December 20, 2005

Review: Hostel, or, The Worst Place on Earth

Ask my Dad, and he'll tell you that his favorite movies are "Cowboy Movies" and "Monster Movies".

Needless to say, my mother, who's tastes run somewhere between "Sister Act", "Ghost", and "The Preacher's Wife" is not a fan. She tells me that, not long after they were married, Dad took her to see "Blood Feast" in a drive-in theatre. A fter a girl in the movie answers a knock on the door and summarily has her tongue snatched out of her mouth, Mom declared that Dad was on his own with these films from now on.

I guess it pays to have sons.

When we got our first VCR in the mid '80's, it kind of looked like a humongous boom box, with a handle and everything - it came with a prehistoric camcorder and was designed for shooting on location. In other words, you had to take the VCR with you if you wanted to shoot anything with the camera. Anyway, we soon got a membership at Erol's Video Club, and, as you can imagine, after the 'rents got their obligatory bit of nostalgia watching tapes of the old "Amos n' Andy" show (and, no, I'm not kidding - my folks, venerable old Black couple that they are, LOVED that show), eventually, the man of the house began to assert his tastes.

Dad liked Gladys Knight. My brother? Morris Day. And I was absolutely smitten with Madonna (it's something about the album cover for "Like A Virgin" - what can I say? :-))

The men in our house didn't have alot in common.

But we REALLY bonded over those horror movies. Movies like "Fright Night" and "Creepshow" and "Silver Bullet". I can remember watching "From Beyond", made by and starring the same folks as another household favorite, "Re-Animator", and, in watching Jeffrey Combs' demise at the end, Dad turned to us and said "Man! He hasn't made it through one of these YET!"

Today, I am, among other things, a screenwriter.

And I say that with a bit more pride now because this is the first year that I have actually been paid to write. But that's just one more story about why 2005 has been a banner year for yours truly.

And, although I've written quite alot for TV in the last few years, largely because my agents are TV lit guys, my first love is still feature film.

And I have a special place in my heart for horror movies.

And, as my cousin pointed out, for a kid who used to be scared of George Hamilton in "Love At First Bite", I've come a LONG way.

Which brings us to today. Or, more specifically, last night, where I went to a screening of the new film "Hostel", followed by a Q&A with the writer/director, Eli Roth - the same guy who created "Cabin Fever".

Eli Roth is a horror fan. And, like me, he laments the steady descent into mediocrity of the modern American horror film.

I saw him speak at a panel during the Los Angeles Film Festival back in 2004, along side the likes of fellow directors Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"), Joe Dante ("The Howling"), Don Coscarelli ("Phantasm"), and Guillermo del Toro ("Chronos") to discuss the state of horror films. At one point, the moderator, Elvis Mitchell, asked this virtual "Murderer's Row" of horror heavyweights when will horror become a respectable genre.

Dante lamented that many in Hollywood regard horror with just slightly more esteem than porn - they know they can make money from it, but they don't want to admit that they make these kinds of films. And, it occurs to me that what horror has become in Hollywood is an attempt to have it both ways. The major studios are desperate for the horror audience's money, but they want to be respected, too. And no one gained respect in a Brentwood party for being the producer of "I Spit On Your Grave" or "Make Them Die Slowly". So they crank out a bunch of half-assed, PG-13 horror films that, quite frankly, are a waste of time and money because they're simply not scary.

At that same panel, Guillermo del Toro got it right when he said that he hopes horror NEVER becomes respectable, because, at that point, it stops being horror.

Janet Leigh getting stabbed to death while she's buck naked in a shower in "Psycho".

Linda Blair masterbating with a cross while the Devil inside her shouts "let Jesus fuck you!" in "The Exorcist".

A bloody little snake ripping a hole in John Hurt's chest over dinner in "Alien".

A guy gets his foot slowly sawed off with piano wire and the torturer casually tosses it over their shoulder in "Audition".

Horror films are SUPPOSED to offend. They're supposed to shock. They are, by definition, NOT FOR EVERYONE.

They're supposed to be, in a word, horrific.

Why? Because they're cathartic. In Roth's words, "a good horror movie makes you feel like you just had your ass kicked". Kind of like a massage or a good workout.

And because the best of them explore things that might otherwise be left uncovered.

"Psycho's" about the link between sex, abuse, and violence.
"The Exorcist" is about faith - TRUE faith - in action.
"Audition" is about the objectification of women.

All sometimes ugly subjects that require an equally ugly examination to get at the roots.

During the screening of "Hostel", I personally sat next to four people who had to walk out of the movie in horror, and the guy who ran the screening for "Creative Screenwriting" magazine, Jeff Goldsmith, told Eli that he personally had to talk a guy down in the men's room because he was hyperventilating. They literally brought a stage chair into the bathroom because the dude just couldn't bring himself to walk out and face the world.

[On a personal note, I'd like to state for the record that I think those people are kind of stupid - I mean, Eli Roth's last movie was about a group of horny college kids being eaten alive by flesh eating parasites, and that was without a real budget. What kind of movie where they expecting him to make now that he actually has some money?]

When he heard this, Roth joked that he was disappointed. He was hoping he could get a death in the screening, like they had during "The Passion of the Christ". His producer, Quentin Tarantino, had actually encouraged him to shoot for an NC-17 rating. And, in the end, when "Hostel" got an R, he called Rob Zombie to thank him - Mr. Zombie, another old school horror fan, had apparently resubmitted his latest gorefest, "The Devil's Rejects", to the MPAA nine times before they finally gave him an R. Roth figured they were so beaten into submission at that point, they just gave him an R so that they wouldn't have to endure that again.

At some point during the Q&A, a brother up front asked "Can you please talk a bit about the casting process for this film, because I have not seen that many beautiful breasts on a movie screen in a LONG time."

Like I said, I love horror.

So, if you love scary movies, I HIGHLY recommend "Hostel". It's been a while since I have actually winced in horrorified disgust, laughed out loud, cheered, and shout at the screen, all in the same movie. If you can handle the blood, you will NOT be disappointed. Go check it out.

In the meantime, let's see if I can get Eli to produce MY horror movie. :-)

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