Horror takes us to the bad place: the haunted house, the derelict spacecraft, the cave, attic or vacant motel. Never mind for a moment the unwitting literalness of a stink bomb like Turistas, which actually makes the bad place the theater you happen to be sitting in. The movie’s central idea—sexed-up white tourists are preyed upon by scary local organ harvesters while on vacation in Brazil—has symbolic resonance in these xenophobic, imperialist times.
Alas, the prevailing intelligence that might have made Turistas a bit more self-aware and timely (both this year’s The Descent and Hostel succeed on this score) is AWOL. Or rather, it’s dormant: John Stockwell, you’re much smarter than this. The director has already smuggled class consciousness into Blue Crush and Crazy/Beautiful; he’s even done some upcoming episodes of The L Word. Why, then, has he suddenly become an ogler of tits, a documentarian of gratuitous abdominal surgeries, unable to build anything but the most rudimentary fear film?
The real forebears of Turistas are the Italian gorefests of the 1970s and ’80s, notorious films like Man from Deep River and Cannibal Holocaust. In both of those, as well as many others of the “cannibal” subgenre, white people enter the jungle, display some ugly tendencies and are mercilessly tortured by Amazonians. These films are ten times more extreme than Stockwell’s, but also a lot more intellectually coherent. They were made decades ago. Turistas keeps the racism and adds a happy ending. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.)—Joshua Rothkopf