….huh. Well this was an interesting one. The cover, showing a dude in a pig mask wielding a chainsaw, is what initially attracted me as it led me to believe that Motel Hell is some overlooked Texas Chainsaw Masscare rip off that I somehow had never heard of. It’s certainly nothing like the original but definitely in line with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as not only is it more silly than scary, but it also features a chainsaw duel at the end. This chainsaw fight may not feature Dennis Hopper but it does have pig mask man which is a pretty fair trade, so I really can’t say which is the better battle.
Motel Hell is primarily about Farmer Vincent Smith who, along with his sister Ida, run an extremely popular meat business that only serves their immediate area. They also run the titular (I use that word a looooooot I’m finding lately) Motel Hell, actually named Motel Hello but the ‘o’ is consistently burnt out on the sign. Everyone around flocks to try their meat but holy shit you guys their meat is secretly made out of people! Oooooooo nooooooooo!
Motel Hell isn’t your standard A to B movie. For starters it doesn’t so much have a consistent plot as it has a series of events that happen. I suppose the main story thread is a love story between Farmer Vincent and Terry, a girl whose boyfriend Vincent ran off the road in an effort to capture more “ingredients” for his meat. He ends up saving her and bringing her to the farm where they fall in love despite a huge age difference and the fact the dude is sketchy as fuck. Ida is jealous of this but not in a “I wanna bone my brother way”, she just feels Terry is getting too close and obviously she is not terribly keen on the idea of her knowing they have a tendency to kidnap people, cut holes in their throats so they can’t scream and keep them planted in a garden outside the motel until they are ready to be made into meat at which point they will tie nooses around their heads and to the back of a truck and yank them up out of the ground. You know, typical family secrets. Also the sheriff, who is Ida’s brother, is in love with Terry. He’s a wee bit rapey too. Also a couple shows up thinking this is a swingers hotel and you get an extended sequence of them doing weird sex stuff in their room. You see? This one is all over the place.
It’s a strange beast as I can’t say I found the movie all that funny and it’s certainly not that scary but it never failed to capture and hold my interest. The characters, particularly Vincent and Ida, are fun to watch and you never know what direction the movie is going to go next. One minute you’re watching a kinky couple have bondage sex in their motel room, and then you’re on a lake watching two people fight in those floating circle dingy things, and then you’re watching a long sequence of two people picking their crops (aka human beings) out of the garden for harvest. It keeps you on your toes and I’m all about horror movies that are unpredictable.
I already touched on this a little earlier but it’s worth highlighting that I enjoyed the way the movie treated Vincent and Ida’s relationship. Being that they are particularly rednecky and this whole thing takes place in the woods and in the deep South, I kept waiting for them to work an incest angle and have their relationship go too far. Nope, didn’t happen. In fact I don’t even recall any jokes about it or of course, the dreaded “squeal like a pig” quote. It would have been easy to take the lazy route but they didn’t do it so infinite credit to the filmmakers for that.
All of the performances are good but the highlight is absolutely Rory Calhoun (who is indeed always standing and walking) as Farmer Vincent. He’s such a friendly and wholesome dude that you want to like him except he refuses to stop killing and eating people which makes it harder to want to be his buddy. He’s not even secretly evil or anything. He genuinely believes that what he is doing is beneficial as he is killing people he views as immoral and detriments to society, and then using their carcasses to provide great tasting meat. So where’s the harm? It’s a great character and a memorable performance.
Although Motel Hell isn’t particularly scary (it’s a little too silly for that) there are some genuinely chilling moments. All of the planted people have had their throats cut so all they can do is make this gruesome gargling/groaning noise and after hearing it for several minutes at a time during some scenes, it’s pretty unsettling. Not to mention all of these people are alive and aware that they are planted in the ground with burlap sacks covering their heads which is a messed up idea to begin with. Also the last scene featuring the chainsaw battle in a pig mask is disturbing as Vincent never stops laughing for the duration of the scene, and it is not a short scene. I’m not sure why exactly but that shit really got me.
Oh and John Ratzenberger is in this movie for about 90 seconds so…I guess if you’re super into John Ratzenberger you may want to check this movie out.
Motel Hell was a fun watch though not likely a movie I would revisit as a large part of the appeal for me was not knowing where things were going from one scene to the next. It’s unique and absolutely worth a single viewing though I can’t say is completely successful as either a comedy or as a horror. It is merely adequate at both attempts.