I’ll never forget the first time I saw the trailer for Hostel. Maybe it’s because I was in the movie theater to see Saw II, but the trailer honestly made it out to seem like a ripoff of the Saw franchise. Be that as it may, I still went to the theater opening night to see Eli Roth’s sophomore effort and follow-up to Cabin Fever.
I loved Cabin Fever at the time…still do, so checking out Hostel seemed like a logical step. The theater was legitimately packed. Sold out. I don’t know about the rest of America, but in North Carolina, we take our horror seriously. Watching Hostel in a crowded movie theater was one of the be best theatrical experiences I have ever had. The entire audience laughed at the right times, screamed at the right times, and groaned at the right times. The scene in which Paxton (Jay Hernandez) clips Kana’s (Jennifer Lim) eyeball off post-blowtorch, the crowd was going absolutely insane. People screaming “No!” and “OH MY GOD!” It was an absolute blast.
As far as I’m concerned, Hostel is a horror classic. Light years ahead of most of the horror films coming out in the 00s. Better than Saw or any other entries in the Saw franchise (as of the time of this writing), and better than Paranormal Activity. I personally prefer it to The Ring or 28 Days Later, but plenty of people would disagree with me on that. Better than Cabin Fever (even if Cabin Fever was shot only a few miles from my hometown), about neck and neck with Alex Aja’s remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and a little shy of being as good as The Devil’s Rejects.
I think my love for Hostel comes from the fact that I look at it differently from most people. Apart from it being a horror film, I always saw it as a coming of age movie as well. Paxton and Josh, despite their penchant for drugs, alcohol, and hookers, are essentially just a couple of kids. They’re immature, they still think they’re invincible, and they don’t understand how expendable they really are (as expendable as the rest of us living in the real world).
The beginning of Hostel shows us the last few days of Paxton and Josh getting to be a couple of oblivious kids. They’re both about to find out first hand how truly cruel the world can be. Josh has a bit more of an idea that Paxton seems to, as he discusses having witnessed a child drown years prior, but generally speaking, neither character seems to understand the concept of “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
Personally, I find the movie a bit sadder than most people probably do.
I also find it to be funny, entertaining, and full of fine chophouse horror fun, but there’s some artistry to Hostel. Not just in the writing, but also aesthetically. I love how vibrant glowing neon lights illuminate the first act and then slowly, subtly, the colors are drained from the film as Paxton and Josh descend further into the hell that is about to become their lives.
It’s a film I‘ve come back to at least once a year, every year, since its release.
It’s fair to say I was a huge fan of Hostel from the beginning, so my anticipation for Hostel Part II was pretty damn intense. Granted I was a younger man in 2007, so I was more apt to be excited about things. A feeling I get less and less as I approach middle age, but I digress.
Hostel Part II didn’t disappoint me. I know a lot of people consider it to be a poor follow up to the original, but I quite enjoy Hostel Part II. No, I don’t personally like it as much as Hostel, but it’s still a great time. I think the biggest flaw for me comes with the opening of the movie. We spent an entire film with Paxton and rooted so hard for him to get away, then Roth just kinda throws his character away at the beginning of Hostel Part II. Personally I’d rather he just left Paxton’s fate ambiguous and started Hostel Part II off with the girls.
Beyond that one gripe, I think Hostel Part II is fantastic. While I do think overall that Hostel is the superior film, I don’t think there’s a scene in Hostel that is as intense as the scene where they’re bidding on Beth or Lorna’s death. In fact most horror movies, in general, I don’t think have scenes as intense as Lorna’s death.
In most cases, I would resent too much explanation in a horror movie. When they over-explained Michael Myers, I rolled my eyes. When they delved deeper into Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 & 5, I was not into it, but Hostel Part II is the rare case where I think the more I know, the better it is. I love learning more about how the Elite Hunting works and I especially love learning more about how exactly the Bubble Gum Gang fits into it.
Hostel Part II is also something of a coming of age story, but unlike Josh or Paxton, Beth doesn’t succumb to the cruel world greeting her in the dungeons of the Elite Hunters. Instead, she adapts. She learns quickly, she can and will do whatever it takes to get along in the real world. Even if that means castrating a man and joining the Elite Hunting club herself. The other girls—uh, well they basically just succumb, but not Beth. Beth is a badass.
Eli Roth is a divisive director in the horror community. Not as divisive as say, Rob Zombie (Jesus Christ, I don’t even dare mention his name around horror fans) but he certainly has his fans and detractors. I’m a fan of most of his work. He’s made movies that really resonated with me and films I didn’t particularly care for, but Hostel and Hostel Part II stand to me as his best work to date, with Hostel being his masterpiece.
I know there was a third film in the franchise but I never watched it. If you check out the director’s commentaries on the DVD/Blu-Ray (and you should), it becomes apparent that the Hostel movies were Eli Roth’s babies at the time he was making them. Whether you like the films or not, it’s clear they were a passion project for Roth and it just never seemed right for anyone else to direct them, so I never had any desire to see Hostel Part III.
For whatever reason, Saw became the legendary big dog of ‘00s horror—but if you ask me, it should have been Hostel.