Retro Review: HOSTEL 3 (2011){0}

As any astute horror fan knows by now, Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) and Hostel Part 2 (2007) took place in a sleazy and hopefully fictional version of Slovakia. This setting afforded the writer/director ample opportunity to explore concepts like xenophobia, cultural egocentricity, and American provincialism — but explore them in a decidedly creepy, disturbing, gory, and occasionally amusing fashion. While some are content to dismiss these horror films as “torture porn” (an ignorant term if ever there was one), those who take horror cinema a bit more seriously may appreciate the way Hostel and its sequel try to use cross-cultural discomfort as a springboard to some decidedly extreme payoffs.

In other words, the first two Hostel movies are just a bit smarter than their detractors would have you believe. Which brings us to Hostel Part 3. It’s not quite as smart.

Chapter three of the horror series that presents the “people enjoy killing for money” concept, Hostel Part 3 takes the action from the virtually alien backstreets of Slovakia and transplants them in … Las Vegas. But while there is a method to the madness of Michael Weiss’ screenplay (more on that in a minute), we’re already losing a large part of the Hostel equation: it’s not just a long, painful death we fear — but also the idea of being in a strange land, alone and destined to become a nasty little statistic that nobody cares about. The idea that, even in such a modern world, a person could easily vanish, works rather well in the first two movies. In Part 3 … well, it’s Vegas. Garish and seamy and slightly intimidating to be sure, but hardly a match for the cavernous chambers found in the Eastern European wastelands of the first chapters.

But Vegas it is. Four slightly colorful buddies are visiting Sin City for a weekend of carnal pleasures — but it seems that the “Elite Hunting Club” has made it way from Slovakia to Nevada, and now the victims are playing a gambler’s game: one victim, for example, is peppered with arrows while the rich and devious participants get to watch from a safe distance — and place bets on how many arrows it will take to finish the job. So while the Las Vegas location (actually it was all shot in Detroit) does add a sly new wrinkle to the franchise, it’s simply not as daunting or creepy a locale as what’s been offered in earlier entries — but hey, Vegas can be pretty nasty in its own right.

Series producer Scott Spiegel takes over the directorial reins from Mr. Roth, and the result is a direct-to-video version of Part 2 that capably focuses on what the horror fans want — and then it throws a few surprises into the mix that are actually sort of, well, fun. Not particularly brilliant or even all that shocking, but suffice to say that the script is just novel enough to earn a few of its own points — when it’s not simply hitting all the points that we expect from a Hostel flick. The four horny “heroes” are a fairly basic lot, but the actors do bring a few slivers of creativity to their generally one-note roles. Party boss Kip Pardue seems to be having fun with his frat-boyish character; Brian Hallisay provides an effectively likable hero; and German character actor Thomas Kretschmann pops up in a few scenes to provide a suitably malevolent Hostelier.

Spiegel’s direction is quick and crisp for what was clearly a low-budget affair, and despite a few slow spots in the early going, Hostel Part 3 comes to life with some (not all) of its “kill scenes,” and it turns into legitimately fast-paced fun once Act III rolls around. So while I would (and often do) contend that Hostel and Hostel Part 2 are considerably better than whatever “torture porn” is, I have no problem saying that Hostel Part 3 is markedly better than what we normally get from “direct to video” sequels. Frankly the DTV horror market has shown a small but obvious improvement in quality over the last few years, and it seems that H3 will continue that trend. This one may not be as intelligent or as slyly subversive as its predecessors, but Hostel Part 3 clearly knows how to deliver some familiar goods, sprinkled with just enough “new stuff” to keep the horror hounds from feeling insulted.

Plus, like I said, Act III is a bona-fide hoot.