Okay. So now you know about Hostel. But to really understand the importance of this movie and why it was so popular you have to understand the period of history that spawned it. A decade ago, before the onset of the economic crash, American culture was still struggling to come to terms with the idea that no one was ever really safe in a post 9/11 world. For many Americans it was a shock finding out they were hated by most of the rest of the world, and since they didn't understand why they grew even more isolated and xenophobic. This new paranoia, along with America's growing taste for sadism, was adequately reflected in the horror cinema of the time, which found itself surrealistically competing with a steady stream of real world horror being flashed onto our screens from cable news channels in an endless twenty-four-hour news cycle. From images of the Twin Towers crumbling to the atrocities of war to the gleeful human debasement at Abu Ghraib, Americans had become increasingly desensitized and harder to shock. Hostel did just that.
In 2006 while the SAW franchise was happily firing off sequels and the Final Destination series was similarly raking it in with mind-numbing gore that left audiences shocked speechless along came Hostel, the movie that would spawn the term that defined all such movies as "torture porn" thanks to critic David Edelstein's infamous review. Going to places slasher films only dreamed of, movies like Hostel became a means of cultural catharsis for many, allowing them an outlet for their fear and anger in the form of extreme violence and unspeakably monstrous cruelty. But unlike similar movies in the subgenre, which typically glorified the unlikely death of the young and attractive for shock value, Hostel took things to a far darker by including consumerism and anti-American sentiment.
The terrifying possibility of something like this really happening, coupled with the sheer brutality of the movie caught many audience members totally off guard, particularly those who'd been lured in by the heavily-marketed catch phrase "Quentin Tarantino presents" from the commercials and billboards. At the first screening of the film at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival two ambulances were called due to people having such extreme reactions to the movies contents. During Paxton's torture scene a female viewer experienced such tightness of the chest that she thought she was having a heart attack and called 911. At the same time a man watching was so overwhelmed that he fled the theater, fainted and tumbled down the escalator. Though dismissed by critics as a publicity stunt the director insists both reactions were genuine, and anyone who has seen the film is likely to believe him. It is one of the most difficult scenes you'll ever watch in a horror movie, hands down.
Having traveled around Europe alone not once but twice, in 2003 and again in 2006 I found the movie absolutely terrifying beyond words. Luckily I didn't see Hostel until I was already back home safe, or the nights I spent wandering the streets and bars in Amsterdam and Budapest might have been much scarier. I recently watched all of the Hostel series for the 31 Nights of Horror challenge - and am happy to say it still packs the same visceral and terrifying punch it did when it was first released. I highly recommend that you make time to watch them all again, preferably in a row.
Until next time, stay scared!