‘Meat is meat, and man’s gotta eat!’…
Kicking off our new season, ‘Who’s laughing now?!’, a focus on horror comedy, we start off with the little known corker Motel Hell. This film has achieved a bit of a cult following over the years, but I would imagine the fact it has not achieved the notoriety it so well deserves is due to the fact it was damned near impossible to find for many years, at least in the UK. I originally watched it on VHS in the mid 80’s and it was some years later that I was able to get my hands on a dvd copy, the MGM release, with basic menu and no extras. After watching this copy I was surprised to find the movie less gory than I remembered, and I suspect it may have been cut. However my original viewing at the tender age of 14 left a mark on me and it could be that the horror contained within has taken on a larger than life reputation in my own head and made it something more than it was in reality. I eagerly anticipate the forthcoming Arrow release on blu-ray, due out today (20th May), so that I may get a comparison.
In a story that takes on Texas Chainsaw Massacre done in situation comedy style, black humour abounds, as we are introduced to the main characters Vincent and Ida, a brother and sister partnership and proprietors of the Motel Hello. Fittingly the O has taken a blow out in the neon signage and this gives the film its title and for those unfortunates who risk staying there they are about to get a real sense of just about how much hell one can endure staying in a low budget establishment like this.
Farmer Vincent also runs a smoked meat production business on the motel grounds, something we learn was handed down from Granny, a lovely old lady who enjoyed sampling the charred remains of her own dog for dinner. ‘Meat is meat, and man’s gotta eat’ as Granny used to say. It seems she taught Vincent everything he knows about smoking meat, his products are apparently famous within a 100 mile radius and their quality really needs to be tasted to be believed. However given ‘it takes all kinds of critters, to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters…’ you wonder if the consumers really need to double check the labelling, as old Vincent has some very distorted views on farming indeed.
Nevertheless Vincent, played in black comic genius by Rory Callhoun, is not a cruel man he cares deeply about the welfare of his ‘animals’ as his ponders the karmic implications of his good work. With a strong moral code, guided by the ‘great pilot in the sky’ Vincent goes about collecting his victims for the greater good, a charming man who believes in respect, and condemns sex before marriage. Vincent certainly does have some strange ideas on farming, but no one can doubt his integrity as he seems really convinced in the service he is providing as being connected somehow to the Lord’s work. I suspect his customers would think otherwise when they realised the products that they had been chowing down on were in fact the smoked bodies of human beings, ensnared by Vincent and his sister Ida, planted in the grounds of their secret garden with their vocal cords slit to be fattened up for slaughter. You may find you have to agree with Vincent, as the victims to some extent are human waste, a drug taking rock band (Ivan and the Terribles, which we see cheers star and voice of the Toy Story Pig, John Ratzenburger, play a role), a woman who has been ripping off men, a pair of outrageous swingers, although as Vincent appears to trap them at random the narrative does little to suggest that this has been intentional. Not much is done to explain Vincent’s greater plan in much depth but far from leaving questions it just reinforces the insanity factor on his part as he prattles on with his ideology you get a real sense that he really does believe he is just a willing servant in God’s greater plan.
Sister Ida on the other hand, played fantastically by Nancy Parsons, does not appear to be as misguided as Vincent. Sure she shares his beliefs, and the two have a very strange relationship, it being implied throughout the story that they are just a bit too close for comfort (on first viewing I assumed they were husband and wife for the first 15 minutes or so). However where Vincent portrays light, Ida takes on a deeper, darker, tone. With an excessive appetite for meat Ida is not a woman to be messed with.Taking on a more sinister, almost pantomime villan type of role, Ida does not seem effected by the same questions which trouble her brother, and her motive stems mainly from greed and cruelty. Vincent nevertheless firmly remains the boss of the piece, but Ida comes off as far more dangerous and cunning than her sibling.
As far as the supporting cast go we have Nina Axelrod, as Terry, who was obviously cast for her tit showing abilities and nothing more. Rescued from the roadside by Vincent she becomes attracted to his strong character, much to the distaste of sister Ida. Nina’s acting is fairly wooden, although as the real stars manage to outshine the rest of the cast it would be a hard job to keep up for even a more seasoned actor . We also have Vincent and Ida’s little brother sheriff Bruce, played by Paul Linke from the 80s cop show CHiPs. Bruce is not in on the plan but has a dark side all of his own as we see he likes to get a bit forceful with the ladies and he enjoys the stories about dear old Granny and her domestic pet smoking with much gusto. There are some funny characters along the way, my personal highlight being the pair of whip cracking, pvc skirt wearing swingers. However as most of the supporting cast can only rasp through severed vocal cords while planted in the ground, there really is not much to say about their talents in portraying their respective roles. There is a small role for radio legend Wolfman Jack as Reverend Billy which while limited stands out as strongly cast however.
Gore or no gore, the real horror of Motel Hell lies in the notion that this seemingly charming man and his sister could entrap and kill people to smoke up their cadavers for oblivious customers. Vincent is clearly one hell of a warped individual and this acts very successfully as the catalyst for copious amounts of sick humour. If you consider the notion in depth it really is a revolting one, and throughout the piece this is backed up with happy customers drooling over Vincent’s meat products. My personal view, as a vegetarian, seeing Vincent donning a pigs head mask and brandishing a chainsaw as he carves up human flesh for the eating takes on a fantastic stand against the factory farming of animals in a pig turning the tables on those who would quite knowingly enjoy the slaughtered remains of their own decayed flesh. Maybe I am reading more in to it than there actually is, but this is certainly an interpretation I like to make of my own. Regardless of any messages contained, either hidden or not, seeing a deranged farmer wearing a pigs head, blood soaked and duelling with a chainsaw certainly makes for some highly entertaining watching with barrels of laughs thrown in.
All in all this fun filled feast of terror comes highly recommended by the Gore Splattered Corner, with the new Arrow release already available it is the perfect time to pick it up if you already haven’t, just don’t watch it during dinner if you are planning on having roast tonight!