The trouble with “torture porn”—specifically, those who would apply the term “torture porn”—is that it stops the conversation. For many critics, the very existence of a horror-thriller in which characters are tortured for the audience’s presumed edification is so repellent that its other merits are not worth discussing. Such was the case with Eli Roth’s Hostel and Hostel: Part II, two nasty little films that first played off American fears of traveling abroad post-9/11 before focusing on a depraved consumer subculture where victims are arranged like floral arrangements at an island resort. At the time, Roth’s films were dismissed as juvenile and revolting—the former charge does stick a little—but it takes a real stinker like the straight-to-DVD Hostel: Part III to remind us that not all torture films are created equal. Take away the style and the subtext, and then the series turns every bit as irredeemable as it seemed to many from the beginning.
Jumping off from the consumerist theme of Part II, where torture sessions are arranged for wealthy clients, Part III takes place in Las Vegas and has little to do with tourists or hostels or foreign hostilities. Doing Vegas on the super-cheap, with Second Unit exteriors grafted to scenes shot 2,000 miles off the Strip (in Detroit), the film follows four young revelers in the city for a bachelor party. With his smarmy best friend (Kip Pardue) serving as ringleader, the groom-to-be (Brian Hallisay) and his buddies quickly hook up with a pair of escorts who take them to an exclusive party in Vegas’ Creepy Abandoned Factory district. Soon enough, they’re seized by goons from Elite Hunting, an organization that rounds up torture victims for the edification of rich observers (and bettors).
The idea of Elite Hunting tailoring its operation to the Vegas gambling scene is a reasonably clever one, but writer Michael D. Weiss and director Scott Spiegel (who previously made the direct-to-video From Dusk Til Dawn sequel) never make clear the betting process or how that affects the torture sessions. We see the “Wheel Of Misfortune” spin, but the poor man strapped to the chair is getting his face peeled off regardless. Hostel: Part III shifts into a passable thriller in the third act, when the action goes haywire, but even then, the distance between it and the Roth films grows more pronounced. Once upon a time, the series tapped into a feeling of real anxiety in the culture. Now it’s just The Hangover with mutilation.
Key features: A commentary track with Spiegel and Pardue.