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?