Directed by Kevin Connor
Written by Robert Jaffe and Steven-Charles Jaffe
Cast: Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons, Nina Azelrod, Wolfman Jack
Motel Hell might be an impossible movie to critique. It is bulletproof in that the movie is a cult classic that lives and dies on its own absurdity. If someone hates the movie, there are a lot of really good reasons why they can hate this movie. If people love it, there are a lot of really good reasons that they love the movie. This is a movie that is simply geared towards specific tastes and if you love dark, absurdist black comedy in your horror movies, you will love Motel Hell.
The movie starts off pretty slow, with Farmer Vincent working as both a motel owner and a pig farmer and butcher. He is known for the best meat in the county and people come from near and far to purchase his meat. What no one knows is that the meat Farmer Vincent uses to make his meat is not made out of pigs, but made out of people that he captures and “smokes.”
If this sounds a lot like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, that is because this is a nice dark comedic satire with that earlier horror movie in mind. Instead of a dirty and gory take on cannibalism and the human butcher trade, this movie never really shows any gore and keeps its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. It is clear when Farmer Vincent and his sister Ida stands and admires the humans buried up to their heads in his secret garden that this is made abundantly clear. As Farmer Vincent says, “it takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.”
What makes this movie work so brilliantly is Rory Calhoun and Farmer Vincent and Nancy Parsons as Ida Smith. Calhoun makes his way through the movie, capturing and butchering victims with a giant smile on his face. He looks to be the nicest, kindest man you will ever meet, even as he is readying you for the slaughter. Ida meanwhile is his enthusiastic, and slightly sadistic, sister. Nancy Parsons made her name originally in Porky’s, but she really shined in this movie, taking on her role with the utmost of glee. The entire movie is shouldered by these two and they knock it out of the park.
There are some problems with the movie, and the biggest is the “hero” of the movie, Farmer Vincent’s younger brother Bruce Smith. For one thing, Paul Linke plays the role like a Barney Fife character and isn’t really a serious threat until the iconic chainsaw battle at the end with Farmer Vincent wearing a pig head. Bruce is also a character that tries to rape the Final Girl, Terry. It is a disturbing scene that makes him a desperate and despicable character. When he decides to turn on his brother, it is because Terry wants to marry Farmer Vincent and Bruce does everything he does out of jealous spite. He is one of the worst heroes I have seen in a horror movie.
However, if you can dismiss the hero aspects of the movie, the joys in this movie comes in watching Farmer Vincent trap and harvest his victims. It is a very fun movie and deserves its cult status.
The Scream Factory collector’s edition of Motel Hell comes with a ton of great special features. First, there is a commentary track with Dave Parker (The Hulls Run Red) interviewing Motel Hell director Kevin Connor. The talk track is laid back and pretty interesting, but there is a problem with Connor continuously dismissing slasher movies and he seems to be talking down to fans of the movie at times. However, there is a lot here when it comes to the making of the movie and Connor’s goals with making the movie.
Next up is a 25 minute making of feature. This is a new feature with current interviews with the producers/writers Robert and Steven-Charles Jaffe, director Kevin Connor and more. It is a great feature and is an entertaining look at the making of Motel Hell. There is also a ton of special interview segments with different cast and crew members, and by the end gives us a fantastic look at the making of and the legacy of Motel Hell.
The next feature is very polarizing. It is a short documentary feature called Ida Be Thy Name. This is a talk with Scream Queens Elissa Dowling and Chantelle Albers, genre commentator Staci Layne Wilson and critic Shelagh Rowan-Legg about the role of female villains in horror movies. Overall, it is a great look at what goes into making a female villain memorable, with Sharon Stone’s role in Basic Instinct the favorite for most of the contributors. However, there was one part of this feature which really came across poorly. Shelagh Rowan-Legg kept describing Nancy Parsons as “ugly” and “asexual” in her description of her being a stereotypical female villain (she also described Kathy Bates in this manner). I understand what she is trying to say, but to hear a female critic dismissive of an actress because of her looks is really disturbing.
The Scream Factory Motel Hell collector’s edition finishes off with the original vintage trailer and more vintage trailers from other horror movies of its era in their original formats.