Blu-ray Review: MOTEL HELL (1980)

PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

Review: Motel Hell / Cert: 18 / Director: Kevin Connor / Screenplay: Robert Jaffe, Steven-Charles Jaffe / Starring: Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons. Nina Axelrod, Wolfman Jack/ Release Date: Out Now

It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent fritters! Just a few years after directing cheap-and-cheerful 1970s British fantasy adventures such as The Land That Time Forgot and At The Earth’s Core, Kevin Connor pitched up in Hollywood and hitched a ride on the post-Texas Chainsaw craze to create ‘cult classic’ Motel Hell, which was not only a marked change of direction for Connor himself but was also a bit of a curiosity in amongst the random slashers and slicers of the day. Motel Hell is actually that most potentially troublesome and difficult beast – the horror comedy – and whilst it’s never really that funny and certainly never especially horrific, it works because of Connor’s confident, stylish direction and a commanding and disturbing performance from former cowboy movie star Rory Calhoun as the creepy Farmer Vincent.

Vincent and his grotesque sister Ida (Parsons) run cosy middle-of-nowhere Motel Hello (the last letter in its fluorescent sign is on the blink) and also supply a very special brand of smoked meats farmed from the flesh of unwary travellers they incapacitate and bury, still alive but with their vocal cords cut and their heads covered in brown bags, in a secret garden where they’re ’cultivated’ until they’re ready to be harvested. The arrival of the lovely Terri (a wooden-plank turn by Axelrod) throws a spanner in their grisly works and before long Sheriff Bruce (Linke) is uncovering the truth about the farmer’s gruesome sideline.

Motel Hell is just too silly to scare but it has its moments, especially when Vincent’s victims are resurrected and advance on the farm gurgling and growling like grow-bag zombies and Bruce’s chainsaw battle with Vincent who, for reasons best known to himself, dons a pig’s head for the occasion. But there’s an air of broad comic unreality about the whole thing; most of Vincent’s victims are extreme caricatures – the spaced-out rock band, a sleazy S&M couple – and Terri never earns our interest or sympathy because she brushes off her boyfriend’s death without much more than a passing thought and quickly becomes a bit too attached to the deeply weird Vincent and Ida.

Clearly a product of its time, Motel Hell is tame not only by today’s standards but also by the video-nasty standards of the era, which is probably the point of the whole endeavour as Connor parodies and subverts the genre in a film which is far more tongue-and-cheek than terrifying. This new Blu-ray edition – a UK first – presents the film with a slightly soft and colour-muted image but with a clarity its admirers won’t have enjoyed since they it saw back in the 1980s. Motel Hell is worth a visit, for one night only at least.

Extras: Commentary / Interviews / Featurettes / Trailer / Collector’s booklet

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