Friday, October 26, 2007

Yesterday (All My Troubles Seem So Far Away)

Hard to believe, even to myself realizing it now, but last night's Hostel screening for the NYC Horror Film Festival turned out to be the first Horror Event (i.e. genre-specific circle-jerk) that I've ever gone to. And I'll be goddamned if it didn't feel right. Know what I mean? Like, these are my people; I've found my home! When I went to ComiCon a few years back that was the same sort of feeling, only now even more specialized. It's like the tingling I get in my toes whilst walking through the huge Halloween store here in NYC on Broadway; like the Fangoria in my mind has exploded outwards. A wonderful feeling.

Anyway, if that was paragraph wasn't indication enough, I had an incredible time last night. Before Hostel we were treated to four independent horror shorts, all of which were far better than I anticipated - in my mind I'd been expecting something more student film-y I guess. But these were terrifically entertaining, each in their own way. Here's a brief glance at each:

Foet (Ian Fischer, 2001, 18 min.) - The title, pronounced "feet," is the brand name for the hottest new accessory in New York... if you've seen Dumplings, you'll see where it's going. Very funny.

Criticized (Richard Gale, 2006, 18 min.) - I can't very well criticize a film about a filmmaker getting revenge on a critic for a negative review, now can I? Not that I really have anything negative to say - one caveat: having the critic explicitly state that he was a failed screenwriter who couldn't get his own stuff made and that was his reason for becoming a critic felt a little, I dunno, obvious a way to go for me. Still, Criticized was terrifically funny and the mode of vengeance is clever, hysterical, and awfully cringe-inducing all at once.

Far Out (Phil Mucci, 2007, 5 min.) - A definite excerise in style over substance, but at five minutes long that's hardly a problem, especially when it's so well put together. Think of what you'd see if one of the girls in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls had been a vampire and you've got what you get here. The psychedelic effects of the period are all beautifully recreated.

Halfway (Karl Holt, 6 min.) - The last short shown was the only one of the program to go straight for scary and not try to be funny as well, which I didn't even realize had been the case until I found myself, somewhere in its six minute span, genuinely unnerved. It's difficult to synopsize exactly what the story is - basically it involves a man tied up in a strange room, video equipment, and a moving sack. Eerie stuff, with a good couple of jumps; major props go to the editing for taking a route that usually annoys me - shaky camera work and lots of jump-cutting - and making it work really well.

And then it was time for the main feature! We got to watch the Director's Cut of Hostel, which just came out on DVD this past Tuesday, and I must say it fixes a lot of the issues I had with the original cut. My main problem with Hostel had been the ending, which - no matter how hard I tried, and I did try - I just couldn't get the icky taste out of my mouth of an audience cheering on the murder of a character explicitly coded to be gay. Yes, said gay character is a vicious killer himself (funny that that's not what bothers me at all, huh?). Yes, I got that Roth's intention was, as he said in the Q&A, to turn our hero into something as brutal as what he'd faced, and to make the audience realize that the things they'd just been horrified by earlier they were now cheering on. Problem is, I never really felt that Roth got that point across well enough with his original ending; what we got instead was the catharsis of vengeance, and specifically the catharsis of seeing our ultra-heterosexual - and seriously homophobic - hero kick ass against the gay villain that had murdered his best friend - a best friend that seemed to begin questioning his own sexuality with the arrival of this gay villain. And all of this final-scene-violence took place on a public toilet, which, well ask Senator Larry Craig about what that particular place can signify within closeted gay male culture.

So the film fascinated me with all of these odd undertones floating around in it, but the original ending just kept tipping me to an uncomfortable place that I really wished it had found a way around, because I really felt it was saying something that Roth didn't mean to say. As good as his intentions were - and I do believe, especially in light of the things he discussed in the Q&A, that he was sincerely trying to work out some of these things on-screen - I felt the explosive catharsis offered in that original ending of violence overwhelmed any niggling questions of right versus wrong, for that moment. Going back and re-watching the film a few times more it got easier to dissect the ending and see how Roth was aiming to disturb us with our original blood-thirsty cries for vengeance, but I still never really believed that the majority of people watching the film would find themselves analyzing their reaction as much as I had. Most people left on a high note - a note of that translated roughly to "the evil fag got what was coming to him."

But then, I've explained all those trepidations before. This Director's Cut changes the playing field entirely, and I think I love it. There were little changes throughout the film, adds and edits, but the major change was the ending. I won't get into specifics in case anyone reading this wants to see it for themselves - and I certainly hope that if anyone's read this far they have an interest in seeing it for themselves - but what Roth does is, in the vaguest sense, eliminate all of that troubling catharsis and replace it with something much more sinister. So instead of leaving the film with the elation of seeing the bad guy get it, ooh-rah, which I thought trampled any ambiguity Roth might have intended, what we get is an action by our hero that I can't imagine even the blood-thirstiest of audience members getting behind. There is no huge gory spectacle at the end - just a quiet, horrifying action that's much more disturbing, in the right way, to me.

So what can I say about the Q&A after the film? If you've ever read an interview with Eli Roth or seen him on television then you know he's an immensely charming fellow who knows horror cinema probably as well as anybody on the planet. He spoke for a good long while, maybe around an hour, and never lagged with his enthusiasm, and never stopped with the good humor - although he did interject one blink-and-you'd-miss-it reference to the negative reception of Hostel: Part II, which otherwise, unfortunately, went unmentioned. Even when some putz in the audience basically implied that he's a sell-out for making mainstream horror movies and could do crazier shit if he didn't worry about the MPAA like [insert name-dropping of obscure indie horror films here], Eli (can I call you Eli? Thanks!) explained that if he's able to push the boundaries of what is successful in Hollywood then maybe the studios will throw money at other horror filmmakers out there. He did flirt a little with self-aggrandizement there but he's forgiven because omg can I just tell you how hot he is in person???

Ahem. No, this won't turn into one of those posts, where I get all schoolgirl-giggly over his lithe biceps or tight jeans..... what was I talking about? I was sitting in the very first row - the better to eat you with, my dear - so he was about three feet away from me the entire Q&A, and honestly the fact that I've remembered as much of what he said as I've already told is a miracle. Call the Vatican, I'm a fucking Saint.

Eli told some great stories about his time at NYU - the screening was on their campus - and talked briefly about Trailer Trash, his next film, that will be a feature-length string of fake movie trailers a la his Thanksgiving trailer from Grindhouse. He told us one of the trailer ideas - dependent upon Mr. Tim Allen's involvement, naturally.

And after the Q&A he stood outside of the theater taking pictures and signing autographs and just generally coming off like the coolest guy alive. If y'all can't tell - my crush? Multiplied ten-fold.


Stacie Ponder said...

Aww...yay crush!

Jason Adams said...

Thankfully nobody mentioned pirates!

Stacie Ponder said...

Hey, you totally could've used it for your opening line!

"So, how 'bout that tool who asked you about pirates?"

Next time, maybe...

Matt Sigl said...

I always felt the same way about Hostel. The ending embraced violence in the most sadistic way. You put my reservations perfectly in your comments. If Roth wanted his audience to have an emotionally uncomfortable reaction to the final retributive kill then I think he totally failed. The hyper editing, and the main characters lack of remorse, all are cues for the audience to engage in the worst kind of violent fantasy. The homophobic subtext is icing on the cake.  I am very curious to view the directors cut to see if these issues are dealt with in a more ethically responsible way (as you suggest they are.)  Violent retribution by the victimized has been the subject of many a good and disturbing film, from Wes Craven's "Last House on the Left" to Tim Burton's new "Sweeney Todd" (which I just saw in a screening...amazing!) But those movies all put the revenge fantasies of the audience into question and ultimately take an moral stand against sadism that Hostel does not. Ultimately, I thought Roth wanted his teenage fanboys to cheer and whoop at the screen at the scene in question. To hear that this was not his actual intention was quite a surprise.