Director Eli Roth has served up a taut, lean thriller in 2005’s Hostel, that some label with the colloquially sobriquet “torture porn.” Newly reissued by Mill Creek as part of a double-feature with its sequel in anticipation of a new entry in the franchise, time has done nothing to change its reception amongst the general public.
Featuring brutally explicit violence that recalls the slasher films of the 1970s, Eli Roth has made a frighteningly realistic scenario that plays out slowly and methodically. It’s a movie with a true respect of the genre made by an actual horror fan, and intended for older fans with an appreciation of the genre before Hollywood realized scary PG-13 films aimed at the tween market sell better.
College friends Josh (Derek Richardson) and Paxton (Jay Hernandez), both Americans, are lured to Slovokia by a fellow traveler as they backpack across Europe, sowing their wild oats as they prepare to enter life after college. They are directed along with their Icelandic friend, Oli, to an out-of-the-way hostel that features an extraordinary amount of beautiful women. The native women seem overly desperate and fall way too easily for the charms of the backpackers. After a night of carousing, Oli is found missing from the hostel and his friends try to investigate what happened.
The setup sounds a bit thin when described, but the script and direction make the story quite convincing. Particularly effective is the remote Eastern European setting in Hostel. It’s one of those villages that seems to exist outside of time, partially stuck in an earlier era when the USSR dominated the Eastern bloc of Europe. Outside of the two American characters, the Slovokian roles are all played by natives. That might seem like a shortcoming but their clumsiness with the English language helps add to the movie’s realism.
Without spoiling too much of the gory developments, the village is largely a front for capturing victims and then selling the rights to torture and kill them in the dungeons of Slovokia, mainly to rich men from across the world. It’s a concept that plays on the worst fears of young travelers across the world as they occasionally cross into foreign and often hostile lands. Roth’s keen understanding of the horror genre and its conventions turn Hostel into something more than an ordinary genre movie. The graphic violence will not be suitable for the squeamish, but a certain type of horror fan will love Hostel.
Hostel has intentionally been filmed to be an intense, gritty film experience. It owes much more to the older horror classics of the 1970s and 1980s than modern films, and looks somewhat out of place against Blu-rays of more recent vintage. Mill Creek has done a suitable job on this double feature reissue (packaged with the sequel), especially for a budget title. The film becomes highly stylized as the plot starts shifting to the bleak torture dungeons, bathed in noisy grain and overexposed images.
The main feature runs 93:33 minutes, included on a single BD-50 with its sequel. The AVC video encode averages a decent 23.98 Mbps. Compression is not a problem on this disc, most of the visual problems are due to the transfer or the original cinematography. Hostel is presented at its native aspect ratio of 2.35:1, in 1080p video.
The transfer does contain a somewhat egregious level of ringing and sharpening, which looks even more out of place when you consider how soft and flat many of the scenes appear to be. Many interior shots exhibit slightly crushed black levels. Jay Hernandez’s dark hair rarely looks natural, as the image turns his head a solid wall of black on occasion. Contrast gets spotty and color saturation actually varies in several moments.
Roth wanted a vintage look for Hostel and he mostly achieved it. The 2005 film was first processed as a telecine master and then scanned to become a digital intermediate, likely to make the blue-green tinting of the torture scenes easier to handle. That unusual handling process for a modern film also introduces a number of speckles and print anomalies into the picture. It’s shot like a modern grindhouse movie with a nod to the 1970s.
This disc largely resembles the Blu-ray version originally issued by Sony. Both are likely taken from the same transfer, though the video encode does differ on that one according to BDInfo scan. Both are functionally equivalent for picture quality. My score here reflects the inherent weaknesses of Roth’s stylistic choices more than any problem with the disc itself.
The only included soundtrack is a strong 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix for Hostel. Many sounds come at the listener from all angles, including excellent usage of ambient noise to heighten the realism of the torture dungeons. It’s a strong sound design that greatly adds to the horror with thumping bass and fidelity on par with other newer films. Prepare for the eerily realistic screams and the sound of bones being crunched, if you dare.
The only included subtitles are English for the deaf and hard of hearing.
No extra features have been included, which is the main reason I would recommend fans hunt down the now out-of-print Sony Blu-ray if they like special features. That disc featured dozens of extras, with four separate commentaries.
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