Our review of Motel Hell (1980) (Blu-ray) Collector's Edition, published August 20th, 2014, is also available.
"It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent
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
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.
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!
Both films are acquitted on all charges, except taking the phrase "you are what you eat" waaaaay to literally. Court dismissed!
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Perp Profile, Deranged
Distinguishing Marks, Deranged
• Original Theatrical Trailer
Scales of Justice, Motel Hell
Perp Profile, Motel Hell
Distinguishing Marks, Motel Hell
• Original Theatrical Trailer
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