Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What Happens In Vegas Dies In Vegas

When Eli Roth’s Hostel hit cinemas way back in 2006, the horror industry took note in a way that would, in the opinions of many a purist, damn the mainstream for some time. Due to the juggernaut success of the then-fresh Saw series, Hostel’s box office boom cemented the so-called torture porn subgenre as a viable, financially sound investment for theatrical releases.

What followed was mostly uninspired cash-ins like The Collector and Captivity before audiences grew tired of dark lighting and disembowelments. The real shame in all this is that perhaps the subgenre’s best film—Hostel: Part II—was simply made too late. By 2007, everyone from George Romero to New York Magazine were tired of Saw-ish style, and though Roth’s sequel was smart and satirical, critics and ticketbuyers were simply too tired to give it a chance.

Hostel: Part III is the franchise’s first go-around without Roth onboard. In some ways, this particular threequel debuts (to DVD) with a lot of pressure on its bloody shoulders: can this become a profitable series on premise alone? Is there more to say about people paying for the chance to kill other people, and more importantly, will audiences want to listen?

Or should I just get to the face-peeling already…

Quick Plot: Just like that movie everyone talks about that I haven’t seen The Hangover, a group of good(ish) looking late 20somethings are heading to Vegas for token dull dude Scott’s bachelor party. On board is the wealthy best man Carter, handicapped nice guy Justin, and token obnoxious cretin Mike.  

Mike is a gem. Married to a wife he just loves to call fat, with kids who are surely better off by the end of the film for losing their hate-filled daddy, Mike is marked as Victim #1. After a whole lot of false starts, we finally get to see that transformation happen. With a twist.

The smartest thing Hostel: Part III does is play around with its pre-established formula. The earlier films took place in Eastern Europe, a beautiful and, to common American tourists, generally unchartered region where being abducted is hardly out of the question. Moving the action to the recognizable lands of casinos and vice was a risk, but because Michael D. Weiss’ script has a few tricks up its sleeve, the gamble pays off (ba dom bump Vegas pun, amiright?). We recognize the business of Elite Hunting, with a few new Sin City-appropriate touches.

Hostel was a great idea executed with a little too mean execution. Hostel: Part II was a genuinely clever followup where it felt as though Roth was both expanding his universe and fixing what didn’t work about his original (unlikable protagonists, unabashed misogyny, nameless villains). Scott Spiegel’s Hostel: Part III is far lighter in scope and tone, but it’s quite enjoyable as a continuation of the series. Though the characters are a little too forgettable, their plight is filled with surprises, be it false starts, creepy masks, villainous turns, or suffocation by cockroach.

All part of the fun.

High Points
The opening scene is both entertaining on its own and a great blueprint for the rest of the film to follow: as the previous films showed, you really never know who to trust when it comes to secret societies. Throughout Hostel: Part III, that’s a theme that constantly gets put into play

Low Points
I understand that much like the first film, the men on display are supposed to be alpha male wannabe misogynists who lead you to wonder if they get what’s coming to them. That would be fine if all the crass dialogue was restricted to a character like Mike. But why then put such ugly dialogue in everyone’s mouths? The gang sans Mike seems to revel in discovering the prostitutes they paid for live in mobile homes and can thusly be referred to as trailer trash, while a Ukranian prisoner repeatedly screams"f*ggot" while kicking his guard. It leaves an ugly taint on the entire script that makes it hard to say the film isn't, once again, misogynist, racist, sexist, and so on

Lessons Learned
In Vegas, you have to be missing a full week before the cops care to start looking

No matter what your fiancée may say, when his overgrown frat boy friends whisk him away for a weekend of bachelor fun, yes, yes you should indeed be worried

Airbags are great stabilizers for stabbings

Hostel: Part III is not the surprise gem that its predecessor was, but I think I can safely say I enjoyed it far more than the original. The Vegas setting adds necessary refreshment, bringing with it plenty of new quirks in the every-expanding Elite Hunting empire. If the franchise continues to roam the globe in search of new locales, I’ll be happily queuing it up on Instant Watch for years to come. This isn’t really worth a buy or investment of cash, but it’s a well-made straight-to-DVD horror film that has plenty of fun with itself. Give it a spin.


  1. Man... I sooooo hated the original. The concept seemed promising but the execution... compared to the hype and the poster art was a huge letdown. People keep referring to it and Saw as if they were so transgressive yet they were pretty mild IMO.
    In the end the formula felt lazy, no need to really develop the villains... no fun-loving backwoods chainsaw cannibals... just anonymous rich folks with knives.
    I felt downright cheated when I left the theater, so no surprise I didn't have much interest in the 2nd one...
    This one though... well, I live in Vegas... and without Roth's name to annoy me in the credits maybe I think I'll give it a try.
    Thanks for pointing it out.

  2. I'll be curious what you think. Also, I really do think the second film is head and shoulders above the first. I also have my issues with Roth, but I feel like he took the sequel as a chance to listen to his critics and figure out what worked and didn't work about the first. The villains are actually interesting, and you can definitely see the 'appeal' of the whole thing through their eyes in a way that isn't just pure exploitation.

    The third film is a good enough time killer. In terms of its Vegasness, it does actually get a little off the strip, and it's so rare to see that on film. Come to think of it, that's something I really dug about the Fright Night remake!

  3. Ok, watched III... hmmmmmm... not for me I guess.
    My main problem with these movies is that they really don't explore the concept much... they don't come close to the sort of things I'd expect people to do with each other given free reign. The near total lack of sexual torture for one thing... hardly even suggested except for the one crossbow bolt.
    I'm not saying that's what I want to see, but without it I'm just not buying the premise.
    Not that it ought to be 'A Serbian Film'... but if you want to make a movie about this topic you shouldn't balk at following the idea down some nasty rabbit holes.
    The gambling show being put on in this one also never convinced me for a moment... the bettors were blandly anonymous and the 'games' were... well, boring.
    If these 'elite hunters' had been at this for a while their tastes would be much more refined by now... very precise and... extreme.
    As it is they're just 'porn fancy' (vague, lowbrow visions of what very rich people must be like).
    Also, the general issue with franchise horror that you know pretty much what to expect going in... and find yourself just waiting for the formula to kick in... no longer a ride through dark and unknown territory. If Pinhead doesn't show up in a Hellraiser movie the 'fans' will cry... so instead it all ends up retreading the same water over and over and over.

    Except for a few exterior shots it didn't look or feel like Vegas at all... I guess it was just set there for the gambling tie-in. There are MUCH stranger things that go on here that could have been worked in if someone had done just a bit of research.

    Ok, I've exhausted my whiny complaint quota for the month I think...

  4. I was surprised that I had so much fun with this. As you mentioned, the break in formula and neat-o twists made for an interesting film which could have easily been direct to video poopage.

  5. It's funny Knob, I also wonder why the series is so hesitant to tackle sex, especially since the films are so eager to toss in light-hearted boobs at every turn. Strange double standard, although if they handled that poorly, it would be truly offensive. It's a copout.

    And yes, you hit the nail on the head regarding franchises. I liked that Hostel 3 started with a mini-flip of that, where you assumed the Ukranians were the bad guys before the twist. But sure, a franchise is prone to predictability. I actually appreciate that the later Final Destination films waste so little time with the tension of the characters figuring out the same deal the audience already knew going in.

    And btw: there is no quota on whiny complaints. This is a non-judgmental place.

    PoT: Agreed. It wasn't a masterpiece, but considering how easy it would have been to make a lazy film, I'm really happy with the results!

  6. *applauds*

    I'm glad I decided last night to give this one a whirl. Probably based on the premise of me enjoying Part II alone.

    You made some excellent points and I could not agree more. III was watchable with those false starts. For me, it made the twists much more enjoyable because you didn't really know who to trust or what would happen next.

    Although I zeroed in on a few plot points before the happened (especially at the end), it provided enough plot wise to make it a solid "threequel" as you say. Especially giving up a snapshot into how the hunting society has expanded with more of a sophisticated operation.

    I didn't love it and I certainly didn't hate it but I do think it's worth a watch.

    And kudos for giving Part II its props. When I teach a class on horror, we'll definitely be discussing this franchise.

  7. So glad there are others who appreciate HOstel II. I just love that Roth--who I don't always care for--seemed to listen to the criticism of Hostel and specifically improved upon all that DIDN'T work in the first film. Overall, the third wasn't great, but I'd be happy--if not drop-everything-excited--if the franchise continues on DVD with the same level of quality.

    And when you teach that class, you best call me in as a guest auditor!

  8. Absolutely - will need a gal with a high movie IQ!