Monday, November 10, 2014

Monster Serial: HOSTEL 2 (2007)


April 13, 2014   06:32:47

Bureau Chief (BC):  I suppose you know why this tribunal has been called, Mr. McCray.

McCray (MC): I’ll be serving as representation for Mr. Miike, Mr. Wan, Mr. Pasolini, Mr. Roth, and Mr. Spasojević’.  The so-called “Torture Porn Five.”

BC: This morning, we simply need to you confine your comments to Mr. Roth, subsection b, “Hostel 2.”

MC: Oh, a comedy.  First, though, I ask the Bureau to define the term “torture porn.”

BC:  “A genre of horror entertainment whose sole purpose is to depict gratuitous human-on-human mutilation or self-disfigurement with no service or relation to plot, theme, character, or artistic merit.”

MC: And you’re using this trivializing and sensationalistic label of “Torture Porn” to group together the SAW films, HOSTEL 2, and…

BC:  Mr. McCray, limit your remarks to HOSTEL 2. 

MC:  Well, I don’t know what the hoopla is about.  This is a great movie.  Totally misunderstood.  Like much horror, it’s as satirical as it is scary. 

BC:  Satirical?

MC:  Arguably a dark comedy.  In the first film — referenced only for context — Roth updates PINOCCHIO.  Boys seek easy pleasures overseas and are brought to a factory-like facility.  They turn out to be the subjects of the pleasure of others… wealthy men who’ve paid a high price to have their way with the hostages. 

BC:  By “having their way,” you mean torture.

MC:  You bet.  If we’re going to talk about the darkest of human desires, we might as well go for the throat. These rich kids go from objectifying women to being objectified, themselves. 

BC: Eli Roth is no stranger to objectification.

MC:  You want to talk about objectification?  It doesn’t get more blatant than in these movies.  But yes, the film does focus on the desire of some humans to torture.  Not nearly as much as in HELLRAISER, which I believe you have elevated to the Horror Canon.

BC:  The camera lingers…

MC:  As much as Mr. Roth wants it to, to make the point.  He cuts away now and then.  So did Tobe Hooper in another genre classic, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, where viewers commonly report seeing things that Hooper never showed them, such as a victim being penetrated by a meathook.  He cuts away from that, actually.  And I’d like to add that you are free to look away.  Frankly, there are places I look away.  If you only closed your eyes during the gore, you would still be seeing 99% percent of the film and get all of the ironies. 

BC:  Ironies?

MC:  The chief one being that they, as Americans, are viewing the fallen Soviet Union as a place where the residents exist merely to pleasure them.  The political reality is that the American pursuit of instant gratification makes them acutely subject to criminal manipulation, and thus, quietly the victims of the very people they seek to casually exploit.

BC:  The Bureau will concede that point, since these are white men being victimized. 

MC:  Um, thank you?

BC:  But that only condemns HOSTEL 2, where women are victimized in a bland retelling of the exact, same story.

MC: (pause)  You’d be a terrible poker player.

BC:  I beg your pardon.

MC:  You didn’t see the film, did you?

BC:  (pause)  I didn’t need to.  I saw the trailer.  And after the first film…

MC:  Yes, where all of the heroes die.

BC:  Reprehensible.

MC:  (silence)

BC:  What?

MC:  That is not how the first film ends.  You didn’t see that, either, did you?

BC:  Look, Mr. McCray, we sat through SAW.  That told us us everything we needed to know.

MC:  A problematic film fixed by the sequels you probably didn’t see.  Which brings us back to a movie that at least one of us has seen: HOSTEL 2.  Yes, it begins quite deceptively… making you think that it will be the same-but-different.  I will save you time by citing the decoy scene in which Heather Matarazzo — you’ll remember her as the awkward protagonist of WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE — is stripped nude, hung upside down, and sliced repeatedly so that a wealthy client may bathe in her blood.  A reference to Elizabeth Bathory, by the way, featured in a classic Hammer film, COUNTESS DRACULA. 

BC: Please stop citing other works of art.

MC:  Ah, then it is art.  Like, OEDIPUS REX, where a man both sleeps with his mother and then blinds himself after removing the broaches from her clothing, making his last sight her naked body?  You mean that kind of art? 

BC:  (sighs)  Yes.  That kind of art.  Now, regarding the issue of “comedy”?

MC:  That begins when we see the perverse, eBay-like bidding by seemingly normal-looking, average people, desperate to buy new victims from The Hunting Club — the name of the business running the torture factory.  The juxtaposition of the bidders’ friendly normality and the vile subject of their bidding is creepy, droll and reverses all expectations.  These bidders are not cliches.  They make you question people you might know.  Or even yourself.  By doing so, audiences examine the cruelties they, themselves, might indulge in… even if those cruelties are things like simple passive-aggression or gossip.  It doesn’t matter.  Cruelty is cruelty.  We all need to be reminded of how seductive Schadenfreude can be.  Helps us avoid it.  

BC:  And this is comedic?

MC:  It can be at moments.  I believe it was Kubrick who felt that some subjects — like nuclear war — were so serious that they could only be dealt with via humor. And are you going to tell me that Stanley Kubrick was in favor of nuclear war? 

BC:  Of course not. 

MC:  Exactly.  This film is anti-violence.  Sometimes to do that, you have to show violence.  Such as in a war movie.  Like one featuring the D-Day invasion.  Directed by Steven Spielberg.

BC:  Point taken.

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MC:  Back to HOSTEL 2, from the moment when the bidding takes place, the film is not “the same wine in a new bottle.”  Roth’s film has pulled a fast one.  It inverts the first movie in a number of ways.  It answers key questions, such as the operations of the decadent-but-mundane Hunting Club, taking us backstage of a business that turns out to have the petty problems of any other business.  And in a world that’s all about money, the heroine simply outbids the others on herself.  Capitalism is both lampooned and celebrated as a power for good, all simultaneously.  As for gender issues, it even excoriates the lowbrow desire for thrills behind so much male bravado.  Bravado only displayed when women are trapped.  These college goons begin as cowards.  What does that say about the typical frat boy mentality?  These are the very people who would go to see this film, and Roth confronts and provokes them with the darkest mirror possible.   

BC:  But Mr. McCray, this is a film in which noses are bitten off….

MC:  If you could avoid a fate such as the one anticipated by the heroine, wouldn’t you resort to that?  Or to stop a rape?  Or are you not that brave?  Or resourceful? Talk about female empowerment.  And if it gives someone an idea of how to defend themselves against a rape?  I can live with that. Wouldn’t such violence be merited to prevent a rape? 

BC:  (pause) Yes.  

MC:  The film even has supporters in the area in which it is set.  No less than the former Slovak Minister of Culture plays the manager of The Hunting Club. 

BC: They play soccer with a human head.

MC:  I think he got that from John Huston, and THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING is a classic.  Look, if you don’t like a film, that’s fine. Just see it first.  And if you’re going to use a term like “torture porn,” you may want to think twice.  If you think of this as porn, I worry about you.  Vore and Dolcett it ain’t.  HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 it ain’t.  This is brisk, surprising, funny, suspenseful, political, and full of as much heroism as horror.  If you don’t like it… don’t see it.  If you don’t see it, don’t judge it. 


PATRICK McCRAY is a comic book author who resides in Knoxville, Tenn., where he's been a drama coach and general nuisance since 1997. He has a MFA in Directing and worked at Revolutionary Comics and on the early days of BABYLON 5, and is a frequent contributor to The Collinsport Historical Society. You can find him at The Collins Foundation.

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