Eli Roth is obviously a poseur, but on the evidence of Hostel: Part II, he’s also kind of a pussy. Anyone can string a naked woman up by the ankles and slit her throat, and while I admit it takes a little extra something to position a Eurotrash villainess beneath her flayed torso, then gawk at the sight of her rubbing blood all over her tits, that hardly qualifies as a bold new genre vision. The Splat Pack bad boy imagines he’s raising the bar on horror when in fact he isn’t making horror movies at all. Like the fake trailer for Thanksgiving, his amusingly skuzzy contribution to Grindhouse, the sequel to Roth’s vile hit Hostel is a riff on shock, a meta-movie lark. It’s too goofy to disturb, too silly to scare, closer in spirit (if not in skill) to the cartoon yucks of Evil Dead II than the transgressive classics it so desperately tries to trump.
Blame (but don’t believe) the hype. Repulsed by Roth’s fanboy fever to up the ante on sex and violence, commentator Nikki Finke greeted the news of a high-quality H2 bootleg with glee. “Lionsgate deserves to feel the effects of piracy (not to mention the wrath of mankind) for distributing such a disgusting film,” she boldly opined. Over at The Hot Blog, David Poland popped a hot disc in his player and promptly exploded in a moralistic hissy fit. “I watched a scene that was the most disgusting, degrading, misogynistic, soulless shit I have ever seen in a movie that is going to be released widely in this country,” he wrote. Currently there are 33,000 words of reader commentary posted in response to his rant.
So here I am expecting the motherfucking Sacre du Printemps of slasher flicks, and I end up with a passably made gorefest considerably less brutalizing than my rush hour subway ride to the Times Square premiere.
Routinely plotted and predictable in its ironies, H2 duplicates the original scenario but flips the gender. So long, frat boys–it’s ladies night! The meat puppets include Lauren German as the nice girl with a trust fund, Bijou Phillips as the slut, and Heather Matarazzo as the dork. En route to Prague, they’re lured by yet another crypto-lesbo (Vera Jordanova) into a Slovakian snuff club where high rolling psychopaths bid top dollar for the pleasure of killing. In what passes for innovation here, Roger Bart and Richard Burgi co-star as clients in a subplot that follows their murderous preparations, complete with homoerotic undercurrents and cornball alpha male psychodrama.
Going behind the scenes of the death club, Roth invents the hilariously nefarious mastermind Sasha (Milan Knazko), a haute-Euro boogeyman with tacky taste in tchotchkes, a ball-breaking henchwoman, and two big, droopy bloodhounds. The effect is pure Blofeld. Indeed, the bigger budget has aggrandized Hostel‘s sleazy abattoir-chic toward a James Bond camp of production design. Beginning with the handsome, candle-lit dungeon spa, the torture sequences advance to the velvety dining parlor of a cannibalistic aesthete who munches on the thigh sashimi of a strapping (and strapped down) young lad. Meanwhile, across the hall, a plump, faggoty hairdresser grooms the girls for their customers in a well-appointed dressing room.
And the violence? Very nasty indeed, if neutered by Roth’s pathetic desperation to shock. The most disturbing thing about this implausibly R-rated spectacle is what it says about the double standard of the MPAA. Apparently, you can linger over a cock in close-up so long as it’s being cut in half by a pair of scissors. Getting an audience to whoop in pleasure at graphic castration is less an expression of some twisted feminist agenda, as our disingenuous auteur would have us believe, than a dirty little YouTube stunt writ large.
Ends up there is a moral to the story, one sure to delight the bamboozled pseudo-intellectuals who laughably defended Hostel as a geo-political critique of American arrogance and the culture of torture. Having survived her ordeal in classic Final Girl style, our mega-rich heroine simply buys her way to freedom. Eli Roth punks capitalism all the way to the bank with cheap tricks and bankrupt imagination.