Monday, June 11, 2007

Hostel Part II: "You Think I'm Hostile Now ..."

Many critics have a terror of going down in history like Bosley Crowther, as the relic who looked at a seminal moment in movie history (in Crowther's case, Bonnie and Clyde) and reached for the smelling salts. The Siren has no such anxiety. She wears her fuddy-duddiness with pride. Describe her taste as 1950s and she will be flattered. Call her Depression-era and she will buy you a drink.

The film of the moment is, god help us, Hostel Part II, and some excellent critics either love it or expect to. Michael Guillen and D.K. Holme loved it. Kim Morgan, Cinebeats and The Bleeding Tree are eager to see it. Dennis Cozzalio has posted a thoughtful consideration of the movie and what it means for the horror genre.

Still, the Siren examines her end of the bar for the other relics and finds some good company. Here is Filmbrain, a blogger the Siren unreservedly adores, and a man no one can accuse of having a low bloodshed threshold. James Wolcott looked at the "Quentin Tarantino Presents" imprimatur on the Hostel Part II posters and summed up the erstwhile wonder boy as "a pimp for geek sadism." Jeffrey Wells and David Poland could definitely use a double martini after sitting through the movie. The Siren believes she owes S.T. VanAirsdale a drink now, should she bump into him. And Damian Arlyn posted a most eloquent defense of his refusal to see Eli Roth's minimum opus. I didn't think I could add much to Damian's piece. Do read it, he does a splendid job. But for some reason--maybe it's those repulsive print ads I keep stumbling across, maybe it's this impromptu blogathon we seem to have going--I have to say my piece anyway.

The Siren won't be seeing Hostel or its sequel, or Saw and its spawn, or The Hills Have Eyes remake or Wolf Creek, or any of the antecedents like Cannibal Holocaust or I Spit on Your Grave, for that matter. First Amendment absolutist that she is, the Siren in no way argues for the banning of these movies, although when she reflects that Martin Scorsese had to spend many long days cutting down Goodfellas to avoid an NC-17, the irony just about asphyxiates her.

When the Grand Guignol shut down in Paris in 1962, its final director remarked, "We could never equal Buchenwald." The likes of Eli Roth and Greg McLean can't equal the Iraq war, but that hasn't stopped people from flocking. Well, the Siren requires no elaboration on the "why" behind the grosses for Hostel or its siblings. Our time has no need for catharsis or satiation that plausibly can be called unique. Read William Makepeace Thackeray's description of the crowd at a London hanging in 1840, and you will have all you ever need to know about what draws us to the most brutal side of horror. It is as fundamental a human taste as any other.

And the Siren doesn't think having that taste says much about a person. Her longtime roommate in the 1980s adored slasher movies. This was a man who never saw a baby he didn't want to cootchy-coo at, apologized to his cat when he moved it off the couch and wouldn't eat in a restaurant on Thanksgiving because he felt sorry for the waiters. He's the reason the Siren saw a long list of slasher flicks in the Nightmare-Freddie-Jason-Chucky-Hellraiser era, until she finally gave up trying to see the point of them and started retreating to her room with a book.

Most of us have a limited amount of viewing time relative to what we like to call "real life." Netflix just sent me L'Armée des Ombres, and I have not watched it yet. Anyone want to tell me that Hostel Part II is worth my time as much as that one? Is there a single performance in the latest round of jolly little splatterfests that can withstand comparison with one in Jean-Pierre Melville's movie? How about the dialogue, the camerawork, the editing, the sound, the art direction, the goddamn costumes even? Is there "social commentary" in any of the gorefests that could sustain an intelligent discussion for more than ten minutes?

You can argue that "torture porn" movies entertain. Rock on. So do a lot of things. Say that they are really about survival; the Siren does not buy that one, but you can argue it. You can point out that some of the techniques make their way into more mainstream fare. Fair enough. Dickens was influenced by the Newgate Calendar. That doesn't make Dick Turpin into Oliver Twist.

Praising the most gore-splattered subset of horror becomes supportable only by drawing in movies that really don't fit, such as the original Halloween or the wildly overrated Psycho, both of which achieve their effects far more through suggestion than through explicit violence. You could draw in John Ford--this John Ford--or John Webster , but there is, shall we say, a certain difference in script quality. The only other way to argue for these movies as anything other than disposable crap is to compare them with other blood-soaked horror films (comparing them with something like Val Lewton only exposes their limitations further). Hostel Part II may look great judged by the standards of Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Is it--or any other torture porn flick--great relative to Melville?

P.S. Guess I have my answer. Ian Pugh, of the very good site filmfreakcentral, compares Hostel Part II to Bunuel. Scoot over, Bosley. The Siren owes you a drink.


Andrew Grant said...

The poor showing at the box office this weekend could be read as an encouraging sign. However, the truth of the matter probably has more to do with those bootleg copies which can easily be found online or for sale in most NYC subway stations.

A friend went to see it yesterday afternoon, and he reported that a large percentage of the audience consisted of parents with kids. Yes, kids. That made me sick.

The Siren said...

Oh dear god. As a parent I know that small children imprint quite easily and also are very susceptible to nightmares. Quite aside from the whole viewed-violence-and-its-effects debate, you risk traumatizing the child to no good purpose at all. Have people no common sense? Of course, Thackeray tells us people brought their kids to that hanging ...

I have a friend who worked on a rap movie that was widely bootlegged and it tanked. If they are good copies and hit the street early in a film's run, it can really dent box office. David Poland says his copy was obviously internal.

Bob Westal said...

Hey, I have no plans on seeing it for both your reasons -- life is too short -- and for my own reason...I'm still working up the courage to see the George Romero "Dawn of the Dead" (practically had to be tied into a chair to see "Night of the Living Dead," which I thought was great and never saw again).

I am a cinema chicken when it comes to gore. Hear me cluck. And, yes, I'm kind of glad it didn't do that well. I mean, how far are they really going to take this torture thing anyway?

Gloria said...

As my late mother used to say "i promise my absence". Too much good stuff to catch up with (including a "Dragonwick" DVD and some Ozu) to waste time in pseudo-snuff.

If I never went to see "American Pie" I guess I can do without gory entertainment for teens.

The Siren said...

Bob, while I can't abide the thought of seeing the really graphic torture movies (just the spoiler site for Wolf Creek kept me up one night), I haven't minded reading all these links about the Hostel sequel. One thing horror fans note in several places is that the latest round is remarkable for its mainstream nature, and (surprisingly to me) not so much for the actual gore or cruelty. Apparently Cannibal Holocaust did all this and more thirty-some-odd years ago. Seems like there is, if not exactly a line, a point of diminishing returns with gore. Push it too far and you have a movie that stays marginal.

Speaking of Night of the Living Dead (a skillful movie that like you, I have filed under "Seen Once, Which Will Suffice For All Time") -- the Wikipedia entry quotes Roger Ebert's review. Ebert says a 9-year-old girl in the audience started crying. Nine years old? Poor lamb is probably still in therapy. I do not know whether to consider it comforting or depressing that this lack of parental forethought wasn't confined to our age.

The Siren said...

Gloria - Dragonwyck is flawed, but marvelous Gothic doings for a dark and stormy night.

Andrew Grant said...

"i promise my absence"

Gloria -- That's a wonderful expression.

Speaking of Ozu, I just picked up the new Criterion box set of five late Ozu titles. Now to find the time to dive in. . .

The Siren said...

ha! quit letting people dragoon you into seeing Hostel and you may find time. :) I have an Ozu dvd I received from dear Girish and I still have not watched it. *embarrassed*

Noel Vera said...

Hi, siren. I'm a fan of horror of all kinds, from Torneur's suggestive camerawork to Whale's tongue-in-cheek to Kyoshi's unblinking long shots to Romero, and Argento and Bava, and even Fulci, but Roth's Hostel--or Cabin Fever, for that matter--left me cold. There doesn't seem to be much subtext behind the gore, and what there is is cloddingly said and obvious (American are hated, Europeans not to be trusted, we have to be cunning and fight back (and beyond this, become what we behold)). Whatever.

The Siren said...

Noel, ever a pleasure to see you. I am glad you understood that I was not dissing the entire genre (although I freely admit it is far from my favorite) just this subset. I haven't read anything to convince me that SawHostelWolf etc. are not the same old slasher stuff I suffered through in the 1980s, with new & improved gore.

Two horror films that on my to-be-seen list: Eyes Without a Face and Suspiria, both starring Alida Valli, my daughter's namesake.

Tonio Kruger said...

I grew up on the old Universal horror movies and for that reason alone, I'll always have a fondness for the horror genre.

But a fondness for horror films does not translate into, all horror films, and lately I've beginning to wonder what I ever saw in the genre.

I had little inclination to see the "Saw" movies and even less inclination to see "Hostel" and "Hostel II."

Anyway, I still have all too many Hitchcock films to catch up on (I've seen quite a few but I have yet to catch up with "Shadow of a Doubt" or "Rebecca.") And of course, once I catch up with those, I really want to start catching up on the Val Lewton films.

So I'll probably won't have time to sample any of the worse of the new horror films if I'm lucky. And I really really really really hope I'm lucky.

To quote a recent horror film that I did like--and which is unfortunately atypical of the recent releases in that genre--it's not much a sacrifice as a trade.

Tonio Kruger said...

I meant to say, a fondness for horror films does not translate into a fondness for all horror films.

Anyway, I hope you like "Suspiria" better than I did, Campaspe. The opening and closing theme were nice, but as for the rest...

Well, you'll find out...

Karen said...

Yikes. "Night of the Living Dead." I have watched the first 10 minutes or so about three different times, but have never been able to make it through the rest. I can't take it. The only zombie film (besides the classic "I Walk with a Zombie" of course) I've ever been able to stomach is "Shaun of the Dead."

Enjoy "L'armee des ombres," by the way. Netflix sent me mine two weeks ago, and I was riveted. It makes a sensational double bill with "The Battle of Algiers"--insurgency on both sides of the European equation.

As for poor old Bosely Crowther--the online NYTimes had a link last week to his review of the original "Ocean's 11," and it's like reading something from another century (you know, besides the other century it's actually from). He decried the notion of a film in which the heroes are crooks. I believe the Greatest Generation may have been invoked. It was...charming.

Noel Vera said...

Thankee, Siren. I hope you enjoy Eyes Without a Face. It's suitably gruesome but with minimal blood, and a real fair-tale feeling--as in Grimm fairy tales.

Suspieria--well, someone mentioned here before that Argento's not the most coherent of filmmakers. But his color sense--gouge your eyes out, it will. His horror has an unsettling beauty.

Of the Saw and Hostel movies, the only one I actually liked was Wolf Creek. Actually took time to get to know its characters, and even the villain has a kind of horrific bonhomie. That one I gave a pass, mainly because you felt you were dealing with human beings, and not a meat market.

Filipino horror is an interesting genre, Siren--you might try it out. I write about Two vampire films that despite horrifically distracting budget restraints (that damned bat, those housemaids in blackface) are I argue stylishly interesting. And he did direct what I think is an underrated classic, Terror is a Man. Worth checking out, in my opine and he'd be a nice introduction to Philippine cinema.

Noel Vera said...

As for children suffering in cnemas, you should have been in my screening of Passion of the Christ. "Sh! Stop crying! Christ will get angry with you!" And, I suppose, flay them alive in a similar manner.

The Siren said...

Tonio, clue in the clueless Siren - which horror movie had the good line? :)

Karen, LOL! yes, poor old Bos, indeed. He is quite good on certain genres he was more in sympathy with--big-budget literary adaptations, for example. But crime did not pay artistically with the Times for many long years.

Noel, that is an excellent post and I hope people follow the link.

Damian Arlyn said...

Nicely done, Campaspe. I like just about everything you said in this piece. I do have to admit, however, that the "wildly overrated Psycho" remark about gave me a heart attack (it's one of my top 10 movies). Nonetheless, I'm willing to forgive you for that misdemeanor and to prove it I've added you to my list of links. I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say in the future. Keep up the good work and thank you for the shout-out. :)

The Siren said...

Damian, I expected that to trip someone up well before comment #17. :) By overrated I did not mean plain bad, I should say. I think that Psycho's first twenty minutes or so, up to Anthony Perkins cleaning up the shower, are brilliant and suspenseful to this day. It *really* devolves after that, and the final windup is ludicrous. Taken complete, not nearly as good as a lot of other Hitchcocks.

Noel Vera said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Noel Vera said...

Oh, but if you're not crazy about Psycho, C, maybe it's inevitable--it looks forward to disjointed, experimental narratives of the '60s onwards than to classical storytelling of the '60s backwards. Leigh on the run, blundering her way into Norman's world, and paying the price for her knowledge; Miles and Gavin retracing her journey, this time in a more roundabout way, but never really getting the same insight into Norman's character that Leigh did. Hitchcock does give us that, for a brief moment, in the film's final monologue. It's a very modern film, I suppose.

Damian Arlyn said...

Well, I have little doubt that you'll consider this my "overrating" the film, Campaspe, but I hold Psycho to be as close to perfect as a movie can possibly get. Every line, every shot, every cut, every musical note is exactly what/where it should be (I'm one of the few who even likes the psychiatrist's speech at the end). I also find it to be an profoundly deep and incredibly sad, in addition to being often downright hilarious, film. Not only do I think it is Hitchcock's greatest work (although Vertigo is certainly very close) but I think it is one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Period.

Perhaps someday I'll write a lengthy post on why I am convinced Psycho is so brilliant. Right now, however, my 31 Days of Spielberg project is keeping me rather busy.

Alex said...

One must see Eyes without A Face partially because it is indeed an exemplar horror movie, but also because it is the only DVD release by the towering director Franju that works in American region DVD players. Also, the DVD includes his short Blood of the Beasts, which influences both Burnett's Killer of Sheep and Linklater's Fast Food Nation.

Other horror recommendations for Campaspe:
Jiri Svoboda's Damned House of Hajn
Jean Epstein's Fall of the House of Usher
Brynych's And the Fifth Horseman is Fear
Peter Tscherkassky's Outer Space

Bob Westal said...

Campaspe --

It's funny that you mention "Suspiria" and "Eyes without a Face", because I've actually seen both...well mostly. I'm a conflicted cinema-chicken. And, unlike you, I actually don't mind just reading about it the very rankest stuff out there. Okay, I actually sort of dig reading aabout films like "Cannibal Ferox" and worse, though I think you'd have to give me the Clorkwork Orange treatment to actually watch them. I guess I like my extreme gore at one remove.

"Eyes Without a Face" is truly a one-of-a-kind film. It's got this undercurrent of sadness and great beauty that actually makes the whole thing a lot creepier. It scares you and makes you want to cry. I'm not quite sure how graphic it gets, but there's a lengthy surgery sequence. The reason I'm not sure is that I looked down at the ground during the entire sequence, listening to the nervous laughter in the audience. (Which is also what in Drivers Ed. when they showed, "Red Asphalt," the legendary gore-nucational documentary.)

"Suspiria" I kind of had to see because I like Jessica Harper a lot and I wanted to get some clue was that Argento guy was about. As I recall, Noel is definitely right about the visuals. The music -- from a band that Argento actually played with I believe -- is really unnerving. I'm not sure it's the same thing as good. A scene involving barbed wired stays in the memory.

"Suspiria" to me was in the category of "I just saw something. I'm not saying it's good, and I wouldn't say it's bad, but it's definitely something." I'll see "Bird with the Crystal Plumage" one of these days.

As for children and these sorts of movies, obviously a bad idea. But you never know what's going to freak a kid out. A trailer for a movie called "The Mini-Skirt Mob," which I saw in drive-in as a six year old, made me pretty terrified of both drive-ins and trailers for about three of four years. Before that, I'm told, I'd run screaming from the room whenever a certain Hostess Twinkies commercial aired.

The Siren said...

Damian: I would definitely love to read your thoughts on Psycho. Don't mind me. Last month I was endearing myself to Dennis Cozzalio by writing a long piece on why I can't stand Once Upon a Time in the West.

Noel, structurally Psycho was a definite landmark, but the shock of its construction is gone and it has to stand on its own merits, which I think are middling. I don't think it's the disjointedness I dislike, if I can take it from Bunuel I certainly can take it from Hitchcock. I find the second half lacking in real tension. Part of the fault may lie with the rather dull Vera Miles.

Alex, I saw Fall of the Usher as a teen and liked it a lot. I will add the others to my ever-burgeoning list, however. And bump the Franju up my Netflix queue.

Bob, I do read spoilers for (modern) horror movies, generally to see if I think I can take them. Coincidentally, I was re-reading a biography of the Bennett family and it mentioned Joan's role in Suspiria. Apparently she had a horror of explicit violence so the author could not really explain why she took the part, aside from maybe wanting to go to Europe. Even as a young woman she had legendarily bad eyesight, so possibly she could not even see Argento's famous gore. The author noted that Suspiria got pretty bad reviews in the States, and added that Joan probably neither knew nor cared that it eventually developed cult classic status.

Bob Westal said...

That maybe one reason why, at least as I remember it, "Suspiria" wasn't extremely gorey. Overall, it was more a freaky-scary mood piece.

I just looked it up on IMDB...I didn't realize/remember that Alida Valli was in it too. Interestingly, a lot of the posters seem to think it's Argento's best.

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

Just wanted to say (from one female film fan to another!) thanks a lot for reading my post about Edwige Fenech and Hostel, as well as sharing it with your own blog readers Siren.

Even if we don't agree on Hostel, gory horror and the use of the term "torture porn," I appreciate a healthy exchange of ideas as long as they don't get nasty or personal. Unfortunately a lot of the criticism I've read about Eli Roth and Hostel seems personal and really unprofessional, which kind of saddens me.

I also want to seriously suggest that you avoid Argento's Suspiria. It's one of my favorite horror films, but it's easily as violent and gory as Eli Roth's Hostel and I really don't think you'd enjoy it at all. All the violence in Suspiria is also directed at college age girls.

On the other hand, Eyes Without a Face is another one of my favorite horror films and I think you'd really like it. It's a beautiful and lyrical film (as well as spooky!) that was obviously inspired by Val Lewton's earlier thrillers.

Last but not least, how cool are you to have named your daughter after the wonderful actress Alida Valli? Your daughter is a lucky girl have such a groovy mom.

The Siren said...

Thank you so much for the kind words! I am especially happy because I have been checking out your blog, and it is beyond groovy. So good-looking, and what a fantastic sensibility you have for that era. I blogrolled it this week, as a matter of fact.

I will take your warning about Suspiria very, very seriously. I am a big eye-closer and that often gets me through things, but it might not be worth it, and this was the divine Alida at the tail end of her career. The one I really want to track down is Senso.

Edwige Fenech is a marvelous-looking woman and if I can find a flick that suits my somewhat (but not completely) wimpy disposition I will check it out. One film I am sure you know very well--do we call it horror, exploitation, or what? you tell me--is Vampyros Lesbos. For what it is worth, I liked that one a lot.

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

Thanks for the nice words about my own blog Siren! I hope you don't mind, but I've added your blog link to my blogroll so I can better keep up with your posts. Even though I focus a lot of my attention on 60s & 70s era films, I also really enjoy older films as well and your blog seems like a great place to become familiar with stuff I may have never heard of or seen. Only modern cinema really doesn't interest me all that much anymore I'm afraid.

I really wish Senso would get a proper DVD release in the US! Visconti happens to be one of my all-time favorite filmmakers and I think it's a shame that all his films are not more easily available on DVD.

Fenech was in a lot of rather gory slashers, but you might find a few things to enjoy in her film Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. It's got a lot sex & nudity in it, and some critics think it has a misogynist streak, but it's probably her most bloodless thriller. I think it's very good and it's a modern take on Poe's story The Black Cat. It's an unusual film, but if you enjoyed Jess Franco's Vampyros Lesbos you might find it interesting.

The Siren said...

I love being blogrolled. No complaints here! "Your Vice ..." sounds worth it for the title alone. The 1970s were an era of lengthy, goofball titles, and across many formats, too, from movies to plays to young adult novels.

Bob Westal said...

So, if I could take "Suspiria" okay (though I'm not saying I actually enjoyed it), I guess I could see "Hostel." And yet I still don't want to!

Alex said...

If you ever do find The Damned House of Hajn, it's actually quite interesting in taking an unusual twist on the haunted house genre - beyond that American viewers usually see haunted houses as very old English country houses or Southern plantations, Hajn utilizes a relatively new suburban villa of industrialists (nouveaux riche within the film's setting of 1920s Czechoslovakia). It's a very difficult to obtain film however.

"And the Fifth Horseman is Fear" is available, I think, from Facets, is quite powerful. It should definitely be seen as one of the few horror movies coming out of the New Waves of the 1960s (the Czech new wave in this instance).

A thriller, though it has horror elements that truly is a great film, is Kachyna's The Ear. That one you shouldn't miss.

Peter Nellhaus said...

As far as Argento is concerned, I would ease in by seeing Bird with Crystal Plumage first.
I did see the remake of Hills have Eyes as well as Alexandre Aja's first film, High Tension. I think the guy shows talent, but I wish he would do something with higher aspirations. By the way, his step mom is Diane Kurys. I might check out Eli Roth on DVD but there is always something else to see. As far as kids at R rated films, Jack Valenti may have had good intentions, but I think some films require a barring of children under a certain age.

The Siren said...

Peter, I went back to my Joan Bennett source and it seems that her husband had seen and admired Bird with Crystal Plumage. I also agree about the kid thing. But the NC-17 fiasco showed that Americans have a maddening inability to handle films that are truly for adults, and adults only. When I say handle, I mean the rating or the marketing. NC-17 was supposed to divide serious films from straight-up pornography (which is rarely shown in theatres these days anyway, it's all video). Instead, as we all saw, "family" thaters and newspapers and TV stations and even video stores reacted by treating NC-17 the same way as an X, erasing the difference. I truly think no child under 10 (possibly even 12) should be in a theater watching the movies we are discussing in this thread. Why can't we have a rating that just excludes them? if the parent really thinks the kid will get a kick out of Wolf Creek they can rent the DVD in a matter of months.

Tonio Kruger said...

Campaspe, the horror movie with the good line "Not so much a sacrifice but a trade" was Kate Hudson's "Skeleton Key." Not exactly a classic or even a critical favorite but better than most of the recent horror movies I've seen.