Vincent (Rory Calhoun) & Ida Smith (Nancy Parsons) use their rundown motel business to capture and harvest unsuspecting travellers for their prize winning barbecue.
This may seem surprising, but I’d actually never seen this little gem until now. I just never had access to it as a kid. During the home video boom, you were kind of limited by what your local video store had to offer. There were no shortage of options, but nevertheless, you got what they had. Consequently, with dozens of distributors sending products to hundreds of video stores in Ontario, it’s fascinating what ended up in my neck of the woods, and what didn’t.
For instance, in the mid-to-late eighties, there was a severe lack of The Evil Dead in my hometown. It wasn’t available anywhere, and the reason why I ended up seeing the second one first. By the time I became an employee, we had Nail Gun Massacre and Mountaintop Motel Massacre, but alas, no Motel Hell. But, enough with the history lesson…
First off, I just want to say that Motel Hell sports the best credits font I’ve seen since I don’t know what. The neon screams, “Hey, we’re here and we’re gonna entertain you!”
And entertain they do, as this is one fucking weird movie. Having been released in 1980, it’s right on the cusp of the decade, which created this bizarre hybrid. It looks like seventies fare like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Tourist Trap, but also has the inherent quirk that we came to expect from the eighties.
Calhoun and Parsons are terrific as the motel owners and dive into thieir roles one-hundred per cent. Like the players in those aforementioned titles, they really go for it and all of the ensuing craziness works as a result.
And there’s a lot of crazy to go around. I mean, there are just so many strange ideas floating around this movie, from the body planting to the ambiguous family dynamic to the random swinging couple that just shows up on the motel doorstep. And that’s not even including Terry’s (Nina Axelrod) weird Stockholm Syndrome – that technically isn’t because she’s not really being held captive, just sorta crashing there – for which she is rescued by her previously would-be rapist, Deputy Bruce (Paul Linke). This movie is bonkers.
I also think what makes Motel Hell stand out is it was able to sell its movie with visuals, but it also had the moxy to back it up. I’m sure anyone who used to rent VHS has a story about being lured in by a disengenuous coverbox, but I can’t imagine many people were disappointed with Motel Hell. You want a pig-headed chainsaw-wielding maniac? You got it! Sure, the movie itself isn’t particularly gory, but it makes up for it in so many other ways. It was smashing stuff that was well worth the wait.