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Hostel: Part II Reviews

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Slovakia, splat-pack auteur Eli Roth returns with a pretty successful follow-up to his grisly, genre-redefining HOSTEL (2005). After a quick intro during which the events of the first HOSTEL are recapped and its sole survivor (Jay Hernandez) dispatched, we join rich heiress Beth (Lauren German), trashy party-girl Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and naive goody-goody Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) in Rome, where they're studying art. (In a cool nod to Roth's Euro inspiration, the art instructor is played by the still glamorous gialli vet Edwige Fenech; Italian cannibal shocker director Ruggero Deodato later appears as, what else, an Italian cannibal.) The three plan a short side trip to the Czech Republic, but on the overnight train to Prague, Beth is surprised to see Axelle (Vera Jordanova), the beautiful, vaguely lesbian nude model from their life-drawing class eyeing her from across the crowded bar car. Axelle just happens to be on her way to Slovakia, and convinces the girls to join her with a description of her ultimate destination: a luxurious hot-springs spa. (It seems men require the promise of sex and endless partying to lead them to their doom, while women need only the promise of relaxation and little luxury.) Axelle can even recommend a particularly good hostel in a picturesque Slovakian village. Beth, Whitney and Lorna are charmed by the town and the accommodations, but no sooner do they hand over their passports at the hostel's front desk than their pictures are scanned into a computer and their faces featured in a fiendish online auction. The highest bidders win the privilege of traveling to a top-secret, blood-soaked cinderblock killing factory deep in the Slovakian countryside, where they can torture their prizes to death in whatever manner they choose. In the case of Beth and Whitney, the lucky devils turn out be aggressive, testosterone-driven American businessman Todd (Richard Burgi), who's no longer content with "killer instinct" being a mere expression, and Stuart (an equally well-cast Roger Bart), the milquetoast, married-with-two-kids-and-a-double-mortgage friend who has a serious problem with women. Given its premise, it's hard for any HOSTEL sequel to be little more than a rehash — dumb tourists come to Slovakia, dumb tourists are tortured to death in fun ways — but Roth manages to bring something new to the formula by taking a closer look at how the operation works and who the killers are. He also makes something out of the sequel's shift to female victims by showing how violence against women isn't just the stuff of countless horror movies, but enjoys a key place in "harmless" entertainments like fairy tales and quaint, provincial puppet shows. But in giving us a distaff, arguably feminist version of HOSTEL (one guy learns a very painful-looking lesson in not using the C-word), Roth pulls back a bit on the sadism, and a lot of the first film's sadistic glee in staging terrible deaths for ugly American frat boys is gone. There is, however, one fabulously baroque set piece in which a poor girl is turned into a blood pinata for a vain, modern-day Elizabeth Bathory (Monika Malacova).