Running time: 101 mins
Director: Kevin Connor
Starring: Rory Calhoun, Nancy Parsons, Nina Axelrod, Paul Linke
Genre: Horror, Comedy
With midterm well and truly in our rear view mirror it’s time to return to class and the weekly Hixploitation offering. Tying in with the Hostel trilogy and Bloodlust! here’s another location that you won’t find in the Lonely Planet guide for a damn good reason. If the name Motel Hell wasn’t enough to persuade you to drive on then I guess you have it coming.
Farmer Vincent (Rory Calhoun) runs the secluded Motel Hello with it’s neon sign malfunctioning the last letter and is the maker the best smoked meat in the county bringing him a level of fame and fortune but Farmer Vincent ain’t all he appears to be. Stalking the local roads at night he picks off out-of-towners, for his secret ingredient. Along with his ever helpful younger sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) and under the nose of local Sheriff and relative (Paul Linke) Vincent sets about another harvest.
As a Western fan it’s always a real thrill to see Rory Calhoun on screen and as Vincent he’s absolutely fantastic. He's religious, proper, gentle at times, darkly sadist and completely off the reservation at others not only is he frightening he’s also intoxicating and extremely funny (not to mention charming). You’ll want to watch him and his wonderful shit eating grin forever. As an experienced actor not only is he masterful of his screen time but he’s incredibly generous and gives a hell of a lot to his co-stars to work worth. His scenes with Nancy Parsons (Porky’s) are exceptional and her portrayal is bordering on that of an adult with the understandings of the world that you would find in a young child. It’s probably Parsons’ best performance on screen; it’s certainly the most layered and interesting. Nina Axelrod’s level is also raised by the excellent work of Calhoun; the scenes in which the two kindle a romantic connection are sweet, innocent but also awkwardly funny. Quality performances continue across the board including Wolfman Jack (as the Reverend) and John Ratzenberger (as a long haired drummer) a year before he would find fame with Cheers.
For a film that’s thirty one years old it’s actually amazing just how well it has aged. The story, when you think about it is actually quite gruesome and not to give anything away but there’s more to it and it has a darkly comic feel to it that’s very en trend with the current crop of horror directors. Probably the most horrific thing about the film is the sound. To prevent his victims from screaming for help Vincent severs the vocal cords now though we don’t see the procedure we do endure the gargling throaty sounds that emanate from his efforts to scream for help. The continuous gargling is odd at first but it builds and builds and quickly becomes unbearable. Having watched some of the most graphic and distasteful horror sequences of recent years with ease it’s actually awe inspiring just how much of an impact this sound has.
The greatest thing about the film though is Kevin O’Connor. He’s a director that somehow manages to encapsulate enthusiasm and love of story telling in all of his films, for further evidence all you have to do is watch At the Earth’s Core. There are some fantastic set pieces including the S&M guests and Bruce & Terry's trip to the drive in to name just two. The opening sequence of Motel Hell is gorgeous, it’s actually so dated and trendy that it’s come right back into fashion. It’s somewhere between Columbo and D’Urville Martin and really sets the tone for what’s to come. If there’s any criticism is that the neon sign style credits are too trendy against the rest of the film, which doesn’t emulate it’s opening sequences stylishness. There are also a couple of devices that don’t work and a few holes in the narrative for the attentive but these are minor blemishes.
Of all the comedy horror hybrid films that emerged from the 70’s and 80’s and oh boy was there many, Motel Hell does what none of them can in discovering the perfect balance for horror and howls alike. Like all great horror films there have been plans for a remake of Motel Hell thankfully there has been no word since July 2010 which will leave us appreciating Farmer Vincent’s smoked meats free from the fear of the most horrifying butcher, the Studio Exec.