Exclusive: Dread Central Visits the Set of Hostel Part III

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It was back on Friday, September 17, 2010, that I flew to Detroit, Michigan, for a set visit to director Scott Spiegel’s then-filming Hostel Part III (which releases direct-to-DVD via Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on December 27th).

As my flight descended toward Detroit Metro, the metropolis below seemed sadly an appropriate location to film the third installment in the historically bleak Hostel series.

The gray sky and dormant smokestacks set beneath it effortlessly communicated the economically ravaged Slovakia in which the preceding films took place, and as I would find, my set visit would touch me deeply, more for the down-trodden state of this once great American city than for the blood which the filmmaker would spill in it.

With Michigan then offering a 42% tax rebate (higher at the time than any other state’s film incentive program, and in 2010 approving $115 million earmarked for such rebates) to productions shooting there, Hollywood had descended on the beleaguered Detroit en masse. Michael Bay was in full swing shooting Transformers 3, the ABC television series “Detroit 1-8-7” had taken up permanent residence in a 166,000-foot production studio (previously a distribution center for Chrysler vehicles), and the Sigourney Weaver-starring, Amy Heckerling-directed horror/comedy Vamps was filming in the same building as the film I was to cover.

Subsequently, nearly 7,000 film-related production-related jobs had been created: a needed (if not temporary) shot in the arm of Michigan’s flailing economy.

Regardless of this flurry of production, the decline of the American car industry, subsequent government bailout, 13.1% unemployment rate, and mass exodus from Detroit proper (25% percent of the population had fled to the suburbs, leaving only 713,000 remaining – the lowest population level since 1910) all conspired to render the city a veritable ghost town.

Scooped up by one of the production’s drivers, we made our way from the airport to set, and while commenting on the myriad boarded up and/or burned-down structures (both residential and otherwise) which we passed, I inquired what he as a Michigan native had done professionally prior to the city’s economic downturn.

I used to be a line manager for General Motors. I probably oversaw the build of this town car. Now I’m driving it,” my driver replied, aware of the irony of his answer. “Whatever I need to do [to pay bills] I guess. Later tonight I’ll be bouncing at a strip club.

Arriving at the city’s neo-Gothic Masonic Temple (an impressive structure most certainly, gargantuan in size and labyrinthine in construction with over 1,000 rooms, a 4,400-seat theatre, a 1,500-seat cathedral, and more), the city’s downward spiral remained readily apparent. Like so many other buildings, the brick residential structures which flanked the Temple were in an egregious state of disrepair, with their exterior wooden walkways for the most part collapsed, unchecked vegetation worrying its way into their façades, and layers of graffiti covering their exteriors. Such things, however, didn’t seem to stop one middle-aged resident from barbecuing a hamburger on a broken down grill for his pre-teen son, who rode through the property’s unkempt yard on a rickety bicycle. Still, the man’s attempt at providing his offspring a measure of comfort amidst such blight was touching and proved to be yet another indication of what seemed the indomitable spirit of Detroiters.

As for Hostel Part III (written by Michael Weiss and based on characters created by filmmaker Eli Roth, although the latter isn’t involved with this third in the series), the Stage 6 Films production had employed Detroit as a stand-in for Las Vegas (where the flick’s narrative metes out). This time, in lieu of the “American tourists being tortured in the Eastern Bloc” storyline of the preceding Hostel films, the threequel centers around four friends who, while attending a bachelor party in Sin City, are enticed by two sexy escorts to join them at a private party way off the Strip. Once there, they are horrified to find themselves the subjects of a perverse game of torture, where members of the Elite Hunting Club are hosting the most sadistic show in town. Brian Hallisay, Kip Pardue (Wizard of Gore), John Hensley (‘Nip/Tuck’), and Skyler Stone make up the principal cast with Thomas Kretschmann (King Kong), Chris Coy (Rogue River), Sarah Habel, Evelina Oboza, and Kelly Thiebaud joining them.

Greeted by the production’s unit publicist, I descended into the sub-basement of the Temple, where director Spiegel (the man who co-wrote Evil Dead II and directed 1999’s From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money) was prepping a shot on what was Day 14 of the 20-day shooting schedule. Surrounded by cargo containers modified for the purpose of transporting human captives (it is a Hostel flick after all) courtesy of production designer Robb Wilson King, I chatted with special makeup effects guru Robert Kurtzman, who was overseeing Hostel Part III’s splatter and, in this case, a gag involving a cattle prod.

Tonally it’s similar to the other films,” Kurtzman said of Part III, which is executive produced by Rui Costa Reis, Mike Fleiss, and Eliad Josephson with producer credits going to Chris Briggs and Spiegel. “It’s not as heavy with the goring and skinning and things like that [which were part of the other films] although we do have arms coming off and faces coming off, meat cleavers in faces, and guys getting shot with arrows while they are being tortured, so there’s still a torture element.

With the buzz on set being that Hostel Part III (review here) isn’t intended to be a visceral as its predecessors, we queried Kurtzman, whose impressive filmography includes a bevy of gore-splattered genre classics and who had just wrapped his work on Lucky McKee’s The Woman, as to what degree of filmic violence audiences could expect.

How much Scotty really wants to show is a bit different then the other ones,” Kurtzman offered, who in lieu of the scene’s scripted “cut ear” gag needed to substitute the cattle prod effect due to an unfortunate talent scheduling conflict. “Part of that is due to this film being a bit more psychological, and part of that is the budget, too, as it’s a lot smaller than the first two films.

In this digital age the absence on set of the Red camera system (the go-to rig for many a straight-to-DVD horror production) is readily apparent, and Kurtzman commented on this, “Scotty’s shooting the flick in Super 16 so he and [cinematographer] Andrew Strahorn are going for a grittier look. The other Hostel films were shot on film, and he definitely wanted the ‘film look’ on this one, too.

We hung back to witness Kurtzman work as he switched between the prop prod and real one as well as the finessed blocking required to ensure the safety of the cast. Such was naturally time-consuming, as was the impact of the rather passionate performance of one of the film’s performers, whose repeated kicks against the cage he was held in not only dislodged its door but sheared its hinges completely. As the production moved decisively to correct the situation, I departed to the auditorium to chat with the film’s principals; Hallisay, Pardue, Stone, and Coy.

Scott’s like a little kid shooting this,” said lead Brian Hallisay, who portrays the unfortunate groom ‘Scott’ at the center of Hostel Part III, of his director. “He’s so excited and has endless enthusiasm. He loves this, and he brings that sort of infectious spirit to it. Last week we were shooting nights from eleven at night until noon on the following days, and he just kept us all in good spirits.

Of his character, Hallisay (who assuredly could be the younger brother of Timothy Olyphant, given their facial similarity) said, “I’m definitely the target [as the groom], and without giving it away, I escape at some point, and as they always are in things like this, sometimes when you think someone is dead, you aren’t really sure. We shot one of those reveals last night, and it was great!

Commenting on his inclusion in the notorious franchise, Hallisay (whose acting career for the bulk has been based in television) stated, “Hostel was wildly successful, and it’s cool to be a part of that. I don’t know what sort of anticipation there is for the third film, or if people are writing us off, but having seen the first two films, and knowing what we are doing here and the script that we are working with and the types of shots that we are getting, I think it’s going to be great. I think there’s a lot more going on [in the story] right from the beginning, and I think people will be pleased with it, I really do. I hope it satisfies that fan base.

As fans of the Hostel universe are accustomed to violence perpetuated on Americans in an Eastern European setting, I questioned Hallisay on his thoughts regarding the new geographical placement.

It still has that global contingent,” commented the 33-year-old actor on the flick’s flavor, “but the fact that it takes place in Vegas, in a place where you can basically bet on anything… this movie sort of takes that to the next level, where it’s a type of casino where they are betting on lives, and/or how long it’s going to take someone to die, in this crazy sadistic underworld, which is basically Vegas anyway.

As in any flick, the protagonist is only as strong as the narrative’s antagonist (or vice verse), and in this capacity actor Kip Pardue (who portrays Hallisay’s best man and friend ‘Carter’) sat down with me to riff on his character.

It’s weird,” said Pardue (who previously portrayed the lead in Jeremy Kasten’s underrated Wizard of Gore remake) of Hostel Part III, “and I want to hype it up, but at the same time I don’t want to give away any of its secrets. To be perfectly honest,” continued Pardue, “after the first two films I thought, ‘On what direction could they go with this franchise, and how could they take it any further?’ We’ve already kind of seen everything as far as the gore is concerned, and we understand the premise and the structure, and I told Scott when he approached me with the script, “I don’t know.’ And he told me to read it and that it took the story in a different direction, and what this one does is that it lets the audience behind the curtain. It shows them who are behind the Elite Hunting Club and what makes it tick, and that’s the kind of the direction that this one goes in. The audience will be able to see who is pulling the strings and who is making the decisions. So if the other films were seventy percent gore and thirty percent psychological thriller, then this one is the opposite, in my opinion, and that to me is much more intriguing purely as a viewer. Not to take anything away from the first two, because they are so stylized and created the genre, but this one stays true to it but also pushes it forward.

Given that Roth’s films are known for their gore quotient, I queried Pardue on his prediction of audience response of the third in the series, given his statement.

I think we’ll meet the expectations of fans of the first two Hostel films,” he expounded. “I think this film will pay homage to those films and will also push the boundaries, and I think any time you make a sequel, you have to be conscious of those things. The first two worked for a reason, and the fact that this one has a Hostel title means that we have to do certain things so hopefully the die-hard fans will be happy with it and we’ll also be able to make some new fans who may be more interested in the psyche behind the antagonists. But it doesn’t follow the same formula of the first two films. I mean, it has Eli’s fingerprints all over it, but it does go in a different direction.

As for the gore, “It’s gonna look great, and while I can’t give much away, it does have its ‘money-shots,’” stated Pardue. “When I read them [in the script], I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, really? Wow!’ And then when we started to shoot and I started to see the props and the makeup and the layering of the visual effects and the special effects, the next thing I knew I’d been ‘Hostel’ed!’

Concerning his character, “Carter is the best man, who is kind of driving this whole train and who gets us to Vegas, and obviously because it’s a Hostel film we know that the wheels are going to come off at some point,” mused the actor. “I think to make this one a little different, we get to know these characters a little bit more and develop more as people, and the audience will really understand the relationships, or at least think they do, and that’s where this one turns on its head. In this one the best man/groom relationship is pushed to its limits. As an actor you read what’s on the page, and I know what’s Scotty’s vision is and where he wants to take it, but at the end of the day it comes down to what happens in the editing room, and that’s the hardest thing as an actor – you do your work and wipe your hands of it and move on to the next one. But for me the most interesting thing was getting to know these characters and to figure out what makes them tick.

As for its dark predecessors, a little levity has been added to break the filmic tension, and this time out that comes in the form of stand-up comedian and actor Skyler Stone, who’d been cast in the role of ‘Mike,’ the nefarious ‘Stifler’ of the bachelor party.

When I read the script, it had me going so many times,” Stone stated, “and I don’t consider myself gullible, but it really focuses more on plot, and I think it’s an equal opportunity offender, and I think everybody will walk away from this movie feeling something in their stomach. It’s a horror movie, and you get what you sign up for. I mean, we aren’t making The English Patient here. I think it will offend some people. This third one takes more chances I think than the other two, which isn’t surprising, because if you are hired as a screenwriter, you have to take it in a different direction. Maybe it’s just because I’m excited (that I feel this way), and it’s that ‘new girlfriend’ feeling where it’s better than your ex.

Regarding the “heavy” segment of the cast, actor Chris Coy (whose previous genre credentials include the Bill Moseley-starring horror feature Rogue River) told me of his character with a laugh, “It’s the first time I’ve worked with hookers and killed them.

Portraying ‘Travis,’ an instrumental cog of the Elite Hunting Club, “There are no boundaries with this character, and I can justify it any way I want,” ruminated Coy. “I’m like the number one henchman at the hostel and the right-hand man of Thomas Kretschmann’s character ‘Flemming,’ who is the hostel’s manager. I’m the collector, the garbage man, and the number-one enforcer. My character goes out and tricks people into trusting him. I’m also kind of like insurance. If things go bad, I get the call and wipe everyone out and move on. It’s like every guy’s dream role because I’m like this bad ass, but in the beginning I’m just this awkward kid who you are sure is going to be fucked. It is fun to be the misdirect even though as an actor it’s a bit of a stretch. I mean, I’ve never shot a hooker in the face before or lured people to their deaths.

I asked Coy what helped him slip into such a malevolent mindset, to which he replied, “I don’t think I would be as good at playing evil like this if it wasn’t for working with Bill Moseley on Rogue River because he had no shame on that whatsoever. It was like that was his job and that was his character and he didn’t care if he was creeping out the cast and crew because this is what needs to happen, and that’s kind of the attitude I approached my character with in this film.

As the shoot rolled on into the night and screams, simulated gunfire, and the grind of power tools echoed throughout the Temple, the very real atmosphere of Detroit and its economic plight still couldn’t be denied.

There is a nice energy given the filmmaking community here,” Pardue mused, “but also feeling the weight of the city, it helps me as an actor, and it’s been affecting. I don’t feel unsafe here, even though the depression is everywhere, but there are gems here. It’s not a good situation, and it’s not a great place, but there are glimmers of hope here and there.

One of those glimmers was reflected later that evening in the demeanor of the production’s chosen hotel’s nearest bar and its bartender, who amidst the economic slump seemingly hung on with aplomb.

Sorry, the special effects crew drank all of our tequila,” the congenial Detroiter replied when asked for a shot of Cuervo, “but they are great guys! It’s exciting to have all of these films shooting here. People are going back to work, learning new trades, and it gives us a bit of hope. My brother used to be a machinist, and now’s he learning carpentry to work on set design.

Addendum: As of December 15, 2011, Governor Rick Snyder’s budget to cap Michigan’s previously generous film industry incentive program at $25 million a year was passed by the Senate and the House, and while offering a still competitive rebate, the end result will more than likely be a loss of industry jobs in Detroit and a talent exodus as film productions move to states with greener incentive pastures.

Hostel Part III debuts on Unrated DVD and Digital Download on December 27th from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Bonus materials include a commentary with director Scott Spiegel and actor Kip Pardue.

Exclusive: Dread Central Visits the Set of Hostel Part III

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Sean Decker

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