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[Guest Post] You Just Take Them: Gender & Sexuality in Eli Roth’s Hostel (Part 1/2)

2013 May 13
  • Today we’re honoured to welcome Alice Slater to the BadRep Towers soapbox for the first of two posts. Wanna join the party? Send your pitch to [email protected]!

It’s unsurprising to learn that the big names in the so-called “torture porn” movement are all blokes. Known as the Splat Pack, James Wan (Saw, Dead Silence), Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes), Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel), Greg McLean (Wolf Creek), Rob Zombie (House of 1000 Corpses, Halloween) and Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV) all specialise in a brand of horror that leans heavily on sadism and graphic onscreen gore – the more creative and toe-curlingly disgusting, the better.

Eli Roth met a wave of criticism for the gender roles in Hostel (2005), a film in which all the women are either sex workers, hypersexualised and morally repugnant, strung out on enough narcotics to render them completely obsolete as anything other than onscreen ass, or all of the above (with the exception of two Japanese twentysomething tourists, who are portrayed as giggling and coquettish – the stereotypical western idealisation of Japanese women as schoolgirlish and subservient).

Poster for HostelRoth, being a sensitive chap at heart, created Hostel Part II as a response – kind of like Neil Marshall hopping from Dog Soldiers to The Descent. Nice try, Eli. The gender politics are equally terrible in Hostel II. I know – “I can’t believe it!” said absolutely no one.

Now, horror isn’t the most feminist genre, but it’s my genre of choice. Female nudity, themes of female virginity and scenes of a sexual nature are prevalent in horror, from chaste Janet Leigh’s infamous shower scene to the chesticular fireworks of Piranha 3DD. Sex and death – the circle of life, as Sir Elton calls it – are intrinsically linked, and often sit well side by side. We all know what the phrase “torture porn” refers to, but there’s a problematic duality created by suggesting that sadistic violence and sexual gratification are titillating in the same way. It reduces the whole horror genre to something akin to Bizarre magazine: Blood! Tits! Tits covered in blooood!

Hostel opens with an unsympathetic bunch of lads on tour as they weave through the streets of Amsterdam. The group laugh at sensitive, still-getting-over-his-ex Josh (Derek Richardson) for suggesting they take a break from smoking pot and chasing skirt to check out a museum or two. Then they fistbump and hi-five their way through the Red Light District. It leaves us all feeling well primed for the next hour and a half of blood, guts and dismemberment because they are quite possibly the most unlikeable people in the history of humanity (apart from Jeremy Clarkson, who retains his crown of The Worst).

“Paying to go into a room to do whatever you want to someone isn’t exactly a turn-on,” says Sensitive Josh, and we all cock our heads and recognise that he is definitely going to die. The anti-sex work comparison drawn between prostitution and the premise of Hostel – the rich paying high prices to torture and kill others – doesn’t go unnoticed.

Loutish and drunk, the lads are denied entrance to their hostel. As a rain of glass bottles smashes around their feet, an eastern European tourist offers refuge in his hostel room. Here, Sensitive Josh awkwardly explains the definition of ‘clitoris’ (“Women have it? It’s like right near the labia? Like, it hangs?”) and talk naturally turns to sex.

“Looking for girls?” their new friend Alex asks. He then creepily shows them photos of himself having sex with women “so hot, you won’t believe it”. He explains that the women of Bratislava “go crazy for any foreigner. You just… take them.”

After hearing one of the most chilling phrases in the history of patriarchy, off the threesome go to Bratislava. A creep on the train confirms that eastern European women are smokin’ hot and DTF. He then places a hand on Sensitive Josh’s thigh and Josh reacts as though he’s just had his Achilles tendons cut (and we can be accurate here because that is exactly what happens to him approximately twenty minutes later).

This brief moment of casual homophobia is not to be overlooked: Josh, the sensitive one, the most respectful and the least sexually repugnant of the three, later places his hand on this man’s thigh in a sincere yet hesitant apology – moments after being called a “faggot” by Paxton. “I would have done the same thing at your age,” the man says, regarding Josh’s extreme and aggressive reaction to the hand-on-thigh moment from before. “It’s not easy, but from my experience, choosing to have a family was the right choice for me. Now I have my little girl, who means more to me than anything. But you should do what’s right for you.”

Hold on, what? It’s no coincidence that the next shot is of Josh ‘making his choice’ – on the brink of having sex with an incredibly attractive woman. Because of course, sexuality is a choice and the option of having a family is strictly for those that choose ‘straight’.

Anyway, the hostel is everything they imagined and more: slender young women shoot them come-hither looks, are totally chill to hang out in the spa with their tits out, and laugh at their inane jokes. Reader, our trio of lads go dancing, pop pills and eventually fuck their roommates to Willow’s Song, the alluring siren’s song performed by Britt Eckland as she seduces the copper in 1973’s hit cult flick The Wicker Man (incidentally, another movie about a community seducing and eventually murdering outsiders).

The problem? These are not sexually liberated tourists, having a laugh and shagging a bunch of goons for the fun of it. They, like Willow of The Wicker Man, are duplicitous: the sex is the primer for the betrayal, because we all know that sexually liberated women are up to no good.

  • Come back tomorrow for Part 2, in which Alice looks at Hostel II – and its more prominent female characters – in more detail… EDIT: Read Part 2 here.
  • By day, Alice Slater is a writer and bookseller from London. By night, she is a horror film addict who always keeps the lights on. She writes for Mslexia and Drunken Werewolf, and she blogs about veg*n high jinx at SmokinTofu.com.
2 Responses leave one →
  1. Markgraf permalink
    May 13, 2013

    I am so ready to read part two of this!

    I first found Eli Roth via Inglourious Basterds, and literally only just unfollowed the guy on Twitter this morning because his feed is literally just him retweeting everyone who says he’s a horror genius. And, um, obviously I’m the barometer of who’s cool on Twitter.

    This is a super write-up of what I suspected would go on in Hostel and I’m pretty glad I avoided it. I’m thinking of checking out his new werewolf offering though, because apparently the transformation sequences are brutal as hell. But I’ve heard that his gender politics is terrible in it :/ Can I brave it for werewolves? Let’s see…

  2. June 14, 2013

    Thank you for that. It helps to further convince me not to watch any films of this sort. Out of curiosity, I recorded one from late night TV (I think it was one of the Saw series) but never watched it. In my younger days, I was a big fan of horror films. At risk of showing my age, that was in the heyday of Hammer. Quite a lot of the 1950s to 1970s horror films, on DVD, now carry a 12 certificate. They seem to belong to a more innocent, and less violently misogynist, age.

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