Case Number 02184


MGM // 1974 // 82 Minutes // Rated R
Motel Hell
MGM // 1980 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 13th, 2002

The Charge

"It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent Fritters!"
"Pretty Sally Mae died a very unnatural death...but the worst hasn't happened yet!"

Opening Statement

Nothing brings out the best in people like good old fashioned cannibalism. Like the rest of you, I also enjoy a hearty helping of stewed human brains come Thanksgiving dinner, smothered in a rich, velvety blood gravy. Sound good? If not, then you'd be smart to steer clear of MGM's Motel Hell and Deranged. Like the folks over at Fox, MGM has started a new line of double feature discs, each sporting two movies for the price of one (with a minimal amount of supplemental material). Get ready for the main course as Motel Hell / Deranged makes its way to your families' DVD player...and dinner table!

Facts of the Case

* Motel Hell
Farmer Vincent (Rory Calhoun, Hell Comes To Frogtown) has the best meat products in town! In fact, Farmer Vincent's meats are sold nearly a hundred miles away so folks from all over can enjoy his down home taste and quality ingredients. Ah, but what are his ingredients, you ask? Well, Farmer Vincent isn't saying...and neither are his ingredients! In a secret garden behind his farm, Vincent houses rows and rows of people -- that's right, people -- buried up to their necks and slowly being fattened up for slaughter! With the help of his demented sister Ida (Nancy Parsons, Porky's), Farmer Vincent has been making smoked sausages and delicious patties for nearly 30 years...and they're all made out of the local yokels! When Farmer Vincent's "famous ingredients" are at risk of being exposed, he plans on going to any lengths to keep his family recipe safely hidden!

* Deranged
Deranged is based on the true life case of Wisconsin murderer and necrophiliac Ed Gein and his diabolically grotesque crimes! In this fictitious account we meet Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom, Doc Hollywood), a shy mamma's boy who lives on his farm with his elderly mother. When the aging patriarch finally passes away, Ezra is so distraught that he's literally pushed over the edge of sanity! Thinking his mother is still alive, Ezra digs up her body a year later and carries the decomposed remains back to his home. There he treats his dear old mom as if she were still alive -- dressing her, feeding her, and talking with her. Things start to go from bad to worse for Ezra (and anyone unlucky enough to wander into his path) when he starts to butcher innocent women, using their body parts as indoor furnishings! One by one the Ezra's victims meet horrific ends...and for these unlucky gals, death is only the beginning!

The Evidence

I was pleasantly surprised (okay, maybe "pleasant" isn't the right word) at how entertaining each of these movies were. While Motel Hell and Deranged are six years apart in age, they really fall from the same demented tree -- people doin' really nasty, unpleasant things to other people. And yet through it all, each film still retains a black sense of humor that produces both chills and chuckles from its unsuspecting audience. I was equally impressed with both stories, each receiving bonus points from the winning performances of their respective lead actors.

I started out watching Motel Hell (which I had seen years earlier) and it was just as creepy as I had remembered. Let's be honest -- the idea of using humans as a main course is a pretty twisted idea. Now multiply that by the terror of watching people harvested like crops and you've got a good idea of what Motel Hell is like. Of the two movies Motel Hell is the most comical, spurred on by the twisted performances of Rory Calhoun and Nancy Parsons (looking like a freakish cross between Natalie from The Facts of Life and a grungy sow). Calhoun comes off as such a genuinely nice guy that it makes one start to wonder who's really cutting their mean at their local butcher shop. The plot (penned with tongue-in-cheek humor by brothers Robert and Steven-Charles Jaffe) doesn't attempt to be anything other than it is -- a "meaty" tale of hicks gone awry! There are some nail-bitingly scary moments to be found in Motel Hell (among them the unveiling of Farmer Vincent's garden of horror), and Vincent's final statement goes down as one of the funniest closing lines in horror history. The rest of the cast (including a dull Paul Linke as Ida and Vincent's dim bulb deputy brother) pale in comparison to Calhoun and Parsons' wacky pairing. The pace sometimes can slow to a crawl, though even those spots tend to have an atmospheric ghoulishness that makes the film worth the watch. "Meat's meat, and man's gotta eat!" goes the battle cry of Vincent and Ida -- and after watching Motel Hell you may just think twice about becoming a vegetarian.

Deranged is a whole 'nother beast altogether. Here's a move that I have no memory of (can't even recall seeing the video box when I was a kid) with a cast that's even less recognizable. Yet the darn thing stands as one of the better horror stories I've seen (or witnessed might be a better term) in quite a long while. This is in no small part to Roberts Blossom as the very disturbed Ezra Cobb. Blossom finds just the right tone between likable small town schmuck and insane freak, making Ezra nearly as mesmerizing as Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter. If the film has one grand fault it's the inclusion of narrator/reporter Tom Sims (played with solid oak stiffness by Leslie Carlson), a character that pops up now and then to interject some rather pointless and preachy exposition into the film. The screenplay is based on the real life case of Ed Gein (truly America's first serial killer), a diabolical character that would go on to influence everything from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Silence of the Lambs to Alfred Hitchcock's horror classic Psycho. If Gein was half as weird as Ezra was, I can see why there was such a fascination with the character. Surprisingly, Deranged is able to pull a few laughs from the material without it seeming like cheap exploitation humor. But when push comes to shove, Deranged is still a very icky movie that tends to get under your skin and fester like an open wound. During the end Ezra gathers a multitude of his victims (in various stages of decomposition) around a dining room table for a special guest whom Ezra assumes should be his bride. Knowing that scenes like this were taken from reality makes Deranged a cut above other horror movies, and a film well before its time.

Taken as a whole, both Deranged and Motel Hell make for a unique and kinda gross Saturday night outing. These are definitely not to be used during a date (unless your date happens to be the crazy woman from Misery), and my advice would be to eat something well in advance...or it might end up on living room floor.

Both Motel Hell and Deranged are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. MGM has done a fairly good job at making sure that both of these prints are clear of any major defects or imperfections. The movie with the most problems was Motel Hell -- the transfer often seemed too dark, especially during the nighttime scenes (of which there are many). Otherwise I thought that each transfer appeared to be in good working order with solid black levels and bright, well saturated colors. While some grain and dirt popped up a few times (not surprising due to each film's age), overall I was really happy with what MGM did with these rather low-budget, cult classic movies.

As for the soundtracks, Motel Hell is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo Surround in English and Spanish while Deranged is featured in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono in English. Neither of these mixes is going to do much for a home theater system, though each supports the respective film aptly. Not surprisingly, Motel Hell's stereo mix is clearer and more dynamically sound. Deranged also sounds good, though fidelity is sorely lacking. Both films feature crisp dialogue, effects, and music with a minimal amount of hiss or distortion. For a lesson in how to make an eerie soundtrack, take a listen to Deranged's organ driven funeral theme...horror music at its finest! Also included on both films are English, French, and Spanish subtitles, as well as a mono soundtrack in French on Motel Hell.

Two movies for the price of one (around 15 bucks) sounds like a pretty fair deal to me, so I'm not complaining when all I see are original theatrical trailers for each film.

Closing Statement

With a very reasonable price attached, MGM's double feature of Deranged and Motel Hell should give any horror fan the willies! Now pass the ketchup and gangrene fingers!

The Verdict

Both films are acquitted on all charges, except taking the phrase "you are what you eat" waaaaay to literally. Court dismissed!

Review content copyright © 2002 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Deranged
Video: 85
Audio: 77
Extras: 25
Acting: 87
Story: 84
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Deranged
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Deranged
* Original Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, Motel Hell
Video: 82
Audio: 79
Extras: 25
Acting: 84
Story: 82
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Motel Hell
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)

* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Motel Hell
* Original Theatrical Trailer

* IMDb: Deranged

* IMDb: Motel Hell