Monday, January 09, 2006

Writing about Hostel is like pulling teeth

I have not seen Hostel, and why would I? The trailer, easily the most upsetting snippet of film out there, says that "at recent advanced screenings, paramedics were called in response to theater-goers' reactions to the film's intensity. You've been warned." This preview was approved for all audiences? Every time it blared before a feature in the last weeks, I buried my face in my friends' shoulders. I don't want to see a movie about a Slovakian torture chamber where paying customers have the privilege of slowly dismembering unsuspecting tourists. It's just not my thing, even after a couple of beers.

Evidently, it's everyone else's thing. Following in the footsteps of Saw and Saw II, Hostel was No. 1 at the weekend box office, hauling $20.5 mil. Assuming an average ticket price of $6.50, about 3.1 million people started their new year by wallowing in the gore and glory of torture. All this while various Cabinet officials tour the globe to assure everyone the United States doesn't torture detainees. We recoil in embarrassment and outrage when we hear the government tortures, but then we pay to watch torture. I think this is hilarious and insane.

The horror film genre is respected, enduring and, for the most part, sanctioned as art by academia and cinephilia. It seems to me, though, that there is enough difference between the intentions and methods of Halloween (for example) and Hostel to resurrect the question of merit. Halloween is all about a monster trying to kill people; the suspense is torturous. Hostel appears to be only about torture itself. Should it belong in the genre of pornography?

I'm not one to draw lines or inveigh against alleged artlessness; directors can make their movies as sick as they want, and people can delight all they want in the depths of the sickness. I'm just fascinated about this contrary correlation between the box office and the political climate. Again, I say all this without having seen Hostel. I'd appreciate comment, especially from crazies who have seen (and appreciated?) it.


Write Or said...

"Every time it blared before a feature in the last weeks, I buried my face in my friends' shoulders."

I'm confused. When, exactly, did you get friends?

Blogs/blogging brings out the worst in me. I produce nothing but insulting comments. However, even I, who strives daily to bring emotional pain to others, would never see a film like Hostel. How can it be an enjoyable experience? I freaked out during the My Little Pony Movie when the cartoon versions of toys got their shadows stolen. Nightmares ensued.

Dave said...

Just saw "Hostel" and found it entertaining and interesting. Thought the ending was too feel-good and pat though, unlike the also gory and scary "Wolf Creek" where torture is also done for pleasure but the bad guy gets away. Big subject in the news - seems like the desire to torture others is alive and well on the planet. Why is this so? Why do we enjoy seeing others tortured, although we must brand it evil to tolerate it? And why is torture so often linked to sex - do we still feel so guilty that we must be punished? I just started a film blog - please check out and let me know what you think!


Middento said...

JJ, you have to admit that resurrecting the 40-year-old marketing campaign of Psycho -- "ambulances had to cart people away! it's THAT SCARY!!" -- is brilliant in its nostalgic effetiveness. When the started showing those ads on TV, I thought, "Oh, how charming! An oldie, but a goodie."

That said, he who taught the horror film course is not even coming near this film, being waaaaaaaay too squeamish for this amount of gore. Heck, I finally just got through The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and that was aiming for a PG-rating. I do like the notion of butchering the Idiot Ugly American tourists, however.

You connection with pornography might be justified. And yet, remember that America's fascination with what I would also call "pornography of gore" raised The Passion of the Christ to $370million of blood-dripping goodness. We were primed a year ago for this, so I can't fault people for wanting to see this one now.

J.J. said...

My first reaction to your mention of The Passion was "Hey -- that's not the same type of gore." But The Passion, like Hostel, functions solely to illustrate torture, so I guess it is. I don't know. Although the use of "passion" denotes extreme, violent love, whereas "Hostel" merely conjures its homophone, "hostile." Ah, semantics.

~mandakay said...

i'm with jmr on the sqeamish feeling. my head too was burried in a friends shoulder or else looking at my phone to see how much time was left during the whole of texas chain saw massacre. i winced at the thought of the carver chopping off seans finger on nip/tuck thus why would i pay the ever increasing ticket fee to see this type of torture on the big screen? not to mention i am slightly concerned that the debated life immitates art theory might lead to horrible reppercussions.

--maria's nicer blog commenting friend Amanda

cattleworks said...

I'll try to do this quick because I'm longwinded whether I have a point or not.
In no particular order...
Personally, I like horror films. But, I'm very inconsistent in what i like and why. So, I enjoy stuff like ALIEN and Hitchcock's PSYCHO, and also watch a lot of dreck as well.
And, to be honest, watching some of this stuff is perhaps equivalent to watching porn-- I'm not sure.
But even Hitchcock made PSYCHO to show that the genre can be done well. And cheaply.
You point out the inconsistency with people's outrage that the govt. would torture prisoners, and then how a large portion of the population will watch torture as entertainment, supposedly.
Although, a question, would HOSTEL have done as well its first week if the depicted tourists that were being tortured were foreigners, specifically, Middle Easterners?
Maybe. Maybe not.
And, there's a certain comeuppance factor involved, too, since they're Idiot Ugly Americans as pointed out above.
Re: THE PASSION... which I also have not seen (along with HOSTEL). I get the impression that the whole point was depicting the violence to appeal to Christian guilt-- that's my theory (again, sight unseen).
I also found the HOSTEL ad campaign nostalgic (a la Hitchcock and Producer William Castle) but also pretty ballsy. Holy crap! I thought, they're DARING us to see this film!
Which explains horror films' development as a rollercoaster ride-- and the cheapest thrill for an audience member to experience (theoretically), is sitting through the worst gore/tension imaginable. Now, I don't believe those are synonymous (gore and tension) but some people do, and that includes filmmakers and audience members. So, I think that's part of the "appeal" in that. I think some people feel nothing can faze them, so if the film looks brutal, that's the next "rollercoaster" to get in line for.
Those aren't my favorite types of horror films, the gorefest, but I'll probably watch them, too.
However, even the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre wasn't as bad visually as you thought it might.
The title alone put more images in your head in anticipation then what you actually saw on screen. The art direction suggested alot as well (particularly the interior of the family's house). But the mood was still pretty unrelenting, though.
So, I'm of the mind that horror is a legitimate genre, but alot depends on how its handled. Of course, I'm wondering if the same can be said for pornography, too. Seriously.
So, maybe I'm not the best person to discuss this subject...

And, on another note, here's my livejournal blog, if anyone's interested! I've been doing "movie challenges" as a cheap way to lure more readers!

cattleworks said...

Oh, and re:

" I freaked out during the My Little Pony Movie when the cartoon versions of toys got their shadows stolen. "

I haven't seen it, but that DOES sound like some freaky s#!t. (Hey, look, I'm being tactful and classy!)

J.J. said...

TK -- I was hoping you would weigh in, being the resident zombie guru and the guy who gave me a DVD of "Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter." Right, if the tortured characters had been any nationality besides American, bad things would've happened (although I understand one of the characters is Icelandic). It wouldn't've even gotten made.

And the horror genre *is* legitimate, but I define a horror movie as something more substantial than an explicit rendering of torture (which maybe Hostel is, but it doesn't seem like it).

cattleworks said...

Oh, that's Yeah.. unfortunately, the only way to find out for sure about the quality of a film is to watch it for yourself. Which is how one gets to expose oneself to alot of crap! Cool!
But seriously, especially for a marginalized genre like horror, promoting a horror film has its own set of rules that can be alot different from the director's approach for creating the actual film. Going back to Hitchcock's PSYCHO, he even went the carnival route to push the film, but his approach for the actual film was more serious.
Yeah, I thought it was my "duty" to comment on this topic. Force myself to get off my intellectual ass, which is what i generally am. Intellectually lazy.
But now that I got into this, I wonder why horror IS legitimate as a genre? My first thought is that horror tends to directly involve death and we all will face death at some point in our lives.
And I keep wondering about the comparison to pornography, I think that's a legitimate parallel to make, too. And I'm speaking personally.
Part of my interest in this is also as a wannabe filmmaker. I wonder if I have the talent to create a film that will generate various emotions in an audience.
Am I able to shock an audience? Terrify an audience? Build and sustain suspense? Can I do it without cheating an audience, like without arbitrarily dragging in a killer's point-of-view shot to achieve an effect? Or other false red herrings that are fraudulent?

I'll have to get off my butt and put together a much belated diary account of my experiences working on the low-budget horror film PRISON OF THE PSYCHOTIC DAMNED this past November. If I can still remember stuff...
But, while the experience of making the film was really interesting, it also raised interesting questions for me about what kind of film we were ultimately making. Like, would it be a disposable horror film or would it have merit? I'm really curious to see what the final product's going to be. And I guess I'll see for myself in April, which is when there's supposed to be a premiere of the film in Buffalo. So, more to come.

J.J. said...

Interested to hear how PSYCHOTIC DAMNED turns out. As per your latest livejournal entry, I agree The Exorcist is the scariest movie ever made. But it's not scary because of the repulsive images or ungodly language. There's a spiritual terror that throbs through the story. If the movie were solely about the total destruction of a girl via demonic possession, then we'd have pornography on our hands. Instead, we have a deeply horrifying film. In other words, the filmmakers recognized that the possession of the girl is not as scary as the god who would allow such a thing.