Friday, February 10, 2012

Blogorium Review: Hostel Part III

 I feel like there should be some kind of criteria for reviewing direct to video sequels. See, they're almost never going to "hold up" to their theatrical brethren, and even when they do people seem surprised, like it's not possible. I blame Disney for a lot of this, so bear with me here: while DTV isn't by any means new, and the house that Walt built isn't entirely responsible for this, they did unleash a wave of direct to video sequels to their newer, successful films. There were the Aladdin sequels, the Little Mermaid sequels, the Beauty and the Beast Christmas movie, then The Fox and the Hound II, Pocahontas II, Peter Pan: Return to Neverland, The Lion King 1 1/2 and 2, Lady and the Tramp II, Cinderella II, Cinderella III, and even a Hunchback of Notre Dame II.

 What these unwarranted, unasked for sequels all have in common is the same thing that most DTV sequels have in common: they look cheaper, they feel half-assed, and they aren't very good. Disney keeps pumping them out, and parents looking to satisfy their kids' appetite for something new (but old at the same time) keep buying / renting them. The same thing applies for action, science fiction, comedy, and especially horror fans when it comes to DTV: we know it's not going to be good, but what the hell, right?

 In the case of Hostel Part III, we're looking at a trifecta of "uh oh"'s heading in: it's DTV, it was made without the participation of Eli Roth (who wrote and directed Hostel and Hostel Part II but apparently didn't even want to produce this one), and aside from the Elite Hunting Club, has nothing to do with the first two films. I understand that very few people are of the same mind as the Cap'n when it comes to Hostel and Hostel Part II, but I think they're a step about the Saw films and other so-called "torture porn." I feel that the first one plays some interesting games with our sympathies and expectations, and that Part II takes any lingering expectations and turns them on their heads again, both with a gruesome sense of humor while simultaneously generating some serious discomfort during the "kill" scenes.

 Therefore, I walked headlong into Hostel Part III, not knowing much about the film nor wanting to know a whole lot about the "starting from scratch" plot. There are no shortage of terrible DTV sequels (American Psycho 2, any of the Children of the Corn or The Howling) but every now and then there's an unexpected (if unrequested) sequel that surprises you, even with lowered expectations. Hostel Part III is in league with the likes of 30 Days of Night: Dark Days as a movie I was pleasantly surprised by. They aren't great, and to be honest I don't know that the world would even notice if they didn't exist, but for what they are you aren't going to feel ripped off (like, say, Hellraiser: Revelations).

 Hostel Part III's secret weapon is its director, Scott Spiegel. You might not recognize the name, but he was / is a long-time collaborator with Sam Raimi and also directed Intruder and From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, which is also a "well, that was kind of fun" DTV sequel from the turn of the millennium. Spiegel is a big fan of strange camera angles and uniquely gory effects, one of which fits in really well with the Hostel series, which he produced (hence the connection).

 In fact, taking the Elite Hunting Club out of Eastern Europe and dropping it into Las Vegas might be exactly what the series needed to keep Hostel Part III from being "more of the same, but less." Once you remove the concept of visitors in a foreign land unknowingly walking right into a trap (what I'd call the "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" template) and put it in "Sin City," where people go to do horrible things and no one ever finds out (for the sake of comparison, let's call that the "Hangover" template), then the stakes have changed. The American assholes out to use the "old country" as their personal playground is gone and now they're wittingly setting themselves up for whatever horrors await.

 This time around, instead of vacationing students, we have some buddies going on a bachelor party: there's the groom, Carter (Kip Pardue), his best friend Scott (Brian Hallisay), his married pal Mike (Skyler Stone), and the guy with the crutch, Justin (John Hensley). After leaving his bride-to-be, Amy (Kelly Thiebaud) behind, Carter is informed by Scott that they aren't going to Palm Springs, but to Vegas where he's hired some "special" company in the form of Kendra (Sarah Habel) and Nikki (Zulay Henao) at a special club off of the strip. If you've seen Hostel, you can imagine where this is going.

 And while you'd be right (eventually), you're going to be wrong almost every other step of the way: Spiegel and screenwriter Michael Weiss are constantly misdirecting the audience, playing to what you assume is going to happen only to discover that they turned left instead of right. It's actually more fun than annoying, because instead of trying to guess what's coming next you just take every possible clue as either a trick or not and wait to see where Hostel Part III is taking you. The only thing you can really count on for sure is that there IS an Elite Hunting Club facility, it is in a run-down building, and that they still manage to sneak in some foreign accents.

 The other contribution to the overall Hostel series is that Part III adds another level to how EHC operates: because they're in Las Vegas and not some decrepit warehouse, the club allows executions to be performed in front of an audience (on the other side of a glass wall) who place bets on tactics victims will use to stall their killers, what kind of weapons, and in one scene how many arrows it will take to kill a guy. Everything is overseen by Flemming (Thomas Kretschmann) and Travis (Chris Coy), along with a couple of overzealous guards (Derrick Carr and Frank Alvarez) who give a different kind of personality to the operation than we saw in Hostel and Hostel Part II. Sure, at this point it's well beyond being "faceless" and terrifying as an "unknown" entity, but that's really something Roth started with the second film.

 Spiegel also doesn't let down on the kills (mostly): there's a "while they're still alive" facial surgery, bugs being poured down someone's throat (with inside-of-mouth POV shot as the bugs crawl in), some skin carving, and death by cattle prod (to be fair, that doesn't happen IN the execution room, but there aren't actually that many of those in Part III). The characters don't amount to much, but instead of douchebags or innocent art students, these guys come off as losers who are trying to be cool but just don't have it in them. They're constantly doing things that should, by all rights, have them killed well before they make it to EHC, but at least you aren't rooting for all of them to die immediately after meeting them.

 Maybe the ending stumbles a little bit, if because it's one of the two possible twists they could have gone with considering the propensity for tricks. Then again, I guess I'm already judging Hostel Part III on curve, so I can't go too hard. I'm comparing it favorably to From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, for crying out loud: it's not the kind of movie you're ever going to put on for friends who want to see a "scary" horror movie or who are in for a new experience. It's more the kind of movie you'll rent one night, be reasonably happy with, and maybe mention it to a buddy that's into watching all kinds of horror movies, even DTV ones. By that criteria, I feel like Hostel Part III will be a nice respite from the normal crap passing itself off as a "sequel".

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