Hostel: Part II

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Usually, when a successful horror film spawns a sequel, the job is handed off to a different director.

Not so in the case of "Hostel," Eli Roth's intense gorefest that topped the boxoffice last year with a $20 million opening weekend.

With writer-director Roth opting to stick around for the follow-up, he not only assures a certain measure of quality control, but he also has managed the rare feat of actually improving on the original.

"Hostel: Part II" (those roman numerals really do make it look classier) is a step up in virtually every aspect, from production values to its better focused storytelling and more fully developed characters, while not exactly skimping on all that blood-soaked torture and depravity that made it such a draw in the first place.

The fanboys should have no difficulty knowing the real deal when they see it, though this year's over-saturated horror market could end up gnawing into its full theatrical potential.

Where the first "Hostel" concerned the nasty fate that awaited a pair of American males backpacking across Europe, the sequel swaps genders with a trio of young American women traveling abroad.

Having just completed a life drawing class in Italy, wealthy Beth (Lauren German), boy-hungry Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and sheltered Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) are en route to Prague, when their tour plans are diverted by another passenger (Vera Jordanova) who offers to take them instead to a natural spa in a remote corner of Slovakia.

Reasoning that the exotic woman wasn't a complete stranger to them because it was she who had just posed nude for that art class, Beth, Whitney and Lorna willingly follow her lead, like lambs to the proverbial slaughter.

Again, college students are being auctioned off to sick and twisted individuals from the world over bidding for accommodation in one of several fully equipped torture chambers housed in a decrepit, but high security, factory.

For those who haven't seen the first one, Roth obligingly tosses in a prologue to get everybody up to speed, even though "Hostel: Part II" really can stand on its own disgusting merits.

Although he still has a weakness for broad gallows humor, Roth continues to uncover a voice of his own since bursting onto the genre with his homage to 1970s slasher horror, "Cabin Fever."

Here, he has really taken the time to boost the atmosphere (provided by off-the-beaten track locations in the Czech Republic, Iceland and France) as well as the character development, taking them beyond the usual stock disposability.

Because those characters have some actual meat on their bones, Roth has also been able to attract solid actors who are game to dig in, and -- Matarazzo and German especially -- give the audience substantial reason to care about their grisly plight.

Even some of those torturers are provided with a backstory this time out, with Roger Bart and Richard Burgi playing a pair of American suburbanites who have successfully bid for the right to get their nasty freak-on thousands of miles from home.

Completing the improved effect is returning cinematographer Milan Chadima who sheds more literal light on his subjects, and the veteran special makeup effects team of Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger, who deliver the visceral, squirm-inducing goods.

HOSTEL: Part II
Lionsgate Films
A Next Entertainment/Raw Nerve production
Credits:
Director-screenwriter: Eli Roth
Producers: Mike Fleiss, Eli Roth, Chris Briggs
Executive producers: Boaz Yakin, Scott Spiegel, Quentin Tarantino
Director of photography: Milan Chadima
Production designer: Robb Wilson King
Music: Nathan Barr
Co-producers: Danaiel Frisch, Philip Waley
Costume designer: Susanna Puisto
Editor: George Folsey
Cast:
Beth: Lauren German
Stuart: Roger Bart
Lorna: Heather Matarazzo
Whitney: Bijou Phillips
Todd: Richard Burgi
Axelle: Vera Jordanova
Miroslav: Stanislav Ianevski
Running time -- 94 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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