Eli Roth has the touch of the sophomore prankster. The lasting effect of all three of his films is a certain kind of Grand Guignol “Punk’D”, in which the “mark” is not only embarrassed, he’s also cut to pieces. You half expect Roth to pop up just as a character is having his face sliced off to yell, “You’ve just been Punk’d, Bitch!”
E.C. Comics stated that irony “was good for your blood”. Roth has certainly taken this to heart in his films, layering his blood with irony and generous helpings of parody and homage as well. He shares this prankster attitude with his friend and producer Quentin Tarantino, but the thing that separates Tarantino from the pack is his overall moral vision of the world, where the bad boy behavior has to eventually reap what he sowed and learn the consequences of his actions. Roth is a bit more nihilistic and certainly more misanthropic in his storytelling. For one thing, I’d rather be slowly cut to pieces than to spend a single night on the town with the “heroes” of “Hostel” part one.
But this does not mean that Roth makes simple genre films with no redeeming value outside of a few laughs and cheap horror effects. And although those guys looking for a good lay in Slovakia were idiotic, Roth himself is no idiot. He actually makes you feel bad on a human level for Jay Hernandez and his crew, since no one, not even those losers deserved the fate that awaited them.
Like the first sequels to “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, “Hostel Part 2” begins immediately after the events of part one. Jay Hernandez’s Paxton is found unconscious on the train, his mutilated, bloody hand still tense in the O.J leather glove. He awakes in a local hospital and discovers that his nightmare is far from over, and that the “authorities” have arrived to finish the job. This turns out to be a nightmare, of course, and Paxton awakes in the comfortable bed of his pretty blonde girlfriend Stephanie, played by Roth regular Jordan Ladd.
It’s here that Roth turns the formula on its head as he just drops the whole Paxton plot and switches up the Kafka-esque tone of the original, in which strange glances and mysterious half-seen occurrences concealed the villains’ plot. Here, he goes to the villains next, and shows how they run their disgusting “Most Dangerous Game”-type business, taking the passport photos of Eastern European vacationers Beth (Lauren German), Whitney (Bijou Phillips), and Lorna (Heather Mattarazo) and putting them onto an online auction of sorts to be bid on by fat and bored rich men looking for a new thrill.
The point of view is shifted from the isolated and unknowing subjective one of the first film to an omniscient narrative that creates ironic suspense out of the sword that hangs over these three young ladies from the first moment they appear onscreen. This just happens to be at some kind of Rome outdoor art class, complete with a male nude model that the ladies are trying to sketch anatomically. But Roth doesn’t switch his brides of Dracula for Dracula himself as you might imagine.
The basic plot of the original film was almost a standard Hammer styled Gothic, in which horny, sexually repressed males were presented with a wet dream of seemingly available beauties whose kiss proved to be deathly in the extreme. Here, the ladies are not courted by a masculine sexual fantasy, but rather another charming vixen, the artist’s model Axelle (Vera Jordanova). Beth seems fascinated and excited by Axelle right from the start, and Roth plays on the particularly male fantasy of a possible lesbian tryst for the next hour.
It’s here that he pulls off a narrative coup that really works. He lets us meet the two men who have won the auction to torture and kill both Whitney and Beth. Todd (Richard Burgi) and Stuart (Roger Bart) arrive in Slovakia and are given TGIFRIDAYS-like beepers to notify them when they must arrive for the big show. The two are friends, with Todd being the Type A alpha male who cannot wait to get a confirmed “kill”, since he believes others can just sense the power. Stuart on the other hand is controlled by his wife and is threatened by his friend, and seems to be the one who will crack when the time comes to do the deed. Roth pulls off a great piece of dramatic theater by having Beth spill her drink on Stuart at the local festival, causing the two to spend some time together. It’s an inspired moment as Stuart is forced to see his victim as an actual human being.
The film’s style and narrative slips into an Argento-esque dream mode right in the middle of the long anticipated but still unconsummated lesbian sex scene in the Hostel’s hot springs. Roth borrows specifically from Argento’s “Four Flies on Grey Velvet” to slide us from one apparent reality into the “Twilight Zone” of torture and death. In Argento’s film, a woman drifts off into a daydream while waiting for someone in an old cemetery. When she looks up, she realizes that hours have gone by, all of the people have gone, and the gates are being locked. In “Hostel Part 2”, Roth has Beth close her eyes as she receives gentle kisses from Axelle in the pool, and when she looks up, realizes that she is out there, completely alone. From this point on, the photography and set design become more expressionist and the events much more enigmatic. This is very new ground for Roth, and it will be interesting to see if he’s willing to go towards this more surreal, European style of horror.
Roth does a decent job setting up his characters, and he’s helped by the very strong cast. Lauren German is perhaps best known for her short appearance in the remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, but she makes for a very likable and intelligent version of the slasher film “Final Girl”. While Bijou Phillips plays a hyperbolized version of her tabloid persona, she seems to have grown up a lot since “Havoc” and “Bully”, and is very charismatic and funny as the sarcastic and very sexually available Whitney. Heather Mattarazo plays on her “Welcome to the Dollhouse” persona again, but ends up performing a scene that is far and away the most shocking and violent thing in either of the “Hostel” films. Roth must’ve worked wonders with the MPAA over this normally forbidden mix of sex and bloody death.
Vera Jordanova has the biggest shoes to fill and only fills them about halfway. Barbara Nedeljakova was so hypnotic and conveyed such casual, vacuous evil in the first “Hostel” that any other actor would be caught in her shadow. As the killers, both Burgi and Bart almost steal the whole film. Burgi gets all the best lines, but Bart has the drama. In many ways, Stuart is the main character of the film, as it’s his decisions that the final events depend upon. For the giallo fans, there is also the very welcome presence of Edwidge Fenech, the sexy star of many great Sergio Martino films, who once again shows off her still considerable assets.
Roth has made an excellent bookend film to “Hostel”. Taken together, the pair of films provide the requisite genre thrills while also displaying a very coldly observed Kubrickian exploration of the business of exploitation, the image of the ugly American abroad, and the frightening similarities between sexual desire and the impulse to kill. Very few filmmakers today are able to create genre films that manage to make the audience question their relationship to the spectacle onscreen. Roth seems to be one of them, and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Eli Roth (director) / Eli Roth (screenplay)
CAST: Lauren German … Beth
Roger Bart … Stuart
Heather Matarazzo … Lorna
Bijou Phillips … Whitney
Richard Burgi … Todd
Vera Jordanova … Axelle
Jay Hernandez … Paxton
Jordan Ladd … Stephanie