Man’s gotta eat… But I’m not hungry right now.
The distinctive taste of Farmer Vincent’s (Rory Calhoun) prime meats is renowned in the farmer’s rural area. People come from far and wide to sample his uniquely delicious meat treats. The only real question is why is there rarely anyone staying in his nearby motel?
‘Motel Hell’ is an amusing and somewhat graphic parody of films like ‘The Last House on the Left’ (1972) and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974). Content to remain a satire of exploitation-horror movies, ‘Motel Hell’ while graphic in places, is largely played for laughs with a variety of charming sequences ranging from heckling televangelists to a hilarious send-up of the lives of swingers. With its chainsaw duelling, human gardening and some truly stomach churning dialogue about smoking dogs, there’s no doubt that ‘Motel Hell’ is a loving dig into a genre often criticised for being absurd.
While it may not be as notable or polished as its 80s horror-comedy peers such as ‘Re-Animator’ (1985) and ‘Evil Dead 2′ (1987) there is a degree of wit lacking from many attempts at such films, and consequently the film itself remains entertaining and compelling. References to its influences are abundant, such as a comedic illustration of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968), and the story itself, while purposely derivative, is mostly interesting as we follow the absurd life of Vincent and his sister Ida.
Without a doubt, Rory Calhoun steals the show with his portrayal of the deranged yet surprisingly pleasant Vincent. Combining the dialogue from Robert and Steven-Charles Jaffe’s screenplay with his performance in the role, Calhoun gives his murderous character an oddly pleasant and appealing personality, possibly serving as a gentle mockery of the manner in which the horror genre often portrays villains as anti-heroes. Once can only laugh at a God-fearing man like Vincent as he talks about the creative and artistic way he catches stray humans to mix in with his meat.
Calhoun is brilliantly accompanied by Nancy Parsons in the role of his overweight and slightly dim-witted sister Ida, who at times could be described as a female Leatherface; albeit slightly more intelligent (and I do mean slightly). There is a certain chemistry between Calhoun and Parsons seldom found in other such movies that adds to the overall charm of ‘Motel Hell’ and in a similar vein Calhoun also works well with the rarely seen Nina Axelrod who plays Terry, a young girl who was caught in but survived one of Vincent’s traps and becomes another oddity in this parade of the bizarre.
As with all such movies there are flaws, from some poorly written dialogue, the occasional iffy performance and scenes where the film just seems to drag for a little too long. But fortunately these issues are very much a minor part of the greater whole. Of the main actors, Paul Linke gives the weakest performance yet still provides a mostly enjoyable turn as the ambiguous Sheriff Bruce Smith, Vincent’s (much) younger brother and when even the weakest link in the chain is still strong enough to carry the production, it seems nitpicky to be overly critical.
Of course this isn’t a film that is likely to be remembered as a filmmaking master class. Even for a veteran director like Kevin Connor, some of the early scenes seemed a little sloppy and amateurish but would improve markedly for most of the film. There are no Oscar-winning performances, there is no depth to the script and it arguably isn’t quite as good as some of the efforts that would come after it. Yet really, none of that matters as ‘Motel Hell’ is nothing more than a loving parody of the horror genre of its day and in that simplicity it does rather well for itself.
Trailer on YouTube.