Motel Hellrecommended viewing

Let's get greasy!
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1980
Director: 
Kevin Connor
Starring: 
Rory Calhoun, Nancy Parsons, Paul Linke, Nina Alexrod
The Setup: 
Couple have a very special ingredient in their smoked meats.
Discussion: 

You know that special period in your adolescence when horror movies seemed so nasty and exciting? Like, you didn't know WHAT they were going to show in there. I remember lots of newspaper ads for horror movies, but for some reason the only horror TV ad I really remembered was for THIS movie, with the "O" from the red neon MOTEL HELLO sign burning out in a shower of sparks, leaving us with our title, and frankly, have had this movie in the back of my mind since then. It occurs to me now that horror movies actually WERE a little more exciting then, as the ads in newspapers would be cheap and black and white, and the movies themselves would only be playing at the nasty theaters with the dubious stains or some delapidated drive in, giving horror films back then the air of real degeneracy that is SO appealing!

Okay, so we have our credits in this fun neon-style font, with the neon sign representing the title. We find that this is going to feature Rory Calhoun, best known as a fixture of many TV Westerns, as well as the giant-killer-bunny movie Night of the Lepus. We also note a credit for famed DJ Wolfman Jack, although he appears here so inconsequntially I'm sure he's just so they could put his name in the credits. This also features Nancy Parsons as Ida, who had parts in Porky's and other movies, though I doubt she ever got as big and delicious a part as she has here, and she runs with it.

So Calhoun is Ben Vincent of Farmer Vincent's Smoked Meats, made and sold at the motel. He goes out by the road, where he has laid some traps, and waits. A motorcycle comes by, crashes, and Vincent piles the bodies into his truck. There is a middle-aged, gray-bearded biker and a young blond in her early 20s. She's still alive and unharmed, so Vincent takes her home and puts her in a bedroom, saying he's going to save her. We'll find out what happens to the other guy later. The next day, a nice suburban family with two twin blonde daughters in pigtails comes to buy some of the fabulous smoked meat that is the best they've ever tasted. Meanwhile, the girls wander into the secret back room, where there are a ton of pig carcasses and bloody chopped-up meats. They get scared and run out screaming, and we briefly see someone in a pig mask pop up. The girls run screaming back into the station wagon and then get an extra little surprise from Farmer Vincent. WHY are screaming, terrified little girls so inherently amusing? I would think it's my psychological disturbance, but here it is in the movie as a joke, so I can't be the only one that finds it funny. The other thing that made me REALLY like this film at this point is that it doesn't explain who the person in the pig mask was. And he didn't scare the girls, it looks like he was just going about his butchery business when he heard the girls and looked up, which is even better--there's some guy at this motel who wears a creepy pig mask to cut up bodies--now that you know, we're on to something else. Sadly when we look back later this aspect doesn't really pan out.

But not to worry, because we have met Ida, this pleasantly plump demented redneck psycho in overalls, pigtails, and with a sunny disposition! Ida is SO, SO fun, and she's going to be with us the rest of the movie! Anyway, soon Bruce the dim-witted cop shows up, and the young blonde woman, Terry wakes, and wants to know where her boyfriend is. But guess what--Vincent says he was dead and has already buried him! Just hours later! And the dumb Sheriff says that's the way they do things around here. Ida continues her hilarious "Aww, poor baby" routine. Vincent says that Terry should stay with them for a few days, and she says she has nowhere to go and no one in the world--we'll come back to this soon--and the next time we see her she is in much more modest dress as listening to television evangelists with the Vincents.

SPOILERS > > >
Next we see this super-fun 70s rock band Ivan and the Terribles, driving in their custom-painted van, Ivan driving and still wearing his fake beard. They're smokin' it up and generally being rock stars when Ivan says "We gotta find a place to crash" just seconds before--they crash! Because Farmer Vincent set bear traps out on the road. He comes by, gasses the guys, loads them on the truck and takes them out to his special garden. The garden is full of people buried up to their necks, bags over their heads. They've all had their vocal cords snipped, so all they do is make these hideous rasping sounds. This is the horrifying secret, although I'm not really sure what the point of keeping them there in the ground is--fatten them up? Age the meat? Who knows, I don't think we're intended to reflect on it too deeply. During this time we also catch a glimpse of Bo, Terry's biker BF, still alive and well... you know, aside from having his vocal cords snipped and buried alive up to his neck. Other than that--tip-top shape!

But let's get back to Terry. Okay, so she was with this biker twenty years her senior and otherwise has absolutely no destination in life--let alone in the next few days. Now she's all crepped out about being held by these weird people who buried her boyfriend without her even knowing he was dead, but, after a short inspirational speech from Farmer Vincent, SUDDENLY turns and is TOTALLY happy to be there! This girl has PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUES. She needs some purpose or goal in life--her parents should have sprung for the piano lessons, or some shit. Nevertheless, there it is. Meanwhile Calhoun is obviously having the time of his life playing the dementedly cheerful old wise grandpa type, and Ida's a blast as well.

After a short little stalking where two young and not-very-bright women come upon a bunch of fake cows blocking the road, and get snatched, obv, we have this couple who arrive to stay in the motel. This is Guy and Edie, who soon pull out the motel's ad in a swingers magazine. They see Farmer Vincent and Ida, and start to get excited over the idea of swinging with THEM. This old grandpa and his obese ugly sister. I don't think this movie is portraying swingers in the best light, frankly. By the way, with their appearance goes the idea that this movie is ANYTHING but pure comedy. You think you might have seen it all, but no--next we spy Edie in a black latex ensemble snapping a whip around, then Guy comes out of the bathroom in a bra and slip! Then he gets down on the floor and says "Warm me up--LET'S GET GREASY!" Obviously before too long they're out in the garden with the rest.

Now Ida is getting a bit annoyed at all the attention Terry is getting from Vincent, despite the fact that Vincent is HER BROTHER. Earlier Ida was about to tell Terry the secret ingredient, when he suddenly kidney-punched her! You know, a kind word might have worked, too. Then she makes out to be all friendly and takes Terry to the nasty, fung-o-riffic extra huge puddle out back, where straight guys will be interested to note we get some good coverage of Terry's boobies in a wet T-shirt. Then Ida tries to drown her, which I must say is legitimately scary. Then Vincent rescues her.

So they're home and Terry is resting in bed, when she starts explicitly coming on to Vincent, saying "Take me!" So you're staring it it in disbelief when he demurs, saying "We should be married first," and she responds "Are you proposing to me?" And you're really staring in disbelief, which you'll still be doing as you realize, a few scenes later, that they ARE now planning to get married! I guess... you know, normally the innocent prisoner role, like Terry is in, is usually... an innocent prisoner! Not a psycho screwball herself, but well, not here. Poor Terry REALLY needs to read Our Bodies, Our Selves and FAST. Anyway, as you can guess, Ida is not happy about the whole situation, although she's making several sweet-n'-lovely faces. Ida has drugged Terry's drink, and you think this is without Vincent's knowledge, but no, he pats her unconscious face and says "She's out--let's go to work." You know, I'm not sure this marriage is going to survive if there isn't a solid basis of mutual trust.

So it's Harvest Time! Vincent and Ida go out to the fields and pull the masks off the rock band. You'd think other bodies that have been there longer would have been better seasoned by now but--ahh, why am I even getting into it? Now throughout--one of the things I haven't bothered going into--is that Vincent keeps saying things that imply he believes he is doing God's work with his farming practices. Anyway, they have these hypno-machines that spin a spiral and flash pretty lights in front of the three guys, although it might annoy you as it did me that one guy kept rolling his head in the opposite direction as the other two. Some people just HAVE to be different. This is to be "humane" before looping nooses around the guys' heads and snapping them with the help of the tractor. Then they pull them up out of the ground and into the smoker.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Bruce has started getting suspicious out of the blue [because he's in love with Terry himself] and has found the nasty swimming hole with all the cars. He comes to rescue Terry while the other two are busy, etc.

By now I'm just over it and waiting for it to end, but there is a considerable amount of running time left to go. Eventually Bo, Terry's inappropriate biker BF from the beginning, squirms his way up out of the ground and digs everyone else up. They come a creeping like some kind of random zombie squad, making all sorts of guttural sounds, blah, blah. Then Terry ends up ready to be sliced and diced by Vincent, now that she knows his secret, leading to a long and dull chainsaw-vs-chainsaw fight with Bruce, blah, blah, etc. During this time Vincent gives the reason why he feels justified in his actions: there are "Too many people, not enough food." He also ultimately passes on the motel to Bruce, exhorting him to "take care of my animals."

Bruce considers keeping the motel, but Terry says no, "It's an evil motel!" and at that moment, the "O" on the sign finally explodes in a shower of sparks, a sight I TOTALLY remember from the TV ads for this movie I told you about. Then the credits come up with a hilarious country song "You're Eatin' Out My Heart and Soul, Babe," performed by Kregg Nance.
< < < SPOILERS END

A little gander at the IMDb informs us that this movie had some trouble getting made, bouncing between directors [including Tobe Hooper] and studios, which one imagines is because it's just such a bizarre comedy and doesn't really fit into any categories of the time. I mean, it isn't really scary at all, very few people die, and there's very few scenes of peril. So that's nice.

I was totally into its whacked-out characters and evil sense of fun. Unfortunately it wears out its welcome with about 20 minutes left to go, and the drawn-out and frenetic climax just seems like a distraction. Still, Vincent and especially Ida are so precious, and there are so many bizarre surprises, I have to solidly recommend it.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, especially if you like really bizarre horror comedy and redneck humor.