Butcher Block is a weekly series celebrating horror’s most extreme films and the minds behind them. Dedicated to graphic gore and splatter, each week will explore the dark, the disturbed, and the depraved in horror, and the blood and guts involved. For the films that use special effects of gore as an art form, and the fans that revel in the carnage, this series is for you.
Eli Roth’s Hostel was the first film to be dubbed “torture porn” by critics, one of many horror films released in the early 2000s that earned the label for their graphic depictions of violence, gore, nudity, torture, and mutilation. It was a term created out of derision, with some critics taking offense to the depiction of gore. It’s almost ironic considering that while the torture scenes are graphic and elicit visceral reactions, Roth spends a large chunk of the film’s run time intentionally driving the audience crazy with his breakdown of American stereotypes of Eastern Europe, and an uncomfortable depiction of a specific type of American. In short, you tend to wish for the characters’ deaths long before it happens. The college students in the film travel to Europe expecting to buy women and get bought themselves. It’s a clever treatise made further uncomfortable by sliced Achilles tendons, eyeball trauma, severed limbs, and blunt force trauma.
Hostel: Part II picks up immediately after the first film, wrapping up Paxton’s story before introducing the viewer to three new unwitting Americans. This time, they’re three female art students that are lured to their doom by a luxurious spa vacation. Like its predecessor, the sequel spends a lengthy bit of time introducing the key players. Roth keeps his theming of American naivety for his trio of intended victims, Beth, Whitney, and Lorna, but this time he shifts the focus to the killers as well. Part II highlights people that give in to their darkest impulses, and how these people can seem so outwardly normal. As a subversive counter to the naïve protagonists, these killers are Americans too.
The first major death (well, outside of the opening) is the notorious Elizabeth Bathory style torture and slaying of Lorna (Heather Matarazzo), and it happens to be the most brutal death of the series. Lorna is hung upside down while her killer lies naked beneath her, using a scythe to stab Lorna in the back repeatedly before finally slashing her throat, all the while Lorna whimpers and pleads. It’s bloody, ruthless, and drawn out. So, it’s no surprise that this scene was cut in foreign releases of the film; the uncut version showing Lorna’s death in its entirely is banned in Germany.
Save for Lorna’s death, it’s only the final 20 minutes or so of the 94-minute runtime that bears the brunt of the “torture porn” that makes critics cringe in disdain. Granted, Roth doesn’t shy away from the excruciating deaths of his characters, so I can see why it ruffles feathers. It also helps that Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, and their KNB EFX Group team, have returned to handle special makeup effects. Between Roth’s unflinching style and the roster of amazing artists, the series of events building to climax is gruesome. And that climax? Ouch.
Hostel: Part II didn’t fare as well with critics or the box office as the first film, but it’s a stronger film. It’s also a hell of a lot bloodier. From gnarly genital mutilation to deliberately paced throat slashing, the deaths in Hostel: Part II are the best of the trilogy (let’s ignore Part III, shall we?). The protagonists are bit more sympathetic, too. The Hostel films have more depth than they’re often given credit for, but I also can’t fault anyone for feeling squeamish at the gore. Like its predecessor, Hostel: Part II takes a while to build up to the good stuff, and then gets grotesquely creative. It’s a must watch for gorehounds.