Hostel (2005) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

WTF Happened to Hostel? Let's find out by looking back at writer/director Eli Roth's torturous 2005 horror film

Looking back on the horror genre throughout time, there’s always been a period where certain sub-genres have been most prominent. The 70s and 80s were all about the slasher flicks, with masked villains marauding around sleepy suburbs or high school kids having their heads chopped off, while remakes such as House of Wax and Ring dominated the early noughties. There’s another sub-genre, however, that had its roots in splatter films such as Peter Jackson’s superbly gross Bad Taste and Braindead, plus ‘video nasties’ like 1978’s I Spit on Your Grave. That’s right folk, we’re talking about ‘Torture Porn’, an exploitation horror subgenre known for its nasty, gory, and violent films. Do a quick Google search for the sub-genre, preferably with safe-search activated if you’re at work or Uni, just in case, and you’ll more than likely find several Top 10 lists of the best torture porn movies; such as Martyrs, Saw and the film we’re focusing on today; Eli Roth’s Hostel (watch it HERE). Roth burst onto the horror scene with the now cult classic Cabin Fever in 2002, with its neat twist and explosive final act. He followed it up with another gorefest that would not only spawn two sequels, but would become renowned for some pretty shocking imagery, I’m looking at you Achilles tendon scene! However, was the hype for the movie justified, or did Roth just create another sick and twisted splatterfest without any substance? Well, don’t book that ticket to Slovakia just yet, as we find out WTF happened to Hostel.


After Cabin Fever was released in 2002 and became a hit, Roth began to receive offers to direct larger studio movies, but was at an impasse in regards to which project he wanted to go full steam ahead with next. However, Quentin Tarantino had loved Cabin Fever and invited Roth over to his house to hang out in the pool and smash some chimichangas… Probably. Tarantino asked Roth about what his next project would be, and after describing the premise for Hostel, Tarantino responded with suitably Tarantino-esque enthusiasm, much to Roth’s surprise, saying “Are you f*cking kidding me? That’s the sickest f*cking idea I have ever heard. You’ve got to do that. F*ck it. Do it low-budget. Go to Europe and make it as sick as you want to make it…This could be your Takashi Miike film. This could be a classic American horror movie.” What’s more, Miike, who directed the wonderfully sadistic Audition in 1999, has a pretty cool cameo in the movie.

Despite being offered directing gigs on the likes of The Fog, The Last House on the Left, plus a movie in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, Roth took Tarantino’s advice and went full steam ahead on his ‘murder vacation’ project. The idea for the movie came from a Thai website he saw while taking an ominous surf around the dark web. One of Roth’s early ideas was to create the film in the style of a fake documentary that would use real locations and people from apparently authentic ‘murder vacation’ spots. However, finding any credible information on the subject proved too much of a stretch, so Roth took the more traditional approach of creating a linear narrative using fictional characters and locations. Filming took place in the Czech Republic, mainly at Cesky Krumlov, while the torture scenes took place in the wing of a Prague hospital that had, quite fittingly, been abandoned since 1918.

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Hostel (2005) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? 2

The plot of Hostel follows two college students, Paxton, played by Suicide Squad’s Jay Hernandez, Josh (Derek Richardson from Anger Management) plus their Icelandic friend Oli (played by Eyþór Guðjónsson). The trio take a trip to the always eventful Amsterdam (seriously, if you haven’t been to that wonderful city, get it booked now!) where they’re persuaded to take a trip to Slovakia, enticed by the promise of beautiful woman. Sure enough, when they arrive at the hostel they meet two other guests, Natalya (Barbara Nedeljáková from War Dogs) and Svetlana (played by Jana Kaderabkova), who take the lads out on the town. They all party, fuck and generally have an amazing time, until it all goes south quickly and horrendously for the poor chaps. Oli disappears mysteriously and Josh and Paxton find themselves at the mercy of the exclusive ‘Elite Hunting Club’ an organisation comprised of wealthy men and women, who pay to live out their torture and murder fantasies without repercussions.

It’s a great premise for a horror, but does the movie have any actual substance over the subsequent torture porn events that occur after the students are taken in by the club? Well, the answer to that is largely yes, despite it taking a little while to get to the gratuitous events we’ve all come to see. The early sequences play out like a slightly tame lads travalog around Europe, with the usual stereotypes front and center – hookers and hash! The Amsterdam dominatrix scene could have provided some early fun but do we really care if the apparently shy Josh gets it on with the prostitute? Not really, but it probably would have been a decent ‘money shot’ for the trailer.

However, once the action arrives in Slovakia, the gloves come off and the torture tools come out. And then some. The “Tarantino Presents” tag is more than just a marketing tool for the trailer, with the director having script input in the movie. When the film eventually unleashes the carnage, it’s like Tarantino and Roth have re-imagined Pulp Fiction’s “bring out the gimp” sequence, while ramping the gore up to eleven. Roth clearly loves to taunt the audience while playing on their most primal fears, and while you don’t necessarily feel any deep connection to the characters, their pain is gleefully shown on screen, and it’s hard to escape from. One scene borrows an idea from Miike’s Audition involving ankles, and another shows an unfortunate lady having her face blowtorched, leaving her eye dangling out of its socket and looking like a half cooked mushy egg. Depending on how squeamish you wonderful gorehounds are, it’s probably not a good idea to watch this movie after an all you can eat buffet.

The movie is gloriously, gratuitously over the top when it comes to the bloodshed, but in this genre, isn’t that the entire point? The combination of Tarantino and Roth proved to be a masterstroke for Hostel then, especially where it matters; the torture scenes. The opening act may have lacked any real intrigue, or bite, but it’s just an appetizer for the gruesome main course we finally get, as the movie really kicks into gear. You can see why people were disgusted or offended by the movie when it was first released, but the torture porn genre isn’t supposed to pander to anyone, it’s provocative in nature, and Hostel sure pushes those buttons.

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Hostel (2005) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?
Hostel (2005) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? 3

Hostel opened in US cinemas on January 6th, 2006 and grossed $19.6 million dollars during its opening weekend, placing the film at number one at the domestic box-office. The movie ultimately made $47.3 million in the US and after the international numbers stacked up, it grossed $80.6 million worldwide. Considering the movie’s budget was a reported $4.8 million dollars, you can see why it spawned two sequels.

Critically, the movie was met with a mixed response. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes’ approval rating for the film is 59% based upon 109 reviews, with an average score of 6.1/10, if that website’s stats hold any weight for you. Entertainment Weekly were impressed with the movie’s creativity, saying, “You may or may not believe that slavering redneck psychos, of the kind who leer through Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, can be found in the Southwest, but it’s all too easy to envision this sort of depravity in the former Soviet bloc”. However, less than impressed with the film’s depiction of its country were officials from both Slovakia and the Czech Republic, who were disgusted by the film’s portrayal of their countries as undeveloped, poor, and uncultured lands, suffering from high criminality, war, and prostitution. Overall, critics and audiences were divided by the film, with some of the more negative reviews complaining about the movie using sexual acts to excite audiences, or the fact Roth had helped to coin ‘torture porn’ or ‘gorno’ as sub-genres.

Ultimately though, what we have here, is a movie that exists to shock, but not necessarily educate, its audience. Like Roth has said, he wasn’t attempting to offend people, saying that, “Americans do not even know that this country exists. My film is not a geographical work but aims to show Americans’ ignorance of the world around them.” As usual though, it’s YOUR opinion that means the most to us here at JoBlo, so what do you make of Eli Roth’s Hostel? Is it all horrific gore over substance or is the point of the movie simply to shock and provoke its audience into a certain reaction to the apparently ‘based upon true events’ tagline in the trailer? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you beautiful gore-hounds next time. Thanks for watching!

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!