MIM President’s statement on MPAA decision to stand by its R-rating for the sadistic, graphically violent film ‘Hostel’

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NEW YORK (March 30, 2006). On January 6, 2006, the film R-rated Hostel was released in theatres nationwide. Subsequent to the film’s release, citizens complained to the MPAA about the film’s R-rating, but to no avail. MIM president Robert Peters had the following comments:

“On March 28, I received an email at Morality in Media which included a link to the article, “Now Playing at Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn” (David Edelstein, N.Y. Magazine, 2/6/06), and a question, ‘Is this sort of thing on your radar screen?’ I responded in the affirmative.

“The film Hostel first appeared on my ‘radar screen’ when I saw a broadcast TV advertisement for the film that featured excerpts from torture scenes. Seeing the ad reminded me of an unrated film I had seen (to my shame) back in the early 1970s in a theatre in Manhattan’s Times Square district. While the 1970s film may not have been ‘hardcore porn,’ it was surely ‘torture porn.’

“I had also read reviews in local papers, including a N.Y. Times review (Nathan Lee, “We Hope You Enjoy Your Stay. Gore Is Served in the Cellar,” 1/6/06) that said in part: ‘Hostel is rated R…It pushes the category to the limit with nonstop profanity, bigotry, drug use, nudity and a great deal of extremely graphic torture, dismemberment and murder.’

“A review in the N.Y. Daily News (Jack Mathews, “…Hostel induces travel sickness,” 1/7/06), had this to say, ‘Tourists are lured by promises of hedonistic delights, then chained up in a warehouse dungeon where they are tortured at the whim of wealthy sadists’…‘Fingers are lopped off. Ditto earlobes. Heads come off, bellies are opened, a woman’s face is seared with a torch. A man has his Achilles tendon severed and then is told to run for it…’

“N.Y. Newsday critic Jan Stuart (“Hostel is the perfect fit for an R rating,” 1/6/06) wrote, ‘It could be eye-opening to have film students construct a script entirely around the cautionary warnings assigned by the MPAA ratings board. Eyes are opened…in Eli Roth’s latest carnival of dismemberment, “Hostel,” which seems to have been tailored to its designated R “for brutal scenes of torture and violence, strong sexual content, language and drug use.”’ What Mr. Stuart presumably means is that the MPAA should reserve its R-rating for the real bad stuff (like Hostel) and perhaps do away with its usually opposed and rarely given NC-17 rating.

Morality in Media had also received an email complaint about Hostel, which said in part, ‘To summarize the plot of the movie, two college friends from America travel to Europe to backpack across the country…They visit a Slovakian village where workers at a youth Hostel lure unsuspecting foreigners through sex and drugs to a place where people…pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of torturing them to death…We are exposed to extreme torture including saws, drills, and a live autopsy. The bodies are then burned in an incinerator.’

“The woman who sent the email added, ‘A review by a local paper said this “depraved film sinks into sex, torture. If you are entertained by Hostel, you should go directly to the mental health institution of your choice. If this film amuses you in any way, I wouldn’t want you to be walking the same streets used by normal citizens.”’

“I suggested to the woman that she contact the MPAA to complain about the ‘R’ rating given the film. She did so, with the following results: ‘I spoke with Joan Graves, chairperson of the ratings board, multiple times at MPAA. My first and second conversations went very well. She acted concerned and made some pretty shocking comments that led me to believe that there had been an oversight by the board…She said she was due to see the movie that evening and that I was not the only person who had called about it… She revealed that the movie had an original NC-17 rating, that the producers had edited and resubmitted, and that possibly “someone” had made a mistake in giving it the R-rating, and she would be looking into it and would get back with me…After many days and my many phone calls…she said she had sent someone else to the theater and they were satisfied the cuts had been made and it met the R-rating requirements.’

“One is left wondering what an R-rating really tells parents when films like Braveheart, My Left Foot, Passion of Christ, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List also get an R-rating; but it seems clear that films that not long ago would have gotten an X or NC-17 now get rated R.

“The MPAA would have us believe the American people are slouching towards Sodom and that the MPAA ratings must reflect this downward trend. But even if that were true as concerns what adults find acceptable for their own entertainment, does the MPAA really think Hostel is suitable entertainment for even young children, as long as a parent accompanies them? Does the MPAA also think Hostel is suitable entertainment for impressionable and often vulnerable 17 year-old high school juniors, even when unaccompanied by a parent? Is it possible that the MPAA is also unaware that many theaters are lax in their enforcement of the R-rating? Does it give a darn?

“The MPAA rating board (consisting of parents chosen by the MPAA and functioning like a secret society) provides a determination as to what ages it thinks a film is appropriate for, instead of providing information to enable parents to make their own determination as to whether a film is appropriate for their children. The rating board can also be overruled by a self-serving MPAA.

“Finally, Hostel is reportedly scheduled for release in mid-April on DVD in an unrated version. Retailers routinely rent and sell unrated versions to minors, but retailers should also be aware that almost every state has an obscene for minors law and that selling or renting an obscene for minors film to minors could subject them to prosecution.” Author: MIM   03/30/2006

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