Motel Hell – 2 out of 5
I’ve heard of Motel Hell for some time now but have never taken the time to see it. The first time I heard about it I thought it sounded silly but added it to my Netflix (name drop, pay me!) queue and then quickly forgot about it. However, time makes fools of us all and it showed up at my house (yes, I still have a DVD account with Netflix. I am still a fan of physical media.) and decided that since it is October and Halloween isn’t too far away, I’ll take a gander at it. It was fun but, realistically, I probably could have waited longer to see it.
|Motel Hello? Well, that's false advertising...|
|Ohhhhh, actually now it makes total sense.|
The film centers on an out-of-the-way motel run by old farmer Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun) and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons). The two seem to live a simple life running their quiet little motel and selling Vincent’s famous smoked meats. However, looks can be quite deceiving when one day a traveler ends up on their property by the name of Terry (Nina Axelrod). Terry befriends the two along with their brother, the local sheriff (Paul Linke) but soon learns that they have a terrible secret: It seems that Vincent and Ira have been kidnapping travelers who pass by and holding them hostage in a macabre garden on their property until they ultimately decide to kill them and use their bodies as a secret ingredient for the smoked meats! Now Terry must try to escape with her life or see herself become a demented farmer’s food.
|Also, star of Cheers and every Pixar movie to ever exist; John Ratzenberger, is in|
Now, before you get all uppity and claim I spoiled the movie by stating the reveal that Vincent kills people and makes them into dehydrated snacks, I want to remind you that this film is 35 years old and the idea that Vincent was a demented farmer who kills people and adds them to his meat treats is the whole point of the film and wasn’t actually something they were trying to keep secret in the story. It isn’t explicitly told for a bit but it wasn’t actually hidden very well either. So, in short: ENOUGH WHINING ABOUT SPOILERS!!!
|Instead of whining about spoilers, eat some jerky. Sweet, human jerky.|
Or hot dogs. We just learned they have human bits in them.
Okay, back to it, Motel Hell is a fairly amusing horror film that dabbles just deep enough in the dark comedy pool to make it fun to watch. Granted, the ultimate decision to make the film lean on the funny side ended up arising because of the silly nature of the script during the film’s production and, I have to say, it wasn’t a bad move for the movie to make. Before, after and during the process of making this film, it was compared greatly to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper was even once attached to direct) thanks to its themes of backwoods folks, murder and cannibalism. This critique is not without merit but the film is set apart from the infamous trendsetter horror film with Leatherface and that is mostly thanks to its very bizarre story, dark comedy aspects and the awesome performance of Rory Calhoun as Farmer Vincent.
|Ha ha...whadda guy!|
|Nothing fake looking about that man's beard. Nothing|
If this film decided to take itself seriously, this film would have either been absolutely terrible or something disturbingly unsettling. However, judging from the final product, I don’t know if the production for Motel Hell could have pulled off a successfully horrifying and scary film. For example, Farmer Vincent buries the people he kidnaps in the garden up to their necks where he feeds them until he sees they are ripe for being killed and turned into a salty meat snack. That’s fine and is easily unsettling but this also involves old Vinnie hypnotizing the victims and, for some reason, these people act like zombies the moment they escape. I’m not entirely sure why they act this way and I highly doubt that these elements (including the hypnotism) could have translated into actual real terror but it works super effectively for the tone the film went with.
|Until now, I think Porky's is the only film I've seen with Nancy Parsons.|
One thing that bothered me about the film is the whole aspect of Vincent and Ira owning a motel. Two things if you count the pointless inclusion of Wolfman Jack in the cast--he was barely in it. However, the plot point of owning a motel felt a bit pointless through much of the story. Sure, it comes into play once but, for the most part, felt a little superfluous. Going into this film completely clean and without seeing a trailer, I thought this film would center on the motel and Vincent would take travelers that stopped to rest for a spell and let them rest eternally in his infamous meats. This concept only came into play once. It almost felt like the only reason the motel existed was to act as a reference to the film Psycho and the connection the Alfred Hitchcock classic has with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (I'll give you a hint: The connection is the infamous Wisconsin serial killer both films were inspired by). This, too, ends up being another weak element of the film as too much of it feels like it is either trying to be or just plain copy more popular horror films.
|"Don't worry, Imma gonna come and git ya...I just can't see out of this damn pig head."|
Overall, the entire film is really silly but silly in an entertaining and fun way. I already mentioned that the victims acting like zombies and the whole hypnosis elements but there’s also a ridiculous Stockholm Syndrome aspect between Terry and Vincent and a chainsaw battle between Vincent and his brother that is quite hilarious because it was so clumsily edited and choreographed but that’s part of the film’s charm. The most charming aspect of them all, however, is the performance of Rory Calhoun. He knew exactly how to make the character of Farmer Vincent both demented but likable in a weird way. His performance had that perfect balance of being over-the-top and cheesy that it complimented the dark comedy elements but restrained enough where he never made the film too silly to sit through.
|But is it really Stockholm Syndrome? I mean, look at the way he fills out those overalls.|
Motel Hell is a fairly entertaining film and I definitely enjoyed it. The film is not without its fair share of problems as it has a story that feels a tad sloppy, some of the performances aren’t the best and some of the elements in the plot feel pointless but the dark humor in it is amusing and Rory Calhoun is truly a joy to watch.