Hostel, Torture Porn, and the Blood Worship Doctrine

- Advertisement -

Cult Cinema: Volume 8

At their best, horror films hold society up to a funhouse mirror, providing a grotesque yet revealing reflection of cultural concerns, values, and above all, fears. And then there’s torture porn, in which the only insights are gained from peering deep into the vivisected ruins of a woman’s genitals.

The term refers to horror films that revel in the mutilation of their victims, to the expense of all else. It’s a recent phrase, coined around the first wave of Saw sequels, but the history of torture porn is almost as old as horror itself, stretching back to when the first misogynist learned to dress a rape scene up as a plot point.

Of course, the people who enjoy torture porn, from the straight-forward pain worship of Saw to the shiny carnival excess of House of 1000 Corpses, are not the kind of people who are able to defend their tastes. Or even read this article, for that matter.  Nor will they be able to tell differentiate between the empty cruelty of torture porn and a horror film, however gory and explicit, with some thought behind it, like the recent extreme horror film Martyrs. But nevertheless, they’ll argue until they’re blue in the face about censorship, quote something from South Park, and then go back to browsing for gore threads on 4chan without a second thought. Though they may take a moment to download Hostel, the quintessential torture porn.

Cult: Blood Worship Doctrine
Basic Tenets: It’s not about themes, emotion, or character; it’s what’s inside that counts. So carve it out with a hacksaw.
Adherents: Internet tough guys, teenage boys, kids who wet the bed and set fire to pets
Example: Hostel (2005), written and directed by Eli Roth

hostel_ver3Every once in a while, a horror film comes along that raises the bar. In Hostel’s case, not only is the bar raised, it’s used to sodomize a crying teenage girl. Hostel has got to be one of the most cruelly juvenile films I’ve ever seen, and that’s a lot coming from a guy who has Attack of the Crab Monsters on DVD. This mean-spirited, soulless picture feels like it was made by idiot frat boys for idiot frat boys, complete with nudity, violence, and a complete ignorance of the way anything other than a beer bong works.

Hostel gives us two young American boys, backpacking their way through Europe with a expendable Icelandic sidekick, on the hunt for pussy and drugs. They find both in Slovakia, as well as the titular hostel, which is essentially the gateway to a filthy murder shack for rich business men who love The Most Dangerous Game but refuse to do any running. The first two-thirds of the movie is nothing but boring soft-core titillation, obviously created by someone who’s never been to Europe, but has seen enough Euro Angels Hardball to form an opinion of an entire continent. Then, presumably once the jock audience has blown a load in their $50 sweatpants and lost interest in sex, the final third has a bunch of torture to satisfy the urge to go play Grand Theft Auto.

I’d say this film is xenophobic, but no one even considering seeing this movie would know what that word means, so I’ll just mention that I’ve been to Europe, specifically Slovakia, and the women do not look like leggy supermodels, nor are the men all deformed Deliverance extras. What confuses me most about Hostel is not its ignorance or its stupidity, though I would have expected more from the director of Cabin Fever, but rather how baffling cruel the writing is. It’s not that the macho, violently ignorant main characters are unlikeable; they’re downright horrible. Watching them die is still unpleasant, but in the end you feel grateful that they’ve finally shut up and stopped perpetuating negative stereotypes about American tourists. The whole movie is designed to give us characters we hate, then let us revel in watching them die, transforming the audience into the sick voyeurs the movie ostensibly condemns. If it were a deliberate comment on the torture porn genre, Hostel would be a brilliant film. But sadly, it’s just another bloodsoaked page of Cannibal Corpse lyrics brought to idiot life.

Al Kratina

Visit Al at www.alkratina.com , or follow him on Twitter.

Portions of this review have previously appeared on The 16mm Shrine.

10 Comments
  1. Ficken

    Title…

    This is my Excerpt…

  2. Corby says

    I wood hav red wurds but i 2 stupid to reed bcos i saw movee al dont unnerstan an now i rape beer and hav sex wit ded gurl. u rite, we is all dum.

  3. Kyle # 2 says

    Jesus, Anonymous had it right. Okay, so the Saw franchise is a joke, and both Hostels are immature and lack anything resembling tension. I get that, but how the fuck do you lump Martyrs in with them?

    I doubt any 15 year old got off to watching a transgressive French film that’s been dubbed existential torture porn. Oh yeah, the MTV crowd just loves subtitles! You act as though Hostel was extreme, it wasn’t. Basically you make idiots who think they know horror want to see it. It pales in comparison to earlier films like Salo and Cannibal Holocaust. Sorry Al, but you lost all credibility when you said Hostel raised the bar.

    1. Al says

      Not sure you quite got my point about Martyrs, Kyle #2. If you re-read the reference, you’ll see that I was saying that Martyrs, while torture porn, is better than the Hostel and Saw films, thus distinguishing it from, rather than lumping it in with, the rest of the bunch.

      And Hostel certainly did raise the bar for MAINSTREAM horror films, which is what I’m writing about here. Neither Salo nor Cannibal Holocaust received the media exposure and wide North American release that Hostel did, nor are they generally considered to be torture porn, though comparisons can and have been made. For the type of horror that is generally played in theatres, Hostel and Saw certainly do stand out in terms of graphic violence and mean-spiritedness.

  4. Nick WCA says

    who the fuck do you think you are, you self-righteous prick? Im sorry you, with your superior IQ and sophisticated vocabulary, aren’t the main character. I really am. First of all, just because a film has hot girls and ugly guys in it, that doesnt mean its making a statement about the country as a whole, it’s just showing that the hostel used hot girls to lure the tourist guys. The movie is not at all racist against any nation or even Europe as a continent. anyways, how in the hell can you say that the first 2/3s of the movie where a softcore porn??? it shows 3 naked girls and a 10 second sex scene and its therefore a 1 hour plus porn flick? fuck off. you should be shot. this kicked Cabin Fever’s ASS. at least could happen, cabin fever is a bit too far-fetched.

  5. […] and cheering it on in the next won’t be lost on some viewers? As Al Kratina notes in his SightOnSound article: “I’d say this film is xenophobic, but no one even considering seeing this movie would know […]

  6. Myles says

    Hey Al,

    I lived in Slovakia (Bratislava) for a year, and I’ll tell you something, I saw a helluva lot of leggy supermodels (of all ages)!!

    1. Anonymous says

      Hostel Part 2 was by far a better movie – less gore, better characters.

      1. Al says

        Worth watching? Didn’t bother with it after the first one.

      2. Kyle says

        Strange? I wasn’t the biggest fan of Hostel but it had its moments. However I really did not like the sequel.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.