A bit uncharitable to describe this as a Hostel rip-off, since its origins apparently pre-date that. However, probably true to say it wouldn't have got released without the fortunate, shall we say, success of Roth's film. The set-up is strikingly similar: a bunch of obnoxious American tourists find themselves unwilling fodder in a "murder for pleasure" scheme hatched by nasty foreigners. Admittedly, it has twists, not least the cannibalistic Triad leader who masterminds the scheme (Chang), but most casual observers will see a low-budget, shot on video work, little more than cashing in on a trend. Unfair? Maybe. But that aside, there are enough weaknesses of its own to hurt: the most obvious is an apparently poor attempt to make the location seem like the Far East, rather than Canada. In their defense, the makers claim it's supposed to be Vancouver - but having cut the "twist" ending that revealed this, they now have to deal with the results. The final version simply doesn't, and it's a distraction.
Add unsympathic characters, editing that confuses and a script that probably wouldn't stand up to close inspection, when it's not being offensively racist, and you've got something seemingly of little or no appeal. Yet, there is about 20 minutes in the middle of this, when all hell breaks loose in an extreme way, that almost redeems the film. No doubting the effort put into the FX there, and this section has a vicious, unfettered, "anything goes" feel that's genuinely disturbing. Just a shame the victims are people we have little reason to care about, because moments around the edge suggest Nicholson does have some talent. However, he needs to learn, even in a film clearly harking back to the grindhouse/video nasty era, plot and character are still crucial elements. Nicholson should remember that gore isn't why Texas Chainsaw remains legendary, if over-rated, thirty years later.
[The film is released in the US on October 3rd, with the DVD containing a lot of extras, such as a commentary, making-of documentary and the 'film within the film', Womb Service. For more information, visit MTI's website. It's coming out in R-rated and Unrated versions. You know which one you want. ]