Hostel: 13 Things You Didn't Know About The Gory '90s Horror Favorite
If American horror in the '90s was defined by the slick, commercial thrills of Scream and the films it influenced, then the genre took a darker turn in the 2000s. A sub-genre emerged that was given the name "torture-porn". This was a label that many filmmakers and fans hated, but nevertheless indicated a focus on nastier and more violent types of horror than what audiences had been enjoying in the previous decade.
While the Saw movies were the most successful horror films to emerge at this time, it was Eli Roth's Hostel that best defines this era of gory movie-making. Hostel was the film that the "torture-porn" label was first applied to, in David Edelstein's New York Magazine article "Now Playing at Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn." Despite this--or more likely, because of it--Hostel was a big hit when it arrived in theaters in January 2006.
Roth's movie focused on a trio of young backpackers--two American, one Icelandic--who head to Slovakia in search of good time with the local girls they have been told about. But soon after arriving they are kidnapped by a sinister underground organisation that allows rich businessmen to torture and kill for high prices. Gory mayhem inevitably ensues.
While Hostel wasn't exactly met with rave reviews, its combination of dark satire, nightmarish survival horror, and over-the-top splatter was highly effective. Roth skillfully builds tension and delivers the gore with glee. Just mention "the eye scene" or "the ankle bit" to many horror fans and they will know exactly what you mean, even if they haven't watched the movie in years.
Hostel turns 15 this month. It remains a defining horror movie of the 2000s, and despite a varied subsequent filmography, it's still the movie that Roth is best known for. It can be watched right now for free on Peacock, so we've gone back to this gory favorite and found some of the references, Easter Eggs, and behind-the-scenes facts you didn't know.
1. Hostel was inspired by a real website
The inspiration for the movie came from a disturbing real-life website. Roth was sent a link to a site based in Thailand, that claimed that for $10,000, customers could commit acts of murder. In a 2005 interview, Roth explained, "The site claimed that the person you were killing had signed up for it and that part of the money would go to their family because they were so broke and were gonna die anyway. It was to give you the thrill of taking another human life. We said, 'Is this bull***t? Is this real?' It looked real."
2. Quentin Tarantino talked Roth into making Hostel
It was Roth's friend Quentin Tarantino who persuaded him to make the movie. He told Tarantino that he was unsure what film to make next, and pitched him his idea for Hostel. As Roth explained, "He was like "Are you f***ing kidding me? That's the sickest f***ing idea I have ever heard. You've got to do that. Do it low budget. Go to Europe and make it as sick as you want to make it.'" As a result of Tarantino's encouragement, the movie was released as "Quentin Tarantino presents Hostel."
3. The taxi driver turned up drunk
The actor playing the taxi driver in the scene where the trio first enter Bratislava was so drunk on the morning of the shoot that Roth had to use a sober stunt double for the shots where he is actually driving. The driver appears very briefly in the film, but in this making-of video there's hilarious footage of him on-set, and he is clearly in no state to sit behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
4. The slaughterhouse scenes were shot in a working psychiatric hospital
The slaughterhouse interiors were shot at Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital in Prague. While the hospital itself is still in operation, the wing the movie was filmed in has been closed and unoccupied for more than 50 years.
5. This adult movie is a pastiche of an Eli Roth film
The adult movie that the guard is watching is a real-life 2003 film titled Sex Fever, which was an X-rated parody of Roth's first movie, Cabin Fever.
6. There are several cameos
Hostel features three cameo appearances from directors. Tarantino appears as a shirtless German man yelling out of a window, while Roth himself pops up as a stoned American tourist in a coffee shop. Acclaimed Japanese director Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer) also makes an appearance as a scary-looking slaughterhouse customer who warns Paxton that "you could spend all your money in there."
7. This band was made of crewmembers
This rock band appears in posters in three separate scenes. As Roth reveals in the making-of documentary, Bakunas and the Essential Elements was a real band in the 1980s led by the movie's production accountant Mark Bakunas. The rest of the band on the posters are producers Mike Fleiss and Chris Briggs, co-producer Daniel Frisch, costume designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone, and Roth himself. There's footage of the photoshoot for the posters in the documentary.
8. All the signs in the town are in the wrong language
Although the movie is set in Slovakia, Roth and his crew made very little attempt to hide the fact that it was shot in Prague in the Czech Republic. Every sign around town is in Czech--and even the train station, which is supposedly in Austria, has Czech signs up. You can actually see the name of Prague station reflected in the window as the train pulls in.
9. This is what Paxton says in German
Paxton begs the doctor not to torture him in German, but Roth left the scene unsubtitled. Paxton's dialogue translates as, "If you kill me, it'll destroy your life. Every time you close your eyes, you'll see me. I'll be in your nightmares every night, your whole life. I will ruin it." Unfortunately for Paxton, it doesn't work.
10. Roth reshot the movie's ending for theaters
The theatrical ending differs from the ending Roth originally shot--which in turn differs from what was in the script. Roth wrote an ending in which Paxton (Jay Hernandez) kidnaps the businessman's daughter, and cuts her throat on a train while her father watches helplessly. Roth decided that Paxton wouldn't go that far, so filmed a more ambiguous ending, in which he simply takes the daughter. "The implication is that he was saving her," he said. But Roth discovered that test audiences still thought that the girl was going to die, so the sequence was entirely reshot, and the movie ends with the scene in which Paxton kills the businessman in the station toilet. This version was released in theaters, while the "kidnap" ending can be found on the DVD and Blu-ray.
11. Roth was expecting the movie to be heavily cut
Roth expected the MPAA to ask for lots of cuts in order for the movie to get an R rating, so added "extra gore" that he didn't expect to get through. But as it turns out, the MPAA barely asked for anything to be cut. "The thing that was great about the ratings board [was] having it say 'Quentin Tarantino presents' at the beginning," he explained. "I could say to them if the movie has Quentin's name and my name on it, nobody is going to accidentally walk into this film and be surprised by what it is."
12. The Slovakian government were very unhappy
Unsurprisingly, Slovakians were not happy about the negative portrayal of their country, which is shown as a economically deprived, depressing, and extremely dangerous place for a holiday. Tomas Galbavy, a member of the Slovakian parliament, called the movie "a monstrosity that does not at all reflect reality," and stated that it would "damage the good reputation of Slovakia." As a result, the Ministry of Tourism invited Roth to visit their country to show how unlike his portrayal it really is.
Roth defended this depiction by arguing that the movie was in fact a critique of close-minded American tourists. "It's not really Slovakia," he said. "It's movie Slovakia, and it's based on American stereotypes. If you look closely at the film, the people who are actually doing the worst things are other Americans."
13. Roth asked the President of Iceland for pardon
Slovakia was not the only country that Roth thought might be offended by Hostel. The drunken, womanising Icelandic character Oli led him to ask the President of Iceland for a pardon, during a dinner after the movie's Icelandic premiere. Thankfully, the President saw the funny side, telling Roth "Well, you know, your character is pretty accurate so I'll give you the pardon."