Eli Roth’s 2005 film HOSTEL is the story of college students traveling through Europe who are kidnapped by a group of psychotic sadomasochist murderers. We learn later that these killers are, just like the two college, tourists. However, these tourists are not there to take in the sites of Europe. They have paid for the experience of torturing and killing another human being.
According to Eli Roth, the idea came to him when he found a website advertising the opportunity to shoot another person in the head for $10,000. The site, supposedly originating out of Thailand, claimed that anyone willing to pay that price would be put together with a willing sacrifice whom they could murder. To alleviate any possible guilt, the site claimed that these specially selected “victims” were taken from poor villages and were people who were already doomed to die from starvation because of their poverty.
Although this particular website is impossibly to find and possibly just an urban legend, the concept of murder tourism isn’t that difficult to believe. There are even historical examples of this practice advertised, long before rumors of dark-web thrill-kill sites began popping up. Early civilization from around the world practiced headhunting, collecting the heads of their victims, sometimes during war, but most of the time out of ritual or as a competition attesting their manhood. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936, wealthy landowners would capture and hunt on horseback peasants who sought land reform. These killings were part of what would be known as the White Terror, or la Represión Franquista, which lead to the killing of nearly 400,000 peasants. The war itself attracted foreigners from all over, some to battle for a cause while others just came looking to fight.
In Richard Connell’s short story THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1924), a big game hunter falls off his yacht and finds himself on a Caribbean island owned by a Russian aristocrat, Zaroff. He discovers the Russian aristocrat is a hunter as well, however his prey are all shipwreck survivors who have washed up on his beach. Zaroff makes allusions to the fact that he had killed for the Great White Czar, Nicholas II, before he was thrown from power and executed by the Bolsheviks in 1917. The idea of “murder for sport” was also not unheard of in the pre-revolution Russian Empire days. Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible, was rumored to hunt down his enemies for sport using a pack of half-starved hunting dogs, most of the time allowing the dogs to finish the job.
In the modern era, urban legends and rumors of “murder tourism” have found their way out of the aristocracy and into the hands of the common folk. During the 1970s, the publication SOLDIER OF FORTUNE magazine ran full page glossy advertisements, as well as published articles, documenting the need for mercenaries in Rhodesia. From 1964 to 1979, the African nation of Rhodesia was in the grips of a civil war known as The Bush War. The conflict pitted three groups against each other. The first of these belligerents was the Rhodesian government, a predominately white government led by Prime Minister Ian Smith. They fought against the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), a nationalist organization with ties to China. Both groups were also at war with Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), a Marxist-Leninist group with ties to Russia. Both ZANU and ZAPU shared one agenda, they were opposed to Rhodesia’s white minority government.
SOLDIER OF FORTUNE became a major recruiting tool for enlisting mercenaries into the Rhodesian governments security forces. By 1977, the Rhodesian government touted one of the world’s most elite fighting units. SOF’s advertisements would show armed white men walking through jungles with bold captions stating, “BE A MAN AMONG MEN”. Selling the war as a glorious test of manhood, SOF turned a civil war into an action-packed vacation destination that paid. During the 1980s, SOLDIER OF FORTUNE was taken to civil court several times regarding back page advertisements.
In the current days of the internet, murder tourism has mostly become a rumor existing on mythical “dark” websites that most of us stay away from. During the late 2000’s, rumors of Somali pirate hunting cruises began circulating around the web. According to these rumors, a Russian company called The Point Cruise Line offered the ultimate adventure: a cruise around the pirate infested coast line of Somalia. For around $6,000, you could get a private state room on this luxury cruise ship. Customers were allowed to bring their own weapons or they could rent an M-16 or AK-47 rifle for $25 a day (bullets sold separately). The cruise supposedly guaranteed that at some point during the trip, they would be attacked by pirates, which would give customers the chance to “protect” themselves by opening fire on the pirates. Ultimately such detailed rumors were proven false and though to be derived from two incidents were pirates attempted to seize control of a ship. The first involved the Italian cruise ship Melody, which thwarted the attempt when the captain ordered his security detail to open fire on the approaching pirates. The second incident was the seizing of the Maersk Alabama, which ended when US Navy snipers killed the hostage taking pirates. It was later discovered that the rumors originated on satirical website.
There are still those who believe these stories may have some basis in truth, and the rumors still regularly appear and persist. The Red Room is another recent frightening example of recreational thrill killing for a price. This deep web legend began popping up fairly frequently with the last two years. The Red Room is supposedly a website which operates much like Eli Roth’s HOSTILE, only they do the work for you while you watch online and give orders. Rumors still circle about this site, but no concrete proof has ever been found. On occasion, someone will claim to have emerged from the dark web with stories of horrible atrocities that fail to yield evidence.
Despite civilizations dark history of turning death into recreation, these dark web rumors seem to be just rumors.