Hostel Part II

If you enjoyed “Hostel,” last year’s torture-porn hit from Eli Roth, then one school of thought says you’re bound to enjoy “Hostel Part II,” because it’s almost exactly the same movie. Another school of thought, however, doesn’t like sequels that are merely repeats of their predecessors. That’s the school I go to.

Roth, raised on the classic slasher series, pays homage to them by retaining one character from the first “Hostel,” only to dispatch him within the first 10 minutes. Now we can REALLY get down to business!

The Slovakian recreational facility introduced previously is still operating at full capacity. Here men and women from around the globe can pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of torturing and killing a victim in a controlled environment. The victims, generally young backpackers, are plucked from a nearby hostel.

We know this already, and if we didn’t, we’d start to suspect it when the ominous music blares in conjunction with the first shot of the hostel. Our heroes this time are female — see, totally different from the first movie, where the victims were men! — and are three American art students studying in Rome. Lorna (Heather Matarazzo) is nerdy and spacey; Beth (Lauren German) is a rich, smart brunette; and Whitney (Bijou Phillips) is a temperamental blonde.

Through an elaborate and implausible plan involving several people pretending to be unconnected to each other but secretly working in tandem, the three girls wind up in Slovakia just in time for the Harvest Fair! And that’s where they get abducted. The lesson? Never trust strangers. Also, possibly: Never go to Slovakia during the Harvest Fair. It’s like the Eastern European version of Mardi Gras.

One thing the sequel does that the first film didn’t is introduce us to the torturers, who previously were just nameless sadists. Here they are Todd (Richard Burgi) and Stuart (Roger Bart), both American businessmen. Todd is a testosterone-fueled wannabe tough guy, while Stuart is a pushover who’s having second thoughts.

The reason you go to a movie like this, of course, is for the thrill of seeing the gruesome violence. In that regard, “Hostel Part II” is both better and worse than its predecessor. There seem to be fewer torture scenes this time around: just one major sequence, really, with a few abbreviated glimpses of others. But what we do see feels, at least to my memory (I have not re-watched the first “Hostel”), to be more distasteful and “offensive,” though I realize that word takes on a different meaning in a film where the whole point is to be offensive.

Roth breaks one of the unwritten rules of horror films by allowing a child — a little boy about 8 years old — to be murdered. It’s not shown graphically, but it’s there. Do we admire the filmmaker for going against the norm? Or do we point out that it doesn’t really take any courage or vision to break a rule like that — that Roth probably did it just for the sake of doing it?

A nude woman sits in a tub and slices open the live nude woman hanging upside-down above her and bathes erotically in her blood. A man’s genitals, fully visible to us, are cut off and disposed of. Both of these are unpleasant to watch, but as I said, that’s the whole idea. My observation is that if this kind of content doesn’t warrant an NC-17 rating, then apparently it is impossible to get an NC-17 rating for violence. Sex, sure. If the torturer had touched that man’s penis with anything other than a pair of scissors, that would have been sex, and then the MPAA would have been horrified and given it an NC-17. But since it was only violence, well, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that! We’ll give it an R, the same rating we gave “Pretty Woman,” “Rain Man,” “Billy Elliot,” and “The Matrix”!

But anyway. The MPAA’s flagrant and sustained incompetence is a matter for another time. Is “Hostel Part II” any good? Roth’s sense of humor is evident in a few instances (though the dialogue lacks the spark of the first film, or of his previous “Cabin Fever”), and he can build tension when he wants to. The problem here is that he usually doesn’t want to. There’s no suspense over who will wind up in the torture factory, and only a few mild surprises with regard to who lives and who dies and who does the killing. It is little more than a retread of the previous film, which makes it lazy on top of everything else.

C- (1 hr., 32 min.; R, abundant harsh profanity, a lot of nudity, brief sexual activity, abundant graphic violence including torture and gore -- if this doesn't warrant an NC-17 rating, then apparently nothing does.)