Hostel(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 4.18.2006)
I'm surprised there aren't more horror movies about college kids backpacking through Europe. I really am. It's such a menacing backdrop, just oozing with horrific potential. I'll never forget the time I was nearly abducted on the outskirts of Rome, while drunkenly sauntering back to my hostel along a pitch black dirt road. Thank God a motorist happened to be coming down that very isolated road at exactly that moment and I managed to flag him down for help.
Hostel was born when an idea by producers Chris Briggs and Mike Fleiss to set a horror movie in the world of hostels collided with director Eli Roth's fascination with a website that claimed to offer rich people the opportunity to kill other human beings for fun. The first 40 minutes of the movie acquaint us with American friends Josh (Derek Richardson) and Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and their Icelandic travel buddy Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), as they explore Amsterdam. After taking full advantage of the city's notorious diversions (hookers and drugs), the trio hear about a hostel in Bratislava, where hot Slovakian girls have an unusual desire to screw foreign guys. Cut to the three male leads on board the next East-bound train.
As promised, there are plenty of willing girls at this hostel (guys, prepare to enjoy copious amounts of T&A). But things quickly take a turn for the worst and our three arrogantly oblivious protagonists go from being the luckiest guys alive, to the unluckiest guys alive, to scarcely alive at all. For anyone who has managed to avoid spoilers thus far, I'll stop my plot synopsis right here. Suffice to say, this is where the sick and depraved torture begins.
For those who have already seen and enjoyed the film, let me cut to the chase. Hostel is a superior DVD and a must own for horror fans. The a/v is excellent (the anamorphic transfer is particularly sweet) and it's packed with extras that will entertain for hours. And I mean hours. There are four commentary tracks, which manage to tackle a broad range of subjects and keep repetition to a minimum. There is plenty of advice for aspiring filmmakers, as well as entertaining behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
The track with Roth and executive producers Quentin Tarantino, Boaz Yakin, and Scott Speigel is particularly insightful. It's great to hear QT and Roth chat back and forth about the movie, while Yakin and Speigel -- who, along with Roth, run/ran Raw Nerve, a small production company dedicated to low-budget, hard "R" horror flicks (the company appears to have called it quits) -- offer their own amusing observations.
Roth's solo track demonstrates a shrewd understanding of horror films. Never stumbling or running out of things to say, Roth is animated throughout the commentary, as he candidly discusses everything that has happened to him since the success of Cabin Fever. There's no doubt that Roth is a huge fan of the genre. In fact, the various commentary tracks produce several worthwhile horror recommendations. In particular, I'd recommend that horror fans check out 70s Aussie film Long Weekend, an obscure gem that both Roth and Tarantino express an affection for.
The remaining two tracks feature key Hostel collaborators such as Ain't it Cool News boss Harry Knowles -- who told Roth about the website that inspired the film, in the first place -- editor George Folsey Jr., actor Eythor Gudjonsson, documentarian Gabriel Roth, and producer Chris Briggs. All four tracks are deifnitely worth a listen.
Even better than the commentaries is the hilarious making-of documentary, Hostel Dissected, crafted with care by Roth's brother Gabriel. Arbitrarily divided into three featurettes, this is really a single, hour-long piece and one of the best behind-the-scenes docs I've seen in a long time. Unfortunately, I've heard that Sony cut out some of the most entertaining bits for legal reasons, which is truly a shame. Maybe we'll see an "unrated director's cut" someday.
Rounding out the extras is a feature called "Kill the Car!," which allows you to watch the crazy group of Slovakian kids from the film destroy a car from multiple angles. These kids, by the way, are one of the best parts of the movie. Big up to their mad break-dancing skillz, which are featured prominently in Hostel Dissected.
As for the "unrated" aspect of the DVD, apart from a few extra seconds of gore here and there, the film is scarcely different from the theatrical version. That said, the prolonged finger-slicing scene was a welcome addition. As far as endings go, Hostel has three. One ending never made it past the writing stage and two were shot in full. The first ending shot was deemed too dark and depressing by test audiences and shelved in favour of a "happier" ending, which was shot later (note: happier does not always mean happy).
Unfortunately, we do not get to see the more sinister ending on this DVD. Instead, Roth has promised that it will appear on a special edition DVD sometime in the future. Is this a blatant case of double-dipping? Not really because, rather than present the alternate ending as an extra feature, Roth plans to release the second DVD with the alternate ending integrated into the movie, which should dramatically alter the effect of the movie and justify the double dip. Sounds good to me.
Overall, Hostel is a nasty horror movie with a wicked premise and solid acting, all of which puts it miles ahead of the PG-13 garbage that passes for horror these days. Given the obvious talent on display in Cabin Fever and now Hostel, I'm convinced that Roth has the potential to deliver the next modern day horror masterpiece. Here's hoping he doesn't pull a Wes Craven (or Tobe Hooper) and peak early. -- Sarah Duda