With "Hostel: Part II," the sequel to his successful 2006 gorefest, Eli Roth has made even more of a grindhouse flick than his buddy and mentor, Quentin Tarantino.
A woman is suspended upside-down, naked, and tortured with a sickle. Another has her head sliced open with a circular saw, causing tufts of hair to fly about with the blood. And we're not even going to tell you what a couple of vicious German shepherds end up eating.
Graphic? Gratuitous? Yes and yes, absolutely. But that's the point. As writer and director, Roth is clearly genuflecting to a '70s genre he knows and loves (as does Tarantino, who once again serves as executive producer).
It's only shocking if you allow it to be. It's only misogynistic if you give it that kind of power. And, to be fair, Roth is equal opportunity: The men get it where it hurts, too. He certainly wants to stun us, but in all of his movies - especially his gleefully gross 2002 debut, "Cabin Fever" - there's an undercurrent of absurdity that lets you know he isn't taking this too seriously, and neither should you.
Whether you can stomach the subject matter, you have to give him this much: He continues to prove himself as a technically astute filmmaker, capable of creating vivid visuals and palpable suspense.
By now we know the secret: There's a hidden spot in Slovakia where the rich can pay tens of thousands of dollars to experience the thrill of killing someone. This time the potential victims are female: wealthy Beth (Lauren German), party girl Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and the sweetly nerdy Lorna (Heather Matarazzo), who's tagged along.
While on vacation in Rome, they meet the beautiful model Axelle (Vera Jordanova, sort of an Eastern European Ashley Judd), who persuades them to blow off their planned jaunt to Prague and instead visit a spa in Slovakia known worldwide for its natural hot springs.
They bite, and en route are accosted by creepy, handsy European boys. So they can't wait to unwind once they reach their destination. They - and the audience - are of course being lulled in preparation for the horrors that lie ahead. But, tonally speaking, the prelude is as important as the slaughter in a movie like this, and as he was in the original "Hostel," Roth is patient enough to let the premise unfold steadily.
But, eventually, Beth, Whitney and Lorna find themselves in various compromised states in a dungeon, awaiting certain elaborate doom. Yes, it is hard to watch and it's a good thing the movie doesn't run any longer than just over 90 minutes.
Among the would-be killers are a couple of American guys - a muscular alpha (Richard Burgi) and his reluctant wingman (Roger Bart) - whose experiences reveal their true natures. Their motivations seem a bit shaky at times, but hey, we're here for the bloodshed, not for anything meaty.
This may not be the kind of movie you'd want to sit through repeatedly - or even once, for that matter. Regardless, Roth is good at what he does. Trouble is, he keeps making the same kind of movie over and over, and with his talent and imagination you'd like to see what other weapons he has in his arsenal.