Sunday, April 23, 2006


Hostel & Gretel

Despite its explicit gore, writer/director Eli Roth's latest film -- the boxoffice hit, Hostel (which just arrived on DVD) -- is actually a cautionary tale much in the spirit of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. "Hansel and Gretel" specifically comes to mind. It's no mistake that Roth also sets his story in Europe (the birthplace of Grimm fairy tales), where here, out-of-their-element Americans are backpacking across the continent and are unwittingly drawn closer to their deaths by the allure of "something sweet." But Roth replaces the actual candies and gingerbread of "Hansel and Gretel" with the promise of sweet sex with beautiful young women. It's also no mistake that the real danger only occurs when the young Americans are willing to venture deeper into Eastern Europe (the home of vampires and werewolves of lore). On the surface, the story here is pretty simple -- As in most horror films, sex will eventually equal death. And there is no mistake about the fact that the young (an sometimes "ugly") Americans are on a mission to find European women to bed. So, naturally they are intrigued when a European stranger shows them photos of a hostel (hotel) with beautiful women willing to have sex, and directs them to it. The promise of a "sure thing" sends the friends out "into the woods" of Eastern Europe searching for their "sweets." And like the young brother and sister team of the fairy tale, once they get a taste, they find it difficult to leave. The witch's house is replaced with a "death factory," and the witch, with business men who will pay dearly to have the opportunity to kill humans in any manner they wish. The grisly images of the death factory is what has given Hostel its infamous reputation. But, when you think about it, is "softening up" men with sex, so they can be lured to their deaths, really any more gruesome than "fattening up" a little boy, so he can be cooked in a witch's oven?! Like the witch of the Grimm fairy tale, the "monsters" of this film meet an equally horrible fate in the end as well. What Roth has done is create a fairy tale for our times -- perhaps with more blood, yes -- but certainly with no more of a gruesome nature than the stories so many parents read their children just before tucking them to bed.

Good post. I totally agree. I have always thought that those old european fairy tales should have a warning on them far more prohibitive than an NC17 rating. When I was five and six my father took me to most of the movies he wanted to see, including James Bond films, spaghetti westerns and cop thrillers like Dirty Harry. Unless the film was notoriously filled with mayhem or sex, he took me when he went to movies. I was seven when the Godfather came out and he took me to that too and, while some might argue the point, I really don't think these movies did me any harm.
But very very early on I put a stop to hearing the fairy tales. They were too much; they seemed even to this six-year-old to revel too much in the horrible and the cruel. I could take Moe Green getting it in the eye as intended. I wasn't shocked to my core to hear Popeye Doyle swearing a blue streak or seeing him leave suspects black and blue. But I wanted no part of the abject cruelty and vileness of the Brothers Grimm. I may have been a cynic at a young age (my permenant record says I was in so many words!) but I was not prepared to hear about people who got off on torturing their step children or luring hungry kids with candy in order to canibalize them! In the words of a character in one of the blaxploitation films I saw at the time: "Fuck dat shit."
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