Blu-ray Review: Motel Hell (1980)

Motel Hell BR CoverDistributor: Arrow Video

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: Kevin Connor

Starring: Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons, Elaine Joyce, Nina Axelrod, Wolfman Jack, John Ratzenberger, Rosanne Katon

Originally released at a time when the slasher boom was in full swing, Motel Hell is a film that has always been held in high regard by many horror fans who enjoy a little mischief with their blood-soaked violence. Given the recent popularity of redneck/backwoods horror, a nice and shiny HD version of this film should go down a treat with a potential new audience.

Farmer Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun – The Texan/How to Marry a Millionaire) and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons – Porky’s/Sudden Impact) run the isolated Motel Hello (the ‘o’ on the neon sign doesn’t work) out in the rural Deep South. Vincent is famous for his delicious cuts of meat that attract many visitors from the surrounding area, but he is unwilling to share the secret of how his meat tastes so good. Perhaps it has something to do with his secret garden and the passers-by who check in but don’t check out again…

Often toying with the conventions set by genre classics like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper was apparently touted as a possible director for Motel Hell) and The Hills Have Eyes, Motel Hell has a vein of dark humour running through it – no doubt similar to the humour that Tobe Hooper swears is present in his original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre – that makes it more comparable to Tucker & Dale vs. Evil; a great drive-in double bill if ever there was one.

Most – but not all – of the humour comes down to the wickedly glorious performances of Rory Calhoun and Nancy Parsons as the twisted siblings Vincent and Ida Smith. Calhoun, a veteran of dozens of Hollywood productions, riffs off Anthony Perkins’ performance in Psycho, his lived-in appearance giving him that everyman quality but with a little edge that indicates something nasty could happen at any time. Equally as dangerous is Parsons’ portrayal of Ida, who wasn’t blessed with attractive good looks or a sparkling personality and so makes up for it by being something of a henchman to Vincent. Probably best known as the stern P.E. teacher Beulah Balbricker in the Porky’s films, Parsons provides the more physical threat – a bit like Oddjob in Goldfinger – and her very natural inter-play with Calhoun is what carries the film along.

But unfortunately the same can’t really be said of any of the other performances in the film. Whereas Calhoun and Parsons epitomise the weird underbelly of a backwoods existence, the supporting cast are all fairly limp in comparison. Nina Axelrod (Cobra/Critters 3) plays Terry, who is involved in a motorbike crash with her boyfriend after Vincent set a trap on the nearby road and falls in love with Vincent after he nurses her back to health, and she is the weakest link out of all the main characters, her bland delivery and non-existent chemistry with Paul Linke, who plays Vincent, and Ida’s younger brother Bruce – or Sheriff Smith, to be exact – coming across as comical for all the wrong reasons. But she is only really there for eye candy and on that level she succeeds. Linke himself is functional as the Sheriff who has no idea what his elder siblings are up to, but he is a little too nondescript to add anything major to the story. There are one or two other characters that filter in and out of the film without any major impact, unless you count the comedy relief of the cross-dressing S&M couple who turn up for some illicit tomfoolery, but ultimately it comes down to that when Vincent or Ida aren’t on the screen then the fun element seems to go and the pace drops a little.

Motel Hell is probably a film that you’ll want to add to your collection if any of the previously mentioned horror films rev your engine. The fun tone and unnervingly quirky (or quirkily unnerving, if you like) performances from the two leads lift the film above average but the pacing and occasionally dodgy script do stop it from being the out-and-out classic that some would swear it is.

Motel Hell

Special Features: Audio commentary with director Kevin Connor and moderated by Calum Waddell, Another Head on the Chopping Block interview with star Paul Linke, From Glamour to Gore interview with co-star and former Playboy Playmate Rosanne Katon, Ida, Be Thy Name – a look back at Motel Hell’s frightful female protagonist Ida Smith and the secrets of creating a convincing slasher siren, Back to the Backwoods – Filmmaker Dave Parker (The Hills Run Red) speaks about the importance of Motel Hell, original trailer, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jeff Zornow, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kim Newman and illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

UK Release Date: 13th May 2013

Arrow Films – Website

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