I arrived in Detroit to find it a ghost town. A major American city, emptied of people, skeletal skyscrapers jutting blankly against the callous sky. I was there to visit the set of Hostel: Part III, the upcoming direct-to-DVD sequel which arrives in stores two days after Christmas.
This time around, the setting was relocated from the strange and barbaric Slovokian village of the first two films to the more familiar confines of Las Vegas, also barbaric but in its own, distinctly American, way (the production was planning on shooting in Sin City for a total of four days following their departure from Detroit)… The shoot that day was taking place in the old Detroit Masonic Temple, a neo-gothic complex fronted by a 14-story ceremonial building. Located in the city’s Cass Corridor, the enormous structure includes a total of 1,037 rooms, including the stunning 4,400-seat Masonic Temple Theater, a 1,500-seat cathedral, an enormous 17,500-square foot drill hall (used for events as varied as business conventions and roller derby matches) and two large ballrooms.
With its imposing size, eerie exterior and a dizzying maze of dark rooms and hallways that positively drip with history, the Temple complex is prime horror-movie real estate. And thanks to Michigan’s then-generous tax incentives, two such films were currently shooting there on the day of our visit: “Hostel” and the Amy Heckerling horror-comedy “Vamps” starring Sigourney Weaver and Alicia Silverstone. Given the immense size of the complex, of course, I doubt the productions were ever forced to battle for space.
Upon arriving, the film’s unit publicist quickly ushered myself and one other journalist inside, leading us first into an airless, vaguely depressing windowless room where we were given free reign over the cold, picked-over leftovers from that afternoon’s catering. Following that, we were guided through a labyrinth of crepuscular corridors to the day’s set – a space made up to look like an ordinary suburban basement, complete with stairs leading down from the non-existent home upstairs. In the crowded room next door, grips, production assistants, ADs, technicians and other assorted members of the crew scurried about in the near-dark, preparing to shoot an apparently-violent climactic scene that we never actually had the opportunity to see being filmed.
But no matter. Model/actress/music-video vixen Kelly Thiebaud – a statuesque brunette – was brought over a few minutes after we entered the claustrophobic space to talk about playing “Amy”, the fiancee of lead character “Scott” (Brian Hallisay). Sadly for the wide-eyed beauty, she wouldn’t be traveling to Vegas with the production later that month once they’d finished shooting in the Motor City.
“I’m only doing the beginning and the end [of the movie],” she told us. “They go off to their bachelor party and I’m not around, of course. So I’m not a part of any of the like slaughtering or anything like that, until the end! Until the end, yeah…then I get to have a little fun, you know?”
She laughed then, and later revealed that the basement set currently being prepped would serve as the location of a blood-drenched third-act twist. Thankfully Thiebaud isn’t squeamish.
“I don’t get queasy. Blood doesn’t bother me or like body parts being chopped off or anything like that,” she told us. “The psycho-thriller movies I get kind of freaked out about. I can’t watch them by myself. But like blood, and gory stuff like that, I’m fine with.”
At one point during the interview, Thiebaud set off a whoopee cushion that I hadn’t seen previously, and for a few brief seconds I actually believed I’d just witnessed the rare occurrence of an extraordinarily beautiful woman farting publicly. But no. The presence of the gag device was all in the name of creating some on-set levity.
“I’ve been like cracking jokes with [director Scott Spiegel] with my whoopee cushion and everything like that,” she told us before going on to praise the helmer. “[He] just [has] a lot of energy and [gets] really excited…he makes you feel really good.”
A longtime friend of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, Spiegel co-penned “Evil Dead II” with the former and wrote and directed the 1999 direct-to-video “From Dusk Till Dawn” sequel as well as the low-budget ’89 supermarket-slasher “Intruder”. He also formed Raw Nerve Productions alongside “Hostel I-II” writer/director Eli Roth and franchise producer Boaz Yakin, neither of whom, notably, is listed in the IMDB credits for “Hostel: Part III”.
“I haven’t seen him on set,” said Thiebaud of Roth. “No, not at all. I mean, I know he’s one of the producers but um…he hasn’t been here.”
Following our brief interview with the actress, production designer Robb Wilson King, who served in the same capacity on the second film alongside Roth and received his first credit as such on Wes Craven’s 1982 comic-book adaptation “Swamp Thing”, took us on an extended tour of the historic complex.
With a head of long, wavy gray hair and a seemingly boundless enthusiasm for his job, King certainly looked the part of the old-school creative type as he breathlessly took us through several sets, most memorably a room on one of the upper floors that had been transformed into a Las Vegas hotel suite and the complex’s cavernous aforementioned drill hall, dressed up to look like the high-tech Vegas gambling operation run by the Hunting Club.
King, whose other horror credits include Steve Miner’s “Friday the 13th Part III”, Sean S. Cunningham’s “The New Kids” and Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes Part II”, had done a superb job altering the interiors of the old building to suit the film’s Sin City setting, particularly given the presumably humble budget he was given to work with.
The walk-through also gave us the chance to take in some of the complex’s other spectacular sights; I can still picture the darkened, once-vibrant bowels of the rooms and passageways we traveled through – the richly detailed woodwork, gothic chandeliers and delicate ceiling frescoes speaking to the heart and dedication that had gone into its construction. Taking in the bruised, haunted beauty of the complex was an alternately distressing and awe-inspiring experience, a feeling that could easily describe my reaction to the city itself – a desolate, undernourished metropolis whose glorious past seemed to echo through the gray, barren streets and off the faded exteriors of its spectacular skyscrapers.
“This city has great bones, you know?” said John Hensley, best known for his role as Matt McNamara in “Nip/Tuck” who here stars as “Justin”, one of the four unlucky bachelor party attendees in the film. “And it provides such a fantastic environment. …I was really I guess sort of wary of coming here to shoot this movie. Only because I thought ‘how can you shoot a movie set in Vegas in Detroit?’ And I kinda get it now. It sort of offers a little bit of everything to everyone.”
Interestingly, Hensley originally auditioned for a role in the first “Hostel” but was beat out for the part by actor Jay Hernandez.
“I really loved that script; actually it reminded me…structurally of ‘From Dusk ‘Til Dawn’“, Hensley told us when he sat down for an interview. “And you know, I tend to be a little apprehensive about sequels in general, but when I read ‘Hostel III’, to me, in all honesty…while it certainly [keeps] the elements of having the Hunting Club, and grotesque and gruesome killings, story-wise it’s a real departure from the other two, in that I feel personally that this story is a little more evolved. What I really like about it is to me it’s very reminiscent of ‘The Hangover’, except everybody dies.”
The film also, according to the actor, has something to say about where we are as a country.
“It’s very reflective, I think, on the sort of decadent nature of Americans in particular at this point,” he said, liberally extrapolating on the film’s premise. “I think it’s no mistake that it takes place in America. Not just for a change of venue and location. I mean, in this movie we’re introduced to the concept of people betting on when another human being’s going to die. Or when another human being is going to start begging for their family. There’s an actual betting room where people can play the odds of when this poor bastard who’s getting his face peeled off is gonna start screaming for mercy. To me, that’s a legitimate comment on where we’re going. If you turn on your television, it’s stomach-turning the bullshit that’s packaged for entertainment today. It’s decadent, you know? And decadence, historically speaking…is one of the biggest symptoms of a society’s collapse.”
Whether you buy into the metaphorical weight Hensley ascribes to the film’s scenario or not, the character he plays is quite literally on the verge of collapse.
“He’s got a condition where he has to walk with a crutch,” he explained. “And it sort of plays on the fact that while he’s one of the guys, he’s not one of the guys. He’s sort of the constant outsider. He doesn’t get the girl, you know? They go to a bar, he knows he’s the one out of the four that’s going home alone. And this sort of inspires a trace of anger in him that offers him I think the ability to look at things with that cynical eye. …You know, he’s not really subject to the allure of a pretty girl because he knows there’s not a chance in hell he’s gonna get her. So he can sort of see that his friends are getting taken without really knowing where or why, if that makes sense.”
As with Thiebaud, Hensley had had no contact whatsoever with Roth by the time of our visit. Here he is, responding to a question about the amount of creative control given to Spiegel as a director in a franchise that up to this point had been Roth’s creative brainchild:
“You know what, I can’t speak for Eli, I don’t know Eli, you know what I mean?” he said. “I’ve had no sort of interaction with him. But I can certainly tell you as an actor working on this that Scotty’s enthusiasm serves as the fuel, the pump, [with] which this machine runs…so yeah, perhaps you’re right. I really have no idea, but whoever is pulling the strings behind the scenes has certainly seemed to entrust Scotty with what thus far has proven to be a pretty legitimate franchise.”
A franchise, of course, which is known for its top-notch gore effects – the creation of which were spearheaded by Howard Berger in the first two films and by Berger’s former partner Robert Kurtzman here.
“We’ve got some serious players on the effects side of this thing, which is kind of great to show up and see that you’ve got people like Gary [Jones]…and all those guys like just really throwing it down in a pretty significant way,” said Hensley. “As you all know better than I, that’s a pretty vital component of any movie like this.”
Another vital component of any “Hostel” movie is, of course, the assortment of beautiful women which serve as the bait to reel in the Hunting Club’s unsuspecting victims, and in this third entry that bait comes in the form of actresses Sarah Habel and Zulay Henao, who play a pair of enticing Vegas call girls.
“We’re the temptresses of the deal, obviously,” said Habel, a fair-skinned brunette.
“But not so much the way it’s been in the past couple of movies,” added Henao, a chipper Colombian-American beauty. “We’re kind of the victims in a sense as well.”
Indeed, in “Hostel: Part III” the women are under the impression they’ve been paid to entertain the members of the bachelor party and nothing more. When they figure out what’s really going on, Habel is the one who comes out swinging.
“My girl is…hard core,” Habel told us. “She’s tough, tougher than the guys in a lot of ways. It’s fun for me. If you really knew me, I’m not very tough. It’s a fun kind of reversal for me personally.”
“[My character is] more shy and more earthy, they call it,” noted Henao, before adding: “I’ve never played a hooker before. So it’s pretty fun to go through the thoughts in your mind and just kind of create a backstory for them, have fun with the whole wardrobe and just kind of the whole seduction aspect of it. It’s fun.”
Depending on which actor you talk to, the messier aspects of working in horror can also be a part of the appeal. While she wasn’t clear on whether her character gets killed in “Hostel: Part III” or not, Habel has “bitten the dust” in several earlier roles.
“I’ve ‘died’ four times in my life,” she said of her acting career thus far, which includes a role in another direct-to-DVD threequel, “The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations”. “It’s always the most fun. I love to be a part of the gore. Just to be able to see what they can do with the effects makeup. That’s a whole different part of the game. It’s cool and it’s an art form in itself and I love to be a part of it because you know it’s not real. I like the gore in that it’s sort of imaginative in these movies.”
[SPOILER ALERT] Again, while Habel left her own character’s fate up in the air, Henao couldn’t help but drop a few hints as to the nature of her call girl’s gory end.
“I’m not getting killed or chopped up in a typical way. It’s pretty gross,” she said. “Let’s put it this way: I was going to have a double because it’s so messed up.”
The last of the day’s interviews was not with Spiegel, unfortunately (we were told he was too busy to speak with us), but with actor Chris Coy, who plays “Travis”, the “number one henchman” of “Flemming” (played by German actor Thomas Kretschmann), the manager of the Vegas hostel where Scott and his friends are lured.
“He’s…kind of a collector of unlucky souls I guess,” said Coy when he sat down with us. “Once in the hostel, I’m kind of like the garbage man insurance policy, whatever. If shit goes bad then I take everybody else and get the hell out of dodge.”
Coy himself knows a few things about hostels – he was living in one when the first “Hostel” hit theaters in 2006.
“I was in a band in L.A. and we were getting kicked out of hostels left and right,” he told us. “[At the time the movie came out] we were staying at this hostel on Sunset called The Vibe and there was a word on top of it that just said ‘Hostel’ and it was all bloody and shit and I didn’t know that there was a movie coming out called ‘Hostel’ [that The Vibe was promoting]. I just thought that was the sign for that hostel and that was a really strange choice, you know?”
Coy noted that the extreme change in location for this third installment is a large part of the new film’s appeal.
“The other two, it’s like if you go to the middle of nowhere, you might get chopped up. Well, duh,” he said. “In this one, it’s like, Vegas. You can be on your way to lose your money and end up losing your life, just get snatched up. So it’s different in that aspect. …This one definitely has it’s share of torture in it, but there’s kind of like a good story going on too.”
Not to mention more than a few red herrings.
“There’s…so many misdirects, so many times where you say to yourself, ‘I know what’s going to happen’ and then [he claps his hands together]. I’ve been a fan of horror my whole life and I was surprised over and over again reading the script,” he said. “They did a really good job with misdirects, especially in the opening.”
The film also gave Coy, an admitted long-time horror fanatic, the opportunity to work with Spiegel, a man who played a role in some of his favorite horror films.
“‘The Intruder is this great horror film that he made years and years ago. It’s one of the greatest slasher films ever, if you ask me. [And] of course ‘Evil Dead’ and ‘Evil Dead 2’, ” he said. “So it’s a dream. He’s fucking awesome.”
Like many horror fans, Coy enjoys the “guilty pleasure” splatter flicks as much as the more prestigious titles in the genre.
“[I] even [like] the shitty Bruce Campbell stuff,” he told us. “I love bad horror films too. There’s something awesome about that, where there is no story of value whatsoever and it’s just blood and guts. Sometimes that’s exactly what you want.”