Coming out in 2005, Eli Roth’s Hostel was part of a movement of gory horror movies. Filmmakers at the time across the United States, Asia, and Europe were pushing the envelope in terms of special effects, psychological storytelling, and dismembered limbs.
Hostel was one of the more mainstream releases, earning over $80 million at the box office worldwide. Not bad for a thriller movie where the lead characters are carved up in various terrifying situations by hilariously rich patrons. Although the situation might seem far-fetched, there is an element of truth to it.
Roth has explained before what caused him to move from the flesh-eating virus of Cabin Fever to the murder tourism in Hostel. Nowadays, that phrase denotes people who want to visit Ted Bundy’s old house, but in the mid-2000s, it constituted actual violence in the name of getting some kicks. The true story of Hostel is very grim, but Roth’s maintained a sense of humour about it, even amid saying some very dark things about what happens to us when we get rich.
What inspired Hostel?
You might be relieved to learn that the idea of tourists being picked up around Europe to be tortured by rich sadists isn’t completely true – at least, not to our knowledge. That said, there is a grim nugget of truth in Hostel’s premise.
Before making Hostel, Roth was talking to Ain’t It Cool News, and the conversation shifted to weird, effed up stuff on the internet. Roth was enlightened to hear that somewhere on Thailand was offering to let you murder someone for $10,000.
The service worked by paying the money and going to Thailand, where you’d be brought to a private room containing another person, and handed a gun. You could then shoot the other person in the head.
According to the site, the victim would have consented to this happening. Part of the profits made went to their families, implying that their situation was incredibly dire to begin with.
Look, this was the internet of the late ’90s and early 2000s, where scams and outright fabrications were rife. This service likely wasn’t real, and whatever money was given over would disappear without any kind of recourse, never to be seen again. But the idea was something ripe for exploration.
“We said, ‘Is this bullshit? Is this real?’ – it looked real,” Roth explained to Dread Central. “But you know what, it doesn’t matter. Whether this place exists or not is not important. The point is that somebody built a website about it. Somebody else thought up, realised, and conceptualised this site.”
That’s the part that intrigued Roth, who extrapolated the notion of offering something beyond typical social vices. The kind of thrills that would appeal to people for whom money didn’t matter, who’d done every drug they could find, and spent enough time in high-end clubs and VIP gatherings. Murder could feel extremely enticing to someone like that, as a truly forbidden vic.
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Hostel drew from that and people Roth knew who’d go to parts of Europe just to act out. This tourism wasn’t about seeing the sights but feeling the highs. “That’s why I made Amsterdam purposefully look like an X-rated Disneyland. It’s just another story,” Roth says. “They’re not interacting with another human being, they’re just paying their money, and they’re on that path.”
As Roth puts it, Hostel looks at what those same people might be looking for two or three decades from now, if they’re still trying to get that nihilistic rush. Maybe murder’s a bit extreme, but this is horror, where the extreme is explored from the safety of our cinemas and TVs.
One Hostel character was real
Oli, an Icelander the main characters meet up with, is based on someone Eli Roth knew. While in Iceland doing some pre-production for Cabin Fever, Roth met someone named Eythor.
He was an eccentric person, with his own business on top of doing Iron Man competitions and the such, so Roth wrote Oli for Eythor to play. “We went out, and he was insane, I had never met anyone like him, and I thought, ‘This guy has to be in a movie’,” Roth stated.
Slovakia really wasn’t happy about Hostel
Despite being mostly fiction, Slovakia still didn’t love how it was depicted by Roth. People in the country took umbrage with all the corruption and lawlessness in Roth’s realisation.
They wanted Slovakia to be seen as a nice, quaint place to visit, and not be lumbered with some horrific stereotypical view, like Transylvania from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
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Roth argued that Hostel is supposed to be satirical towards the American perspective. Most people in the US at the time of filming didn’t have passports and held this ignorant view of countries that weren’t their own.
“Slovakia in the movie, it’s not really Slovakia, it’s movie Slovakia, and it’s based on American stereotypes,” Roth says. “These stereotypes, that the cars are old, the people are old, the telephones are old, these are the stereotypes that lure these guys into going there, they believe it and they pay for it. These people get punished for these beliefs.”
Eythor chimed in as well, adding that his whole character is dedicated to pointing this out. “My role in the movie was to show those stupid Americans how to have fun. As I know, I’m a European, and you’re Europeans,” he said in a press conference. “We know how to dance, how to drink, how to have fun, and how to have sex. But they don’t know. So I had to teach them.”
Hostel may have more truth to it than you think, just thankfully not of the rich people slicing helpless victims open kind.