If stupidity were a crime, the nitwits in the cheap horror flick Turistas would be doing time in Attica. A grubby, lethally dull bid to cash in on the new extreme horror, the film turns on a conceit as frayed as Freddy Krueger's shtick: a group of hotties stumble into the lair of a madman. Carnage ensues. Here the hapless, clueless and braless are the English-speaking tourists of the film's title who, having gone abroad to party hearty, end up being batted about by a wacky cat with very sharp claws and a seriously sick sense of social justice.
Although his heart clearly isn't in the more unsavory aspects of the job, namely slicing and dicing, the director, John Stockwell, does make a faint, early effort to infuse the proceedings with a smidgen of humor. The opening scene of a Brazilian bus careering wildly on a twisty rural road while the sweaty, swarthy bus driver rummages inside his nostrils (and wrestles a shift stick adorned with a pentagram), does manage to squeeze some dubious humor from the image of the freaked-out white tourist. The only problem is that in this case those fears turn out to be entirely justified, since it isn't long before the bus is sliding down a mountain, taking that initial flicker of amused reflexivity with it.
What follows is the old splatter and scream as the interchangeable pretty girls and hard-body boys are lined up like ducks to be shot down or, in the case of one turista, gutted while still conscious. (The actors playing the ducks are similarly interchangeable; you can find their names in the accompanying credit box.) This operation, which isn't any more disgusting than the medical surgeries that crop up on television - though it's considerably less well-lighted - is as laughable as it is repulsive. That's especially true when the evil doctor, Zamora (Miguel Lunardi, eyeballs popping), places one victim's internal organs next to her fetching naked breast, a gesture that neatly encapsulates the sexual panic and misogyny that characterize the stupidest examples of extreme horror.
Apologists for vivisectionist entertainment trot out all sorts of rationales to justify the spectacle of human torture instead of just admitting that such spectacles turn them on. In this respect the horror audience, in its enthusiasm for go-go gore, is far more honest than those who hide behind the fig leaf of radical politics. Like Hostel (a critique of American arrogance, don'tcha know), which seems the most direct inspiration for Turistas, this film involves first-world tourists who are violently punished for traveling into a third-world (or third-world-like) country. Turistas plays this political angle more openly than does Hostel, since Zamora defends his blood lust by donating gringo organs to his country's poor. Yeah, yeah, yeah, and Jason and Freddy donate regularly to their local blood banks.
Advancements in special effects have made it easier than ever to make fictional disembowelments and the like look super-realistic. And on a funda-mental level, the charnel-house aesthetics of films like Hostel, Cabin Fever and the remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre are not any different from the graphic passages in films like Saving Private Ryan and Flags of Our Fathers. The goals of these war movies are certainly far loftier than those of a run-of-the-mill horror divertissement, but in the end they all traffic - in part or in whole - in convincing images of extreme human suffering. Some films do it for art; others for amusement. For better and at times for worse, though, the cinema of death now appears inescapable.