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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hostel 2

I’ll bet a lot of readers here are going to expect from the get-go that I’ll have nothing nice to say about Hostel 2, which is now at the Essex Cinemas. Most people, myself included, just automatically expect critics to hate horror movies; period. And they generally do. Usually, film reviewers keep their noses so far up one another’s butts trying to act as pretentious as possible so that a cocktail party full of them would look more like a Sunday afternoon at a dog park than a reception for highbrow types. I suppose it’s because horror appeals to the baser basic instincts (which may explain their inevitable panning of all Sharon Stone movies too). Still, I like a good thrill once in a while. It’s just that a good horror flick doesn’t come along often enough these days that offers anything all that exciting.

Maybe if you are a teenager and you haven’t seen a lot of gut-busting (Alien) gross-out (Devil’s Rejects) or slasher (Halloween, Friday the 13th, et.al.) films to learn the rhythms and “language” of horror, you might be easily pleased with crap like The Messengers, but old cranks like me want more. We like frivolous additions like plot and acting, even over-the-top acting, as long as it isn’t just bad acting. And it’s easy to tell the difference between the two. Just look at the “acting” in any Cinemax After Dark movie (oh, you know you have even if you won’t admit it) and, say, William Shatner’s acting on tv’s “Boston Legal.” While the Skinemax (as it is informally called in the industry) movies feature lots of nudity, they seldom require their stars to emote beyond the ability to move their lower anatomy in syncopating rhythms. We’re blessed that Shatner keeps clothed on “Boston Legal” (at least so far) and while nobody is going to believe that his character “Denny Crane” could ever exist in the real world, he makes us laugh with his bloated overacting and pomposity. In this case, even over-the-top, he can make us laugh, make us care, and actually engage us in who “Denny” is.

Sadly, too many horror movies today rely on amateurs with pretty faces and bodies to fill their roles and fail to sell the story. That was a problem on the first
Hostel and was one of the reasons I wasn’t fond of it. This time around, no doubt thanks to the enormous financial success of the original, writer and Director Eli Roth was able to pony up a few more shekels and hire a couple of recognizable faces, if not “”Name” actors.

I thought the first Hostel was actually a boring movie for a film about sadistic torture. Oh, the special effects and make-up truly were special in a sick kind of way, but the biggest yawn for me was that absolutely nothing scary happened in the first hour of the movie at all. It was really just a cheesy, low-budget travelogue of Amsterdam and Slovakia featuring as many naked breasts as possible. Then there was the gratuitous torture and death of the tourists for no apparent reason. Ho hum. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a flag-waving American, and so, I guess, thanks to Bush and Dick, I am required to support torture. I just don’t look at it as an amateur participation sport. At least our military trains people for that. But I digress.

For me, the real story was missing somehow, but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly I was looking for until now, and Hostel 2 is da bomb. It answers all the questions that were never explained in the first film, and it makes the whole enterprise that lures, traps, and then auctions off tourists for torture a clear-cut business to be admired in its intricacy and delivery of services. Hostel 2 also shows us both sides of the situation, letting us get to know the would-be victims of alluring Axelle (Vera Jordanova; star of the Finnish tv hit "Isänmaan toivot"), whose job is to scour Europe in search of human flesh worth peddling. Unlike in the first installment, Hostel 2 focuses on three young women wandering through the continent. One, Beth (Lauren German;
It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine!), is a rich-beyond-belief heiress and the most sensible of the trio, while her friend Whitney (Bijou Phillips; You Are Here) is her impulsive (i.e., slutty) counterpart, and the third is sad-sack Lorna (Heather Matarazzo; Believe in Me), who might as well have the sign “meat” hung around her neck.

This is the reason to love Hostel 2. I know it will come as a tremendous disappointment to the males coming to see the movie, and it is pretty gutsy of Roth to go this route since it is young men who are the chief audience of these testosterone-driven gore fests, but Hostel 2 is not packed with female nudity the way the original was. As a matter of fact, of the three lead actresses, the only one with significant full nudity is Matarazzo, who has made a lucrative career for herself out of playing everything from dowdy to downright ugly.

Roth also plays with the notion that women are just as tough as men any day, if not more so when it comes right down to it. In addition, he tosses in one absolutely too-righteous-for-words twist that is both shocking and funny. Yes, that’s right. Hostel 2 has a sense of humor. It can’t not have one with the two main “customers” of the business played by a couple of “Desperate Housewives”
desperate ex-husbands as the leads. Richard Burgi (“Housewives”’ Carl) is Todd, an ǔber-rich Type A family man, and Roger Bart (“Housewives”’ now-deceased pharmacist gone bad, George) is his tag-along best-pal, in it only at Todd’s insistence (and on his many, many dimes). It’s very easy to see the two of them getting together on hiatus from “Wisteria Lane” to fly off for a little slap, tickle, and fun with buzz saws in Slovakia during the summer. It’s also easy to envision the b.s. that flies between these two before the “moment” when they are paged to take care of their “business”. Their male bravado is like listening to a couple of teenagers bragging about the fight they are planning with a rival couple of guys from a school across town. I kept expecting Burgi to start grunting like Tim Allen used to do on his old ”Home Improvement” television series.

Of course, what happen in the foundry where the “business” operates is like Vegas. “What happens in the foundry stays in the foundry,” so I am not about to spoil that action for you. Suffice to say, both the expected and unexpected happens, and both require a strong stomach and steady nerves. Hostel 2 delivers on the “ick” factor, but it also brings along a really satisfying surprise that women in the audience will find laughable while the men in the audience will find it excruciatingly unpleasant. It involves the use of the infamous “C” word, and as my second grade teacher Sister Mary Vulgaria would say, offers us all a “teachable moment” about what not to say to a stressed-out woman surrounded by sharp objects.

It is so obvious that Roth is already thinking about Hostel 3 as this entry ends with a peculiar change in one character, which appears to have flip-flopped like a Republican to Democrat overnight. It’s not clear, but it seems we may have a new scout for Hostel 3, but it is anybody’s guess at this point. If the improvements from the first to this chapter are any indication of where this series I headed, then I’m ready for the next visit, vomit bucket and all.

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