Slaughter In Slovakia – Looking Back At Eli Roth’s ‘Hostel’ (2005)

Earlier this month marked the fifteenth anniversary of one of the most uncompromising additions to modern horror – Eli Roth’s Hostel. In 2005, when Hostel was unleashed at the Toronto International Film Festival, the United States and beyond were facing some diabolical issues. Issues such as terrorism, war, and the escalation of violence that just seemed to be found everywhere. These were (and are) profound and fucking frightening. Four years after the devastation of September 11th and becoming balls deep in an unrelenting war on terror, a filmmaker had the opportunity to mirror so many of our collective fears on the Big Screen.  


Serendipitous interactions between filmmaking auteur, Quentin Tarantino and then newcomer, Eli Roth, helped pave the road to a worthy artistic alliance. After his success on Cabin Fever and bonding over their shared love of Asian genre cinema, namely Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer, Imprint, 13 Assassins) who also happens to have a cameo in Hostel, the pair also wished to see American horror taken to a new level. Tarantino ended up encouraging Roth to pursue making one of the most controversial films of our time. Feverishly completing the script for Hostel in a little over two weeks and subsequently earning executive producer support from not only Tarantino but Scott Spiegel who wrote Evil Dead II, Roth felt confident he could run with the idea of not playing it safe.    

Pushing the boundaries with many moviegoers at the time, Hostel also happily raised the bar for those fans that were welcoming of such terrors. Eli Roth’s second feature, used 150 gallons of fake blood and numerous forms of torture to shock audiences, ultimately prompting one critic to coin the term “torture porn” to describe the film. Focusing on the base adventures of two young male Americans backpacking through Europe, Eli wanted Hostel to unfold like a ‘slow-burn’. Establishing an almost comedic introduction to the rather unlikeable, ignorant Yanks, Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) who are visiting Amsterdam along with their Icelandic pal Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) – Hostel ends up holding you by the throat. With their simple desires of girls and a good time commanding their destiny, the trio decides to travel to Slovakia to a remote hostel that promises an unparalleled experience. And that is exactly what Eli’s movie provides – an experience unlike the vast majority of theatrically released genre films. It’s bloody, brilliantly terrifying and brings some seriously disturbing images to the screen that have burned into so many viewers’ memories. What Jaws did for the water, Hostel and the advent of the Elite Hunting agency did for Americans traveling abroad. It definitely instilled a deep, genuine fear of going anywhere far for myself. This idea of unsuspecting tourists in a foreign country, being abducted and sold to rich, closeted predators to quench their blood lust is simply chilling. 

Hostel, like so many other great genre films, was born out of real-life horrors. Originally, Roth wanted to a documentary focusing on the disturbing nature of ‘murder vacations,’ but that idea quickly got axed once he found it to be a difficult, dangerous endeavor to track down and engage these people who are involved in such an enterprise. 

The kid who showed the 1980 slasher film, Mother’s Day, at his Bar Mitzvah grew up to be the guy that helped mold a new era of American Horror. Roth has crafted entries that enthusiastically target a specific audience. But as some are thoroughly pleased with the carnage whilst munching on popcorn, others feel traumatized and sickened. Regardless of what camp you belong to, we cannot deny the spectacle and success that is Hostel. Shot in seven weeks, made for about five million and earning four times that in the opening weekend alone at the domestic box office, this little uncomfortable piece of movie-making helped not only prove horror can dominate, but also that the genre can constructively help some people process their very valid fears about the state of humanity.  

About Danni Winn

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