Pre-dating Eli Roth's HOSTEL (2005) by a year, Adrián García Bogliano's impressive low budget Argentinean slasher shares much of the visceral terror of that North American horror movie but is ultimately a more satisfying – if admittedly left field – take on the subgenre.
Five college age female students find themselves on the same cross-country coach from Buenos Aires to the same destination – Trinidad. One of them, Theda (Elena Siritto) appears to have frighteningly real nightmares where she sees a girl brained with a rock after finding a discarded foetus and another girl with bleeding eyes watching a middle-aged woman covered in petrol and set alight. Understandably spooked she awakes next to Elena (Jimena Krouco), one of her fellow travelers. They agree that the only time they want to see the countryside is through the window of a coach or train. Unfortunately for them, and their fellow townies, they have to stop at the small country town of San Roman to change for the train to Trinidad. Standing in the dust with them is the gothy looking Ruth (Brenda Vera), the hippyish Silvia (Mariela Mujica) and the blonde and ditzy Lydia (Victoria Witemburg).
The girls are annoyed to find themselves stranded in the town when they're told that they've missed the train. They're then spooked to realise that almost everyone is at church where they watch a strange Catholic ceremony where it appears that a local woman is exorcised of the devil by a charismatic pastor (Oscar Ponce). Their luck appears to change when a seemingly kindly local, Nestitor (Rolf García), tells them that he rents rooms for tourists, and can put them up for the night.
The household seems eccentric but basically harmless, although one of the girls gets a shock when she comes face-to-face with a stranger standing at her window. Things continue to get odder when the girls are asked if they are atheists at dinner by Nestitor, his brother Maxi (Alejandro Lise) and the local preacher. Later that night one of the girls is attacked and dismembered by a bare chested killer wielding a meat cleaver and wearing a shapeless white mask. Reacting to her screams, the other girls quickly realise that they are trapped in the house with at least one blood thirsty maniac ...
ROOMS FOR TOURISTS is shot in black and white, which helps hide the modest budget limitations, but also accents some surprisingly striking and well orchestrated cinematography. It's nightmarish look nods towards Argento and León Klimovsky – as well as North American genre flicks such as TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) and TOURIST TRAP (1979). The killer's blank white mask is right out of Mario Bava's seminal giallo, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964). For a low budget film, the film also boasts some very effective performances from a mostly amateur cast. Despite its monochrome look, the film doesn't skimp on the 'red' stuff – with some nerve jangling violence.
The director has expressed his wish to make a slasher movie with substance. He certainly succeeds. The idea of young women being chased around a seemingly deserted mansion by a cleaver wielding maniac may be a little dog-eared, but Bogliano handles the suspense like a pro. The substance, however, is more problematic. Perhaps not surprisingly, for a country still in the grips of Catholicism, the rights and wrongs of religion (and the payback of sins) is the central scheme. Without giving too much away, the girls (all of which are carrying 1500 pesos) find out that what they have in common puts them in mortal danger. However, what is particularly jarring is the fact that despite Bogliano stating that we should root for the girls the film gives you the uneasy feeling that, at its close, you're not entirely sure where the film maker's want your sympathies to lie (with the 'sinners' or the arbitrators of religious justice).
All-in-all, ROOMS FOR TOURISTS is an interesting addition to the subgenre that delivers all the spills and thrills you could want, plus a healthy dollop of weirdness.
female:8 / male:2
1) Female hit with a rock
2) Female set on fire
3) Female set on fire
4) Female decapitated and hacked with cleaver
5) Female shot in the head with shotgun
6) Female dismembered with cleaver
7) Female dies of wounds
8) Male stabbed in the neck with knife
9) Male has throat cut
10) Female has eyes stabbed out