Dark Dreams
Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of Hostel

Devan Sagliani | 15 Jan 2016 20:00
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Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the theatrical release of Hostel by Eli Roth, one of the more controversial horror movies of all time and a personal favorite. For those still unfamiliar with the movie (SPOILER ALERT) Hostel follows two college students, Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson), as they backpack through Europe with their Icelandic friend Oli. The trio journeys deep into Slovakia after hearing about a hostel in a remote town full of gorgeous, horny girls who love to party and have sex with Americans. The hapless group quickly fall prey to unscrupulous captors who drag them to an abandoned warehouse where they sell the terrified young men to wealthy businessmen and other assorted sociopaths from around the world who then torture and kill them for fun.

The trailers leading up to the release billed the movie as "inspired by true events" which continues to make many horror fans who've seen it wonder if there really is a place in Slovakia where Americans are kidnapped and murdered for sport. When asked about it in promotional interviews director Eli Roth claimed that he stumbled across a Thai website advertised a "murder vacation" - offering users the unique opportunity to torture and kill someone for a mere $10,000. Roth insists that videos of a man walking into a room and shooting someone in the head were posted online as well. The director originally planned on turning what he found into a documentary but he quickly changed his mind after realizing he was putting himself in grave danger even researching the subject. Still Roth claims he was so fascinated by the morbid idea that he showed the site to Quentin Tarantino and that the two later developed the idea for the film. Tarantino and Roth both insist that they have no idea if the website was real or not.

In the end Europe was chosen as the perfect setting for the film, rather than Thailand, because of its popularity with backpackers and college students and its association with the unknown and exotic for geographically-challenged American audiences. Czech Republic and Slovakian governments denounced the film upon its release for the way it portrayed their countries as undeveloped, poor, and uncultured lands suffering from high criminality, war, and prostitution. Fearing it would "damage the good reputation of Slovakia" and hurt tourism they invited the director on an all-expenses-paid trip so he could see it is not made up of run-down factories, ghettos, and kids who kill for bubble gum. Defending himself, Roth argued that despite the many films in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, people still travel to Texas.

Roth, whose only previous work was a slasher called Cabin Fever, poured his heart into the project, using the closed wing of functioning mental hospital in Prague and 150 gallons of blood to bring his vision of a killing floor graphically to life. The location couldn't have been more perfect. In fact, the basement of the building where many scenes were shot was so creepy that the director hired a string quartet playing classical music during filming to make the cast and crew feel more comfortable. Roth used crew members as extras and hired locals to play bit parts, saving money wherever he could while still maintaining a realistic feel. In the end the film cost less than $5 million to make but pulled in a whopping $81 million worldwide, making it a huge success for Lionsgate. It knocked The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe out of the top spot both at the box office, and again later when it was released on DVD, despite the production budget of the popular kid's movie being nearly 50 times bigger. It was followed by a far superior sequel (in fact it's best to watch both together in my humble opinion) and later with a barely palatable third installment set in Las Vegas that brought the series effectively to an end.

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