Forget The Surgery Scene: ‘Turistas’ Cast Says Film Isn’t ‘Hostel’

Behind gory elements lies real story of Third World organ-harvesting, actors say.

BEVERLY HILLS, California — Horror films come in many shapes and sizes (most of them bloody). Some revolve around a supernatural or otherwise indestructible villain, a monster that ravages innocent people like in “Frankenstein” and “Friday the 13th.” They can also be films that make nightmares real — dreamscapes that dig deep into the audience’s own inner subconscious. Or they can be outright sadistic — just take the recent flurry of films like “Hostel,” “Saw” and “House of Wax,” for example.

But if you think you know what defines a horror film, you should have a sit-down with the cast of “Turistas,” a flick about a group of American tourists in Brazil who get drugged, chased, shot at, locked up, sliced, diced, disemboweled, drowned, beaten and harpooned. Sounds like a classic horror movie, right? Well, the cast for “Turistas” says the movie, due Friday, belongs in almost every conceivable genre except horror.

“['Turistas'] has nothing to do with horror, [which is] a technique,” co-star Melissa George argued. “You do it with sound effects. I don’t think we made a horror film at all. Horror’s when your arm is sliced off when you come around the corner. I think we made a realistic documentary. It’s a horrible story about what could happen on vacation.”

A realistic documentary? Castmembers point to the fact that behind the film’s sadism — and “Turistas” “does go there with the graphic scenes, [pushing the envelope of good taste] as much as anyone,” actor Josh Duhamel admitted — lies the real story of organ-harvesting in South America.

“I don’t know what [Melissa] meant by documentary, but there’s a real social/political threat behind what these guys are doing,” Duhamel continued. “It’s not about scaring people in the sense that there are people jumping out of the closet. It’s very calculated and methodical. I know that it happens and is something that people are really concerned with.”

Maybe. Stories of people waking up in bathtubs with a gash in their chests and a note in their hands have long been the stuff of urban legend. But do people think it’s prevalent, or that it can happen to them while on vacation? What ultimately separates this film from “Hostel” — another film about a group of tourists who get tied up and tortured — anyway?

“It’s a much different movie than ‘Hostel,’ [which] is about those moments you can’t bear to watch, like the cutting of an eyeball or the ripping of an ear — those moments that are intense and happen all at once,” said co-star Olivia Wilde. “I think that people who love that film will like ‘Turistas’ because it has elements of that in the surgery scene, which is insanely realistic, [but this] is much more of a building dread.”

The surgery scene, given away by the film’s promotional material (a surgical lamp can be seen reflected in the eyes of the unnamed woman on the “Turistas” poster), is not only “insanely realistic,” but also terrifically sadistic. The surgeon harvesting the organs keeps the patients (victims?) both conscious and alert — able not just to be aware of what’s going on, but to feel pain as well.

Tell us again what makes this not a horror film? For Duhamel, it all comes down to motive.

“It’s sort of in the same vein as ‘Hostel,’ but [that film] is just about paying people so you can watch them torture [others]. I think [the marketing department] is going to push that angle, and they should. But I don’t think it’s in the same category,” Duhamel asserted. “The surgeon is saying, ‘This is what you people have done to us, and now we’re going to do this to you. It’s your turn to give back.’ It’s not about clipping a toe off. There’s more of a realistic edge.”

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