Eli Roth in ‘Hostel: Part II’ Flirts Fiddly Line Between Tasteful Terror, Repugnant Repulsion

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Rating: 2.5/5CHICAGO – “It’s the difference between hunting a lion and a deer.”

Eli Roth, director of “Hostel: Part II,” articulated in an interview with Adam Fendelman that view of his “Hostel” men as weighed against his “Hostel: Part II” women. The tellingly revealing statement touches not only on his muse for the sequel but also his take on the female kind and people’s darkest secrets.

Eli Roth (center) with Lauren German (left) and Bijou Phillips (right) in “Hostel: Part II”.
Photo courtesy of Rico Torres and Lionsgate

The concept to calculatingly ferret and torture women was conceived from “Death Proof” – Quentin Tarantino’s half of “Grindhouse” – because Roth so fancied Tarantino’s violent femmes. Roth regarded the “Death Proof” girls as the new bar for females in horror films. Tarantino executive produced “Hostel: Part II” and Roth acted in “Death Proof” a week before shooting his hostile sequel.

Parlaying a threesome into his own ferocious film world, Roth – who as a horror director fears real blood – seized the opportunity to strike back and grow his successful empire. Undaunted by being dubbed as a masochistic misogynist and forever burdened to dangerously flirt the thorny line between tasteful terror and repugnant repulsion, Roth is a fiddly lad to tag.

On one hand, he’s one of the most profitable directors in Hollywood. As the business is exactly that – a business – and as a business is in business to make money, Roth has a knack for translating relatively low-budget films into box-office surprises that send investors to cloud nine.

“‘Hostel’ was a total one-off movie that was supposed to be a little movie I did between movies,” Roth said. “The average budget for a movie is now $80 million. ‘Hostel’ was made for $3.8 million. Even if it had only come out in a few cities and did $8 to $10 million, it would have been a home run. We didn’t even know if it’d come out in theaters.”

When “Hostel” opened at $20 million and knocked out “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Roth says he was floored at the voracious appetite for his ideas. In total, “Hostel” has raked in $80 million in worldwide receipts.

On the other hand, you get the sense from speaking with him that he’s either selling you an alternate reality or he’s unaware of what his reality really is. He speaks of greatness he hasn’t yet achieved and his dossier hasn’t yet produced the timeless classics as he’d like to think.

“In ‘Hostel: Part II,’ I wanted an unbelievable climax,” he said. “The last moment of the film needed to be a showstopper – the end all, be all of horror films – with a great kill and one of best endings ever in a horror film.”

The groin yank was at least vile, foul, odious, sadistic, inhuman, malicious, malevolent, wicked, heinous, nefarious, sinful, fiendish – let’s see – what other adjectives are there on Thesaurus.com for just plain sick? Let us not forget the silent, slow scene with a grown man pointing a gun at the heads of children in a lineup.

At least he used a silencer. That was kind.

In deliberating the sequel, Roth says he sought to make the “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” of the “Hostel” series. In truth, though, grouping the two in the same sentence is like contrasting a fine wine that has aged to perfection with a tasty glass of Red Bull that has its thrill rides but may or may not stand the test of time.

Bijou Phillips plays Whitney in “Hostel: Part II”.
Photo courtesy of Rico Torres and Lionsgate

Timing is very much on Roth’s brain. He describes the ability to be scary to audiences as that which is scary to him. He also plots his stories squarely around what America fears at a given moment in time.

“I was in Prague when Katrina hit. It was like ‘Dawn of the Dead,’” Roth said. “Bodies were flowing down the street and there were no police. People went right to a primal state of killing, raping and looting. The army didn’t show up for five days. That terrifies me.

“Look anywhere where there’s no law. What do people do? They go right to killing. It’s something in human nature. Under the right circumstances, anyone can become a killer. When no one’s looking, people have that need inside them to control and torture another human being.”

With the plot of obscenely moneyed people who drool at the opportunity to bid on the torture and ultimate death of random overseas female tourists, Roth makes the stretch of comparing his fictional story to President Bush’s real-world war in Iraq.

“Why is that war happening? It’s for oil. It’s for money. Halliburton is making those decisions. Do you really think any of those decisions are being made for the good of a country? It’s blood for money. It’s capitalism to its most extreme. It’s very real. We’re in Iraq because that’s where the money is. That’s scary.”

Roth bills his work as not just scary but intelligently so. To up the gore ante, he says all you need is another tool – such tools are inspired by torture devices used by the church – and another body. The tough part is making it smarter, he says, and what’s really terrifying is the look on the actor’s face. It’s not the actual graphic brutality.

“I have to compete with films with $100 million ad campaigns along with ‘24,’ ‘Nip/Tuck’ and ‘CSI’ on TV. A great horror movie kill can trump everything. If you can do the shower scene in ‘Psycho,’ the opening in ‘Jaws’ or another signature scene, then it doesn’t matter what movie stars you have or what you spent on special effects because people have got to see that moment.

“That’s what ‘Hostel: Part II’ has. At the end of the film, people will come out saying: ‘I’ve never seen that in a movie.’ The ratings board didn’t know what to compare this to and that’s what people like about me. People see my name and they look for intelligence and originality. ‘Hostel’ was the one that raised the bar and pushed the envelope further than any film had at that point.”

The bitterly divisive debate about the “R” rating for “Hostel: Part II” by the MPAA – instead of “NC-17” – is unsurprisingly viewed by the film’s maker as a democratic breath of fresh air. He eulogizes the association’s autonomous process.

“With ‘Hostel’ and ‘Saw II,’ the MPAA got many complaints. We were under the microscope this time. Before we were under the radar. When ‘Hostel: Part II’ came in, they were ready for it. It’s ‘Hostel: Part II’. It’s not ‘Happy Feet: Part II’. People know what it is. What they built it up to be in their minds was so much worse than what it actually was. We had a great discussion about it.

Heather Matarazzo plays the innocent role of Lorna in “Hostel: Part II”.
Photo courtesy of Rico Torres and Lionsgate

“I really feel lucky that we have a system like the MPAA. In Germany, they’ll say: ‘Take these scenes out or the movie’s not going in theaters.’ It’s government censored.

“In Japan, ‘Hostel’ didn’t come out. They said: ‘We’re not going to have a movie where an American disfigures a Japanese girl’s face.’ That’s it. There’s no discussion. You watch a movie and they say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Ukraine? No. Singapore? No. In the U.S., we can have a discussion about it and can recut it. It’s run by the studios and not the government. It’s the only system by which I have a voice and a process.”

Whether you deem Roth to be a tormented soul or an explicit genius, there’s a method to his madness.

In his view, the stories touch on what people really feel and do – but often don’t say or show – and the realities about the most menacing parts of life. To bring what he perceives as such raw honesty to theaters, Roth paradoxically makes his actors feel “comfortable” and “safe” in their bloodied environments.

“These actors go to a very dark place,” Roth said. “When they’re crying and screaming, it’s real. They’re stirring up deep trauma and mental anguish. The most horrible, darkest thing in their life is right there on the surface and they’re reliving it.”

As culture changes, Roth’s terror changes.

Next, Roth is fixated on honing in on the dying of the world’s bees in the upcoming film “Cell”. From human torture to bees? Yes. He’s terrified by it. He says a quarter of the bee population is currently dying potentially because of cell phones knocking out the radar of the bees.

“Einstein says the human race is four steps eliminated from the extinction of bees,” Roth said. “Once the bees go, flowers won’t get pollinated, vegetables won’t grow, we won’t get oxygen and the human race will die without bees. Cell phones could be killing off the bees. I want to show there’s something brewing.

“With all this wireless stuff that’s pumped into the air to make our lives convenient, there’s a fear that it’s doing something we can’t even see. ‘Cell’ explores that fear. You have to know what the fear is going to be to know what the horror will be. It’s not a movie about the fear of technology. It makes the human behavior real. Then the film is timeless.”

HollywoodChicago.com editor-in-chief Adam Fendelman


© 2007 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com

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