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[Guest Post] Jeans, No Heels: Gender & Sexuality in Eli Roth’s Hostel (Part 2/2)

2013 May 14

According to Eli Roth, it was a conscious choice for the first example of nudity in Hostel II (2007) to be that of a man. Following the credit sequence and a quick catch up with Hostel survivor Paxton (Jay Hernandez), we’re introduced to our victims.

Far from the seedy lights of Amsterdam, these beautiful college-age women are in a life drawing class in Rome. Within thirty seconds, the male nude is replaced by a female model, Axelle (Vera Jordanova), who disrobes to the sound of audible gasps. Her gaze lingers on our main character, Beth (Lauren German). Beth grits her teeth, her forehead puckered into a tense frown as she begins to sketch.

Beth and Axelle talk in Hostel 2“Jeans, no heels,” is what Beth says when asked if she’s packed for their upcoming trip to Prague with friends Whitney and Lorna. Beth may as well be called Sidney or Laurie: she is masculinised, her relationship with the female model Axelle is eroticised (Whitney even jokingly refers to Axelle as Beth’s ‘girlfriend’) and it is revealed that Beth keeps her father on an allowance following the death of her wealthy mother.

Beth and Axelle’s encounters are carefully structured to be titillating, and yet Beth’s sexuality is never openly discussed. Compared to the view of male homosexuality depicted in the first Hostel film, we’re in full-on homophobic fratboy territory here: lesbians are hot (as long as they’re young, slim and not too gay), and gay men are scary and have to be repressed.

Hostel II differs to Hostel in that we get a deeper understanding of how the whole operation works, focalised through two American clients, Todd and Stuart. “This isn’t like going to a whorehouse,” Todd explains to reluctant Stuart after they successfully bid a collective $100,000 on securing Whitney and Beth as their torture victims. “You can’t just back out.”

Roth works hard to ensure the viewer feels an iota of sympathy for Stuart: he is de-masculinised by a practical and demanding wife, he lacks charisma, and he has to be cajoled into the Hostel experience by the powerhouse Todd. Todd compares their first kill to losing their virginity; Stuart pensively asks, “Do you think we’re sick?”

“We’re the normal ones,’ Todd replies, taking a deep sniff of cocaine. As they draw up to the factory, a mournful serenade plays as we see the doubt flicker across Stuart’s face. Roth asks us to feel sympathy for someone who has essentially been peer-pressured into paying vast sums of money to torture a woman – who intentionally resembles his wife, no less – to death.

poster for hostel 2, complete with screaming woman hanging upside downHostel twists itself into a game of privilege top trumps. The rich are powerful and the powerful are rich: the notion of power, and an individual’s lack of control over their own fate, presents a contemporary spin on the 18th century fear of the aristocracy, often portrayed through a vampiric allegory along the lines of Dracula.

Hostel II even includes a female client who pays hard cash to writhe – naked, naturally – in an Elizabeth Bathory-esque tub as the blood of virginal Lorna showers down upon her bare skin. It’s interesting to note that this is one of the few onscreen deaths of torture victims: the franchise often shies away from the so-called money shot (another grotesque connection between torture flicks and pornography).

Additionally, the fact that the only female client – aside from a stern silver-haired horsey type who unsuccessfully bids on the trio – chooses to murder her victim in this rather specifically vain method reinforces the assertion that for women, beauty is a matter of life and death. (This is also articulated in Hostel when the infamous “eyeball” woman catches sight of her mutilated face and throws herself from the arms of safety to certain death under a speeding train).

The fate of Whitney is grisly: she is made up ‘for the client’ in a corset and smudged, clownish make up. Todd gets cold feet, and so she is offered around and sold to the highest bidder. Sensitive Stuart finds his sea legs and takes her on as a warm up for Beth, who is dressed in a suit and made to even further resemble his wife.

How does Beth survive? She seduces him, naturally, then chops his dick off and pays her way out because she’s stinkin’ freakin’ rich. Let’s not forget her place, though: after negotiating with the Alan Sugar of the Hostel world, she is bent over a table and tattooed on the small of her back, rather than her bicep, ankle or, oh I don’t know, anywhere on her body that wouldn’t liken the process to being fucked from behind.

In a world in which The Human Centipede exists (and actually manages to generate enough revenue to produce a sequel), the so-called “torture porn” movement seems to have finally tipped over the edge into self-parody. The golden age for splatter flicks was 2002-2007. Since then, things seemed to have waned.

The biggest horror titles of 2012 suggest a rekindled preference for things that go bump in the night, with poltergeists, paranormal happenings and possession pictures enjoying a rise in popularity. The washed-up sequels of classic Splat Pack originals, such as Hostel III and Saw ad infinitum, are slinking off into the background – and good riddance.

  • 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
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