Grade: D+

Another slab of Sadism-Is-Us cinema from writer-director Eli Roth, “Hostel: Part II” initially seems to observe the old Joe Bob Briggs rule for sequels: make the same movie over again. First a brief (and not very bright) prologue hearkens back to “Hostel” in order to clear up lingering questions fans might have about the fate of its sole survivor (the returning, though not for long, Jay Hernandez). But then the follow-up to the slaughter-for-pay horror show of two years ago appears to be repeating the identical scenario a second time, except that the hapless victims are chicks rather than guys. At this point you might be tempted simply to sigh and mouth the old Virginia Slims ad, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” But soon the movie goes off on other tangents, winding up with rather different things on its (admittedly none too deep) mind.

This time around, a trio of American students studying art in Rome (Heather Matarazzo, Lauren German and Bijou Phillips) travel behind the old Iron Curtain to Slovakia, where they take rooms at the inexpensive hotel that serves to provide human fodder for the imaginative business operation revealed in the first movie. That’s a torture chamber where clients spend big bucks to slice, dice and disembowel victims they’ve ordered up (via auction) on the basis of gender, race, nationality and physical attributes. The first portion of the picture introduces us to the girls, characterizing them in the most rudimentary way: Matarazzo’s Lorna is the ugly-duckling nerd, Phillips’ Whitney the skanky, party-loving bitch, and German’s Beth the bright, pretty heroine.

One expects that the picture will quickly proceed to the sequences of graphic slaughter aficionados of such ersatz snuff movies crave and in which its predecessor reveled. But in fact “Hostel: Part II” proves pretty much a tease in that respect. Roth devotes much of the movie to portraying the gradual “seduction” of the girls on the way to Prague by svelte model Axelle (Vera Jordanova), an obvious baddie responsible for changing their itinerary to Slovakia. He also goes to considerable lengths introducing the two pay-as-you-go torturers who’ve “purchased” Beth and Whitney as their victims. One’s scowling yuppie Todd (Richard Burgi), who has every material thing one could want and is obviously on a power trip, and the other his footstool friend Stuart (Roger Bart), an apparent milquetoast who’s actually seething over his suburban existence and is an easy prey to Todd’s influence. Roth also introduces the quietly vicious head of the whole slaughterhouse business, Sasha (Milan Knazko), steely figure so amoral that he literally kills children without batting an eye.

Eventually “Hostel II” gets around to the actual torture chamber, but by comparison to the first movie, what happens there is actually pretty mild: it’s not until the last thirty minutes that we get to the slaughter at all, and even then the real bloodletting consumes no more than fifteen minutes or so. (Those lusting for prolific gore will be very disappointed.) And surprisingly, the picture goes to great lengths not to be misogynistic. Much of the graphic violence involves incidental male victims, and insofar as the three central girls are concerned, the only customer who proves capable as a torturer is a woman herself—a kind of Lady Dracula who enjoys showering in blood, a la Elizabeth Bathory. (Even in this instance, though, there’s more nudity and glossy red paint than explicit carving.) By contrast ultimately both Todd and Stuart come across as klutzes who get pretty much what they deserve, and at the end what we wind up with is a Ripley-like female figure who emerges as a lot stronger and more ruthless than the guys who wanted to brutalize her.

Maybe Roth intends this as a satirical critique of the crudely capitalist mentality that’s taken root in post-Communist Eastern Europe—the worst possible form of unrestrained entrepreneurialism the U.S. seems to be exporting to the rest of the world. (The cynicism of the ending, in which money is all that matters, fits in with this.) Perhaps in his treatment of Todd and Stuart, he also wants the picture to be read as a commentary on the psychological damage that torture inflicts on those who engage in it—something that one can certainly relate to U.S. policy in the wake of 9/11. And the twists at the close may be meant to point up the ridiculousness of a macho mindset and the power of women to outmaneuver men who want to abuse them for their own pleasure.

Or maybe that’s giving Roth entirely too much credit, and the movie is designed as nothing more than a visceral blood-bath targeted at the same folks who get their jollies from playing video games in which they earn points by blowing people to smithereens. If that’s the case, though, one wonders whether they’ll be satisfied by it. To be sure, purely as a mean-spirited genre piece it’s reasonably well-executed. Though the acting’s basically functional and the writing isn’t substantially better, Roth’s direction shows control of the tropes of the form and a knack for building tension, and the cinematography, once again by Milan Chadima, is slicker than it was the first time around. The graphic special effects and makeup, of course, are top-notch, though more sparingly used than fans might like.

But if you have a taste for real gore-feasts, you may consider “Hostel: Part II” insufficiently flamboyant to satiate your blood lust. If not, on the other hand, you’ll probably find it too much so, without being clever enough to make up for the nastiness. Either way, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy visiting “Hostel” a second time. It’s check-out time for this series.