Hostel Part II: Roth on his Gory Sequel

With the release of “Hostel” in 2006, writer-director Eli Roth thrilled audiences with the suspenseful tale of a Slovakian youth hostel that doubles as a sadistic playground to well-heeled clientele from around the world.
A gritty account of American backpackers unwittingly sold to blood-thirsty patrons who torture and kill simply for the twisted pleasure of doing so, the film became an international hit, claiming the top spot at the U.S. box office in its $20 million opening weekend. Now Roth returns to the scene with “Hostel: Part II,” unveiling the next chapter in the terrifying odyssey.

Unlike most sequels, “Part II” is distinguished by the return of the first installments entire team, which includes Roth, producers Mike Fleiss and Chris Briggs, and executive producers Boaz Yakin, Scott Spiegel, and Quentin Tarantino. While the unexpected success of “Hostel” guaranteed Roth an opportunity to helm a sequel, it also placed tremendous pressure on the director to deliver a follow-up that would match–or even surpass–the originals galvanizing intensity. I knew I had to up the ante the second time around, says Roth. One of the ways I did that was by making the three protagonists young women.

The sequel follows the fateful journey of Beth, Whitney and Lorna, three inexperienced American women traveling abroad in Italy. When they decide to take a weekend trip, they are lured to a remote corner of Slovakia by a beautiful model they meet along the way, only to find their idyllic adventure turn into a fight for their lives.

Women in Jeopardy

Women in jeopardy and women in horror are kind of a staple of the genre, says Roth. In this particular scenario, the girls traveling in Europe feel more vulnerable than the guys did in the first movie. It raises the stakes for the audience.

Casting

For the role of Beth, a wealthy yet unassuming all-American girl, Roth turned to Lauren German, an actress who impressed in a small but emotionally intense role in the re-make of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Lauren has a sense of humor, but she can also handle those horrific, intense moments, explains Roth. I needed an actress who would be so vulnerable and so likeable, but then really strong when she needs to be. Even though Lauren probably weighs ninety pounds soaking wet and looks like a princess, you feel like she's kicking ass.

As Beths animated friend, Whitney, a whip-smart girl who seems more interested in meeting guys than seeing Europe, Bijou Phillips commands the screen. Bijou walked in to audition and she owned the room, remembers Roth. She was so funny and so sharp and ballsy and tough, I thought, This is exactly what Im looking for. Shes one of the smartest girls I've ever met, and it's been fun as hell working with her.
When considering the role of Lorna, the awkward girl-next-door who longs for romance and excitement in her life, Roth knew very early on that he wanted Heather Matarazzo, who starred years ago as the hapless pre-teen Dawn Wiener in Todd Solondzs hit, “Welcome to the Dollhouse.” Excited by Roths script, Matarazzo flew to Los Angeles to read for the role little did she know the part was already hers.

Dream Vacation

Like its predecessor, “Hostel: Part II” begins as a disarming vision of a young persons dream vacation–one that seems far removed from the nightmare that eventually takes over. The beginning feels like this fun comedy about young girls having a great time. Were all together and enjoying ourselves, Phillips explains.
The atmosphere changes when the girls visit a medieval fair in the picturesque town of Cesky Krumlov, near Prague. The town of Cesky Krumlov is so beautiful that when you're walking in it, you can't believe it's real, says Roth. That location really helped contribute to the fairy tale quality of the movie. If Beth is our Snow White, then this town of Cesky Krumlov is her fantasyland. It seems almost fated that something is going to shatter this idyllic place. Its too perfect.

The torture scenes, which were shot one after another, were grueling and disturbing work for the three actresses. Phillips was the last torture episode shot among the three. One scene in that sequence, by her estimation, required about forty-five set-ups. The emotional intensity of the experience left an indelible impression. I don't think I could do something like this again, Phillips confesses. I'm glad that I had the experience, and I love my job, but we went into places that I didn't know existed, and I don't need to do that again.
Despite Phillips difficulties, the experience in no way compares to the discomfort braved by Matarazzo.

As Lorna, Matarazzo had to work entirely in the nude for a sequence that consumed two nights of shooting. She spent every moment in the scene hanging upside down, with her hands shackled behind her back for up to five minutes at a time. Her endurance was phenomenal, but it was her performance that dazzled the crew. Heather Matarazzo was so great in that role, she had us all a little freaked out, recalls special effects supervisor Mike McCarty.

The Villains

No horror film can function without a good villain or two, or in the case of “Part II”, four potential villains: the curvaceous and stunningly beautiful Axelle, the cold, calculating Sasha, and the American buddies Todd and Stuart.

Vera Jordanova, a model born in Bulgaria and reared in Finland, plays Axelle, the temptress who lures the girls away from their intended destination of Prague and shepherds them toward certain slaughter in Slovakia. With her stunning looks and multi-national background, Jordanova lends an exotic, culturally indeterminate air to Axelle, which makes her true character all the more elusive. Axelle seems very innocent, but there is a mysterious side of her where you can't really tell where she is from or what she has been through, says Jordanova.

Axelles mentor, Sasha, is the head figure in the nefarious organization called Elite Hunting. As played by Slovakian stage and screen actor Milan Knazko, Sasha has the icy demeanor of a heartless killer and the ruthless cunning of a Wall Street deal broker. A former Minister of Culture in Slovakia, Knazko jumped at the opportunity to play a ruthless Russian it offered him an amusing bit of revenge for the Soviet invasion during Prague Spring of 1968. The fact that Sasha was Russian was one of the reasons I accepted this role, says Knazko with a smile. We Slovaks are still a little bit angry over the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet army.

The Torturers

Unlike the original film, which hews closely to the victims, “Part II” offers more information about the torturers themselves, in this case Stuart and Todd, two upwardly-mobile American suburbanites who have traveled thousands of miles for the opportunity to maim and kill with impunity. As played by Roger Bart and Richard Burgi, Stuart and Todd are emblematic of the more extreme sides of human natureand the dark shadow of First World materialism.

Explains Roth, Todd and Stuart only care about reaching the next level. Like a lot of people, neither of them is happy with what they have. Stuart's miserable in his life. Todd buys things. He has all the money he needs, but he's not happy. Everyones looking for that next level of excitement.

Bart felt it was important to portray Stuart as authentically as possible. There's a tremendous amount of rage inside of Stuart, but I thought he should appear pretty normal, says the actor. One of the points I think Elis trying to make is that evil can be inhabited by those who are at the stool next to you at T.G.I. Fridays or who sit two cubicles down. You would never know.

Burgi views the film as a cautionary tale. He says, Id like audiences to walk away with a sense of introspection about their own dark, repressed side and, hopefully, look to themselves for some sort of change.

For the remaining supporting roles, Roth went out of his way to assemble a truly international cast. Young actor Stanislav Ianevski (HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE) plays another unfortunate victim of Elite Hunting, while cult Italian director Ruggero Deodato (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) plays his torturer in a role specifically tailored for him by Roth. Fans of 1970s cinema may recognize actress Edwige Fenech in a cameo as the three girls art professor in Rome as well as Italian star Luc Merenda, who came out of fifteen-year retirement to play the Italian Detective in the hospital. Zuzana Geislerova, a Czech stage actress, rounds out the cast as Inya, a fashionable, fastidious manager at the Elite Hunting factory.

Shooting in Prague

Principal photography for “Hostel: Part II” began in Prague on September 11, 2006 at the state-of-the-art film facilities at Barrandov Studios, where key sets for the films underground dungeon were constructed. As with the original movie, many scenes were shot in locations in and around Prague. One rather notorious real-life establishment known as Big Sister was used for several scenes involving Todd and Stuart and helped established the seedy underworld of the story. Both a voyeuristic paysite and a brothel, Big Sister offers a wide variety of services to customers at no charge as long as they agree to live Internet streaming of their activities, which are viewed by paying subscribers.

“Hostel: Part II” is a bigger production than its predecessor. Filming took place in vastly different locations including the South of France and the North Atlantic island nation of Iceland and Roth was given the freedom to create the bricks-and-mortar factory in which the story plays out. He explains, When people go see “Part II,” they're going to want to go back to the same hostel and also see the same factory. But I didnt want to go back to the same rooms in the factory. So we constructed a whole new underground level.

To build the most authentic sets, Roth and production designer Robert Wilson King toured many factories and underground sites and replicated their favorite locations, adding their own flourishes to each one. Kings design work included a variety of settings: the interiors of the train carrying the girls toward unforeseen perils; the medieval fair; and, finally, the factory the dark endpoint where the Elite Hunting organization conducts its grisly business. Roth describes Kings factory set as something of a character in and of itself one that reminds moviegoers of where theyve been, but simultaneously points them in a new direction.

King focused on conjuring emotionally loaded images, such as the creepy medieval festival or the heavy steel gates of the factory, which look like a teeth-baring monster. I'm a method production designer, he explains. It's beyond pretty pictures or just servicing the script. It's getting inside it and figuring out the elements that really stir you, that can command some emotional response.

Blood and Gore

The Oscar-winning make-up effects team of Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger (“Chronicles of Narnia”) worked for four weeks before the start of production, fine-tuning the prosthetic body parts and cinematic illusions, each designed to make even the most diehard horror fans wince.

The results that appear on screen are the function of painstaking trial and error. In situations where the prosthetics required computerized assistance in creating a seamless effect, Nicotero and Berger turned to the CGI talents of visual effects supervisor Gary Beach. The result is a gritty, frighteningly realistic picture of human brutality that underscores the dark psychological heart of the film.

There's just some deep part of human nature that we all have, which is a need to control or hurt another person, says Roth. And most people have that need under control, but other people don't, and they need to get it out somehow. And that's terrifying–to think that everybody has that in them. Everybody has some side of them that wants to control or abuse another person.

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