Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Motel Hell
“I’m the biggest hypocrite of them all. My meats… I used preservatives.”
Motel Hell is an interesting little film. I’m absolutely 100% certain that this steals from pastiches other better films, notably The Cars That Ate Paris and Night Of The Living Dead, but to be honest I couldn’t prove it even if I wanted to. It very much is a film of two halves, the first is a dull attempt at a shocker and the second has the contains real moments of genius.Maybe this film deserved to vanish into obscurity. It certainly isn’t easy to classify. It is not a huge amount of fun, it’s passably acted, and a few po-faced laughs can be had, but there’s very little in it that would be worthy of remembrance. It is not bad, per se, it just doesn’t stand out.
Until the climax. And what a climax.
Anyhow, in the meantime, the plot. Motel Hell is unlike any other schlock film that I can think of in terms of plot. It clearly borrows from a plethora of better films, both mainstream and schlock, but it is just so fucking unremarkable. The film is basically about an evil farmer/ motel owner who murders people for kicks on the highway and then serves them up as the special ingredient in his renowned “Farmer Vincent’s smoked meats”.
Vincent (veteran actor Rory Calhoun slumming it) lives at the motel with a fat beast of a woman that is either a relation of some description or his wife and his brother is the local Sheriff (Paul Linke), and about as much use as a condom machine in the Vatican. One night, his attempt to capture 2 passers by goes awry and he “rescues” Terry (Nina Axelrod), who in a fit of most un-cannibal like altruism he brings back to the motel and nurses back to health. Eventually, Terry falls in love with him, having been on a few dates with his brother and they decide to wed. Ignorant redneck Sheriff brother, has, in the meantime put together a case that kindly old Vincent has murdered a shit load of tourists and heads to the motel to confront him. Cue big fight, baddies dying and hero/ heroine’s escaping.
I have been deliberately vague with that as I really want to save the two stand out features of this film for the end of this review- so if you give a monkey’s nut about Spoilers then please be warned. Nevertheless, it’s a competent little horror film. There’s a suitably creepy atmosphere to it, Vincent and Ida are menacing without being truly deranged and Terry is fine as the standard damsel in distress. There really isn’t a lot to criticise in it.
Rory Calhoun is outstanding as Vincent. He’s weirdly stately and treats the material with far more respect than it warrants and positively seems to enjoy delivering lines like “All sorts of critters go into Farmer Vincent’s fritters”. He’s convincing as a cowboy, but looking at the amount of westerns on his CV he really fucking should be. Linke is frankly crap as the Cop, but the role is hopelessly underwritten anyway. He vacillates between stupidly incredulous and dopily horny, can’t play angry to save his life and generally gets the shitty end of the stick. Nina Axelrod (with a name like that, she really should have been doing porn) is entertaining enough as the damsel, and isn’t averse to casual nudity so no complaints there. It’s not badly acted at all.
However, it just isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. A lot of the dialogue between Vincent and Ida (which is clearly meant to be black comedy) comes across as forced and annoying. There’s a dismal exchange about “creativity” that had me reaching for the off switch, and I’m a patient beast that is more than willing to sit through any old crap. This alleged humour really spoils a lot of the first half of the film. There’s a few shocks to be had, but it just didn’t grab me at all. It is punctuated with the occasional amusing sequence (the S&M swingers getting their just desserts for example), but these are few and far between.
The romance between Terry and Vincent is also daft. I know I’m watching a schlock horror film about cannibals and disbelief is not so much suspended as launched into fucking orbit, but really, dudes, please don’t push it. There is no way on earth, aside from money- and it doesn’t look like he’s got any of that, that a woman that looks like Miss Axelrod is going to fuck a fossil. I could just about buy idiot brother, but Vincent is an old dude, not to mention a cannibal shithead that murdered her previous boyfriend. It just struck me as utter bollocks of the highest order and irritating, distracting bollocks. I don’t care about her burgeoning romance. I care about The Head Garden (trademarked Jarv) escaping to take revenge.
The Head Garden is one of two inescapably awesome things in this film. This is not the real hum-dinger that, even at the risk of exhausting hyperbole, is one of the most stupidly hilarious things I’ve ever seen, but is an outstanding understudy. Vincent and Ida have “a secret garden” which Stevie Wonder could find, but that’s neither here nor there. In this garden, there are rows and rows of sacks sticking up from the earth. Vincent removes the sacks and beneath each one is a still alive, vocal cords slit, living victim. Who seem to all be slightly brain damaged and can only make sub-par zombie noises, but nevertheless, there they are. This is priceless.
When Vincent needs to take a victim to the smoking room, he puts on a “hypnosis machine” that looks like a poster on a student bedroom wall, attaches a noose to their necks and throttles them using his tractor to drag the rope. The hypnosis machine is apparently essential as he may be a depraved cannibal, but he cares about animal welfare. I cannot over emphasise how funny it is watching Vincent and Ida feeding their head plants while arguing about cruelty to animals. Kudos to the writers for this one, it’s well handled.
When the inevitable happens and the head garden escapes they shamble like zombies, moan like zombies and generally act like zombies. That’s alright, I like zombie films. Ida bears the brunt of their not quite zombie wrath, and once they’ve buggered off into the countryside nary another word is mentioned. Hilariously, John Ratzenberger makes a pre-Cheers appearance here even if it is a bit blink and you will miss it.
Then there is the climax. If there is one reason to watch a film, this one is it.
Have you ever sat down and thought “you know, Leatherface is kind of cool, but wouldn’t it be awesome if he faced off against another chainsaw wielding lunatic?” or have you ever wondered what a demented farmer does in his spare time? Well, ask no more. Motel Hell is the film that supplies the answers. As bonehead cop is investigating the smoking plant the ominous roar of a chainsaw starts up. Undeterred he keeps snooping around until the door flies open in the rear and a pigman comes running out brandishing the aforementioned forestry tool. Cop is unperturbed by this and grabs another chainsaw conveniently lying to hand and engages the pigman in a sword fight. How. Fucking. Cool.
The chainsaws clash, sparks fly, legs get cut and eventually the cop wins by burying the chainsaw in pigman’s head. This is an action that prompts an annoying Scooby Doo moment: they remove the pig head to reveal (predictably) Farmer Vincent. I suppose there is some sociological bollocks to be discussed vis-a-vis cop being slang for pig etc, but I really didn’t care. I was watching a pigman have a chainsaw fight. Nothing else matters.
Overall would I recommend it? I have to say kind of. I wholeheartedly recommend the last half an hour, and I do have to say that it is worth sitting through to get to, but if you are sort of bored for a while, then don’t blame me. I was a touch bored for a while. If it weren’t for the pigman chainsaw fight then I’d probably not recommend it at all.
Maybe some kind person has youtubed the fight. I’d watch that rather than the whole film, and that’s my real recommendation.