While some filmmakers try to make sequels that build on a previous film’s without alienating any potential audience who hasn’t seen the the original film, writer/director Eli Roth has crafted the follow up to his immensely popular 2005 shocker Hostel to start exactly where the first film ended.
“Hostel II picks up literally the next cut where the first one left off,” Roth states. “I love sequels — I think Friday the 13th, Part 2 did that. I wanted to literally pick up after the next cut, so that you could take out the credits from Hostel and watch one and two back-to-back.”
It’s mid-February, but Roth is already making the publicity rounds for Hostel II’s release later this summer. Just little more than a year ago, Roth’s Hostel – the story of a group of friends hitchhiking across Europe who become the victims of a kill-for-pleasure resort – was breaking winter box office records and becoming the first hit of 2006. The sequel will focus on another group of friends, this time females headed by Bijou Philips and Heather Matarazzo, who come into the clutches of the kill-for-thrill Slovakian vacation spot.
With a world-renowned psychiatrist for a father and a painter for a mother, Roth doesn’t seem like the leader of a new breed of horror film directors. Thin as a rail and with still a trace of an accent belying his New England roots, Roth more looks like the kind of guy who shows up at the ten year class reunion having taken the business world by storm. Oddly enough, though, he has taken Hollywood by storm with his first two films – 2003’s Cabin Fever and Hostel were both made on miniscule budgets and returned many times their investment at the box office.
But while his films have proven popular with audiences, some critics have raised issued with some of the extreme moments of violence and horror that pepper Roth’s scripts. But for Roth, there’s no limits as to what he should be able to put on the screen and it is with that philosophy that he proceeded into work on Hostel II.
“Here’s the thing,” Roth explains. “I just want to create a story, and make it scary and interesting. I want everything to be about the next level. The movie is really about the next level of depravity – that sex doesn’t get you off, that violence is a substitute for that. But at a certain point, I don’t want the whole movie to be about that, I just want to tell a really good scary story. And if you just try to make it the most shocking, disturbing movie – I mean, it’s been done before and it’s been done better. I love Cannibal Holocaust, I love movies like that. And you’re never going to do something more shocking and disturbing than those films, so I just want to tell a good, scary story from start to finish.”
Pushing the envelope wasn’t Roth’s only mandate when he started to work on Hostel II’s script. Roth went back and looked at other sequels that surpassed their progenitor for inspiration on expanding his own films’ world.
“I was looking at the sequels that I love, like Road Warrior, Aliens and Empire Strikes Back,” Roth explains. “Those were the models. You came out of those movies, and you were like, ‘Oh my God, that was actually better than the first one.’ So that’s what I was really going for. Let’s take the things that I think worked best on Hostel and really build on that for the story of the sequel. But it was really a challenge, because with the first one you don’t know what’s going to happen. So how do you make another scary film, and include surprises and twists when everyone kind of knows what’s going to happen?”
The answer to that, Roth states, is changing the formula from the first film.
“The fun of [the first movie] was using the structure almost of a sex comedy — taking the first half of the movie and completely pulling the rug out,” he explains. “It starts out safe and bright and colorful, and then once Josh gets killed, suddenly your main character is gone, the color is drained away, the lenses get tighter — it’s more handheld — and you actually see how the first and second half kind of parallel, sort of mirror images of each other.
“So, the fun of Hostel was taking people on that ride, and then having that tonal switch. But you can’t do that again. You can’t re-set, and have Hostel II start off as a fun, safe comedy. What I decided was that, tonally, I wanted the movie to pick up exactly where the last one left off. So, with Hostel II, I really wanted to start off in that creepy place and just stay there. I wanted to have a sense of dread throughout the whole film.”
With time to go before Hostel II hits theaters, Roth is already looking ahead towards his next project, an adaptation of Stephen King’s recent bestseller Cell. But does that mean there are no return visits to the frightening world of Hostel in the works?
“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “I’m sure the answer is, ‘It depends on how Hostel II does.’ But I think for right now, I don’t want to make a bad Hostel III and I don’t want to force it. I feel the story ends at Hostel II and let’s just leave it at that for now.”