soon after), I'd really like to see him have more of a movie career. Jay Hernandez as Paxton turns out to be a better, more likeable person once things go bad. And Nedeljakova does well in her role and is, of course, very nice to watch.

I had a friend named Crystal who said this was one of the most disturbing movies she had ever seen, that even though she had seen graphic medical photos over the course of her schooling, watching the torture/murder scenes in Hostel had made her almost physically ill. She said this as a negative, but I thought it was one of the best reviews the movie could get and sent her comments along to Eli Roth.



HOSTEL: PART II (2007)

Hostel: Part II begins with a fake-out dream sequence, and as I mentioned in my article on the Cold Prey trilogy, this is a pet peeve of mine. It starts out like Evil Dead II or Halloween II, a sequel that picks up almost immediately from the ending of the movie it's following. Paxton is taken to a hospital, where he recounts the events of Hostel to a group of people, complete with flashback clips. The people he's talking to turn out to be Elite Hunting members, they attack him... He wakes up in a completely different setting. None of those people were real, he was telling his story to nobody, time has been wasted.

But that is the film's one misstep in my eyes, and once we get past that, Part II is pretty great.

Since Elite Hunting has already been established, the inner workings can now be revealed. In the first movie we got an idea of the kind of people who take advantage of Elite Hunting's services; the typical type seems to be a wealthy person who has been able to afford every decadence and deviance, have experienced it all and grown bored, so they have had to escalate to torture and murder just to get a thrill.

This time, the film follows two Elite Hunting clients through the entire process. In a particularly great sequence, we see that passports of potential victims are scanned at the hostel in Slovakia and a bidding war ensues among clients over the victim(s) of their choosing. The "winners" we follow are power-hungry alpha male Todd and his emasculated family man buddy Stuart. They fly to Slovakia, get picked up by Elite Hunting, are well taken care of and given the bloodhound tattoos that all members are required to get. Like people waiting for a seat in a crowded restaurant, the men are provided pagers that will alert them when their victims are ready. The stuff with the guys is very interesting, well written, and well played by Richard Burgi and Roger Bart.

The film also follows Todd and Stuart's chosen victims, and here Roth takes the gender reversal route, following a trio of American girls on break from university in Italy, drawn to Slovakia with promise of experiencing the best natural hot springs spa in the world. There are similarities to the group dynamics in the first movie but, unlike their male precessors, these girls are totally likeable. Lauren German (as Beth, the responsible one) gets some cool stuff to do over the course of the film.


The style of Part II is very different from the first film, and I think it has a much better look. While Hostel was inspired by Japanese horror, with a cameo by Audition director Takashi Miike and an homage to Suicide Club, the sequel is Eli Roth's tribute to Italian horror, with direct inspiration from Torso and Night Train Murders. I think he was very successful at capturing the feel of an Italian film, and here we get cameos from giallo stars Edwige Fenech and Luc Merenda, as well as Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato as, appropriately, a cannibal.

It's strange to me how overlooked this movie is, and that it's generally ranked below the first film, because I find Hostel: Part II to be one of the rare cases where a sequel is across-the-board a better film than the one it follows.



HOSTEL: PART III (2011)

The third Hostel just came out on home video this past Tuesday. The fact that the movie is a direct-to-video release and Eli Roth had no involvement with it might generally be cause for concern, but the good news is, the director who was chosen to handle this sequel was someone who had a prior connection to the series and is one of my favorite people: Scott Spiegel. I heaped some praise on him and his 1989 slasher Intruder earlier this month.

Spiegel had been involved with the previous Hostel movies as an executive producer and partner in the Raw Nerve production company with Eli Roth and filmmaker Boaz Yakin. He participated in one of the commentaries on the first Hostel DVD and is always an entertaining guy to listen to, taking any opportunity to drop a bad pun.

Instead of just retreading the same ground as Roth's films, Spiegel and writer Michael Weiss take the action out of Slovakia and reveal that Elite Hunting is now a franchise itself, with clubs in locations around the world.

The location that Part III is based around is in Las Vegas, and the main characters are a group of friends in the city for a bachelor party. There's the groom-to-be who struggles to remain faithful despite the temptation around him, his fun-loving best man, the responsible one, and a character whose behavior is reminiscent of the douchebaggery exhibited in the beginning of the first movie. There are nods to the previous films in some of the situations that characters find themselves in, as Spiegel and Weiss play on the expectations of the audience and then twist things around several times.


As things go bad for this group, we discover that the Elite Hunting club in Las Vegas does things a little different: here, the murders are a spectator sport. Rather than the dirty, dingy rooms of the Slovakian factory, the murder room in the Vegas club is bright and clean, with a glass partition serving as one wall, through which a small audience observes the slow deaths of victims while playing a game called Wheel of Misfortune. This game allows them to bet on which threats or pleas the victims will make, how soon they will make them, which weapon the killer client will use to dispatch them, how long it will take them to die...

As expected, this sequel had a lower budget and a tighter schedule than the previous, and this does show in the look of the film, but doesn't hinder it much except for some effects that were a bit too ambitious. Spiegel's direction is more straightforward than in some of his other films, he doesn't do the odd P.O.V. shots so much here, but he does get in some unusual angles and some nice shots with reflections.


He also gets in several shots of women's backsides throughout the film, including giving Michael Weiss one of the best backgrounds to a credit that a writer has ever gotten. After seeing this film, I have no doubt that Scott Spiegel is an appreciator of the female posterior.

So, Part I was influenced by Japanese horror, II by Italian horror, but I'm not sure what III could be a tribute to. It draws comparison to The Hangover due to the "bachelor party in Vegas" aspect, but that's a tenuous connection. I'd like to think that Michael Weiss was inspired by the classic Best of the Best II, in which case there really should've been a Wayne Newton appearance somewhere in here. That would've been great, and very amusing to me. Scott Spiegel had an acting role in the awesome 1990 Tempe movie Skinned Alive, in which he spoke the line, "I hate Wayne Newton!" So to have Mr. Las Vegas himself appear in a film directed by Spiegel... oh, it would've been wonderful.

Kidding aside, Part III is a good addition to the series and the set-up of the Vegas club is a really clever idea. I would've liked to have seen even more of this place, the audience, their bets, and how it all works.

Having enjoyed all three of these movies, I'm all for the series continuing and showing us more of Elite Hunting as it makes its global expansion.



4 comments:

  1. wel, as much fun as it is, I do disagree with one thing: I don't want another Hostel film. Part 1 and 2 was enough, 3's starting to show the unstable franchising of the film. Just as Wrong Turn should had ended with just 2 films.

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  2. There were still enough clever ideas in Hostel III that if more sequels happen, I'd be interested in seeing how other branches of the business are run.

    I'm an eternal optimist when it comes to most horror franchises, slashers in particular. Even when there's been a lackluster sequel or two, I always have hope for the next one.

    - Cody

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  3. Hey, I'm one of the Audience Gamblers in the EHC in that photo. Maybe we will be back for Hostel IV?

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  4. That's awesome, thanks for leaving a comment! If you do return in the next film, come back here and let us know.

    - Cody

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