You will probably be repulsed by the premise of “Motel Hell”(1980). I talked about it to the peers in my lab in last week and they were all understandably disgusted. However, the movie is a lot funnier than you think. This is a trashy B-horror movie , but it is an enjoyable trash made with the macabre sense of humor and the villains with the personalities. Spiced with such goodies like these, its gruesome subject is somehow acceptable, and, dare I say, a tasty fun.
Vincent(Rory Calhoun) is a rural farmer well-known around his town and its surrounding area for his specialty. While running the motel(Motel Hello – with ‘o’ constantly flicking on and off) and his family farm in a remote place with his naughty sister Ida(Nancy Parsons), he sells his special smoked pork, a very popular product thanks to his “secret” recipe.
Not so surprisingly, his secret is none other than….. the human meat(“It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent fritters!”). Whenever the quiet night deepens, Vincent sets out for hunting his “livestock”. His victims, mostly strangers who are unfortunately passing by the town with their vehicles, are captured by several kinds of traps placed on the roads nearby the motel.
The horrible fate is awaiting for them in Vincent and Ida’s secret garden at the back of their house. The victims are buried in the ground up to their necks. Their vocal cords are surgically cut for preventing them from making sounds except spooky gurgling sounds. They are fed like animals until they are fattened enough for the slaughter later. I wondered how the bathroom business can be taken care of for them during this horrible process, but I don’t want to know.
Fortunately for us, the director Kevin Conor wants to make laughs out of this crazy premise while trying to scare the audience. He and his crew know that a good horror movie depends on the build-up process for the full-blown shock at the climax. Although the plot is rickety and problematic, Vincent and Ida are amusingly horrible enough to carry their story to its finale with their quirkiness, and the writers Robert and Steven-Charles Jaffe provide them several hilarious one-liners (“Sometimes I wonder about the karmic implications of these actions”). Calhoun and Parsons seem to understand their material well; they surely have a diabolical fun with their outrageous roles.
The movie is basically a black comedy, and we are mainly treated with small funny moments instead of the gory details of their deeds. We see how they jovially go on with their work at night and maintain a little weird but folksy image of theirs on day. After an innocent girl named Terry(Nina Axelord) is brought to their house by Vincent after “the accident” happening to her and her biker lover, the daily life of Vincent and Ida becomes a little troublesome but they keep on working while merrily hiding their secret from this vulnerable girl. Their garden is grotesquely silly with those poor extras’ heads rotating on the ground, and I personally could not help but giggle at Vincent’s outrageously conceived slaughter method.
How naive Terry is, by the way. When she wakes up after the accident, she asks about her boyfriend. Vincent tells her that he died and was buried afterward. She does not have a problem with that after seeing his “grave” in the cemetery; nor does a young bumbling town sheriff(Paul Linke)who is incidentally Vincent and Ida’s relative.
Meanwhile, Vincent takes a fancy to Terry from the beginning. He wants her to accept his ways of living someday. He is old enough to be her father, but he is still a charming guy in front of her eyes, perhaps in a Freudian way. Consequently, Terry is unwittingly becoming the bride of monster, and the sheriff, who also likes her in a clumsy(and quite insensitive in the standard of the 21th century) way, finally begins to have some suspicion about his good old relatives.
After the tactful restraint on blood and gore, the movie finally delivers the violently entertaining finale where “Night of the Living Dead” strolls with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. We have the ingredients rightfully expected from that kind of cross: the woman in a mortal danger, the maniac going berserk, the risky chainsaw duel, the last-minute heroic rescue, and the hideously groaning sounds from outdoors. Despite the flaws due to low budget and the lack of synergy, these elements are skillfully mixed on the screen and the movie does not lose its sense of twisted humor even in this mayhem. I guarantee you, if you understand its morbid comedy, the final words from Vincent is something you’ve got to hear for yourself from him, not from me.
Like the time when “Motel Hell” was made, there are still those depressing horror movies only focusing on shocking the audiences with gratuitous violence and cruelty. The main characters of “Motel Hell” are undoubtedly insane and cruel, but they do have personalities and wits unlike those bland killers in Dead teenager movies or torture porns like Saw series. The movie matches them with innocent bystanders in a comically macabre way, and it pulls it off nicely without damaging our entertainment. We immediately do not take it seriously from the start – we have a good time while flinching at what we see. This movie is a nice proof that you can make the movie with any tasteless subjects if you have style, skill, and the characters to handle. Hmm.. yummy, isn’t it?
This sounds like delightful, campy fun. Might be a good, goofy movie to watch after Halloween.
SC: That will be nice.
Yummy? SC, the review was yummy and and really serves to provide as much of the taste of the film, to satisfy the perverse desire. I honestly feel like avoiding horror films as a rule unless it is of the order of SOL. Every experience, every movie, transforms us from inside, it’s a hard inscription on the mind-stuff which cannot be erased. A movie must offer more than kicks and entertainment to make the time-investment viable. As for me, I’m not aiming to be a critic professionally so can afford 100% choosiness about what I watch. Who wants the second best when the best is there. At time I feel sorry for critics like Ebert, having had to sit through 10,000 movies, from s**t upwards.
SC: Paulin Kael said, “The movies are so rarely great art, that if we can’t appreciate great trash, there is little reason for us to go.” We should demand always the best, but it’s not bad to play with a fun trash like “Motel Hell”. But I will choose to live with the movies like “2001” rather than this if I have to make a choice.
If we go by Ebert, there is a fourth choice of a century of Great Movies on it’s way, with a whole mountain of four starrers besides, and increasing like Indian and Chinese population. And then the law of diminishing returns is applicable to films too. If you are seeing great films every day, you are liable to get that addict’s helpless self loathing to be in the control of a substance, even great art.
I agree, sometimes one wants to go for fun stuff, and my latest choice is what remains of Hitchcock and Tarantino. Chainsaw and Motel Hell seems a powerful brew for average digestive abilities.
SC: In case of me, I will go to John Sayles and John Cassavetes.
You win. My secret dream of viewing te 1974 version of Teas Chainsaw Massacre is going to be fulfilled. Hope it is not as good as you say and I don’t get addicted to cannibalism genre. Already I have half finished Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses ” lying round which I can’t complete due to environmental constraints.
Regarding Pauline Kael’s statement. I think one needs to distinguish the viewpoint of a professional critic and a lay viewer. A lay guy can choose what to watch and the choice is wide. For a critic even the worst specimens of cinema (I’m thinking how Ebert has thoroughly chewed up the 2003 Chainsaw film) have an interest and pose a challenge to his power of expression and analysis and positive ornegative criticism. To a biologist all forms of life hold interest. To that extent I agree that even the worst of movies are interesting to a professional reviewer or a student or scholar of cinema. It depends on whether films are a means or an end to you.
SC: Really bad movies are very good textbooks for teaching young students what not to do in their movies.
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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t that good. I don’t think you should have any worries about getting addicted to the cannibalism genre.
On the other hand, if you want to see a good cannibalism movie, I’d suggest one of the Hannibal Lecter films. Except Hannibal. That movie was only so-so.
@SC and LD
So the suspense is over and I saw CTM (1974) minutes back. It’s a relief to find it quite boring so no risk of addiction. Perhaps due to over-expectation built by avoiding the movie for a long time, even the quantum of violence seemed sub par. Suspense there is none. Hannibal I saw last year or so and found disappointing after Silence of the Lambs. Thanks, SC, for suggesting me to get this film out of my system–I had made a bogey out of it but actually it tuns out to be just nothing. Perhaps the best part is the juicy title, but the contents don’t match.