Look at Judge Daryl Loomis standing there...just like a little Rory Calhoun.
Our review of Deranged / Motel Hell, published September 13th, 2002, is also available.
It takes all kinds of critters…to make Farmer Vincent's fritters.
There are two general kinds of comedy that appear in horror movies. The punchy one-liners that Freddy Krueger helped to popularize, which I hate, and the outrageous splatter movies like what Peter Jackson cut his teeth name on. I'll at least give these a chance, but more often than not, even these leave me wanting either more gore or more laughs. The balance is rarely satisfying, but one that gets it a lot of it right is 1980's Motel Hell. I wouldn't call it scary on any level, but it's conceptually brutal and quite violent, while managing to stay goofy and funny the whole time.
Facts of the Case
People come from miles around to buy the sausages that Farmer Vincent (Rory Calhoun, River of No Return) cures at his farm/motel. They don't ask too many questions and they shouldn't, because while there's pork in there, there's something else that makes them taste so great. See, when tourists come bumbling around, Farmer Vincent traps them and buries them, but only up to the neck, so he can force feed and fatten them up to include in the mixture. But when a motorcycle accident leaves one dead and another (Nina Axelrod, Cobra) wounded, the sheriff starts snooping around, threatening to break up Farmer Vincent's operation.
One of the main reasons Motel Hell still works today is that it takes itself very seriously. It was most definitely intended as a comedy, but the actors all perform it completely straight, no matter how ridiculous it gets.
It's pretty ridiculous, though maybe not to the level, either of laughs or of gore, as the Kiwi directors bring to the table (see: Body Melt), but it goes about as far as one could expect an American production to go. An obvious influence on Tobe Hooper for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, it throws the cannibalism right in your face. There are only a few moments in the beginning where director Kevin Connor (The Land that Time Forgot) tries to make the audience think that it's all just pork, but he knows he isn't fooling anyone.
The great fun about Motel Hell is watching former Western heartthrob Rory Calhoun chew the scenery like nobody's business. He's all over the place, ranting and raving on one end and tenderly falling in love on the other. There are two women in his life. His sister, Ida, played deliciously by Nancy Parsons (Porky's), adds to the fun, not only as kin to Farmer Vincent, but a giddy co-conspirator in his madness. It would have been awfully easy, especially in this kind of outrageous horror-comedy, to do an incest thing between the two, but Connor thankfully shows a little restraint.
The romance and sexuality comes mostly from Nina Axelrod in her role as the survivor, Terry. With an old nutcase hooking up with a young woman, it might seem pretty creepy, but because Terry is the one who makes all the motion toward Farmer Vincent, and he with an almost childish wonder at the idea, the whole thing actually comes off as kind of sweet. Until she realizes the extent of what he does; she might have gotten a little bit blinded with his kindness, but she's not that crazy.
With Paul Linke (CHiPs) as the bumbling and horny sheriff and even John Ratzenburger (Cheers) as a pot-smoking drummer without lines, there is a lot to have fun with in the cast and in the story. In general, I don't like to laugh at my horror, but when that's the focus, so be it. Motel Hell delivers.
Shout! Factory delivers their usual good work for the Blu-ray edition of Motel Hell. The 1.85:1/1080p image transfer makes the movie look far better than it ever has before, which technically isn't saying a whole lot given the quality of previous releases. Still, it is quite good. Colors are bright and vivid, while there is detail there that had never been apparent. The transfer looks great, with minimal damage and no digital errors to note.
The sound is strong, though maybe not as much of an improvement as the image. There's no noise in the two-channel Master Audio mix, and well-proportioned dialog and music. It sounds good, but won't blow anyone away.
Extra features will definitely satisfy fans of the film. The disc starts with a new audio commentary featuring Kevin Connor, moderated by Dave Parker. They have pretty good banter about the film, with a lot of production stories and some good times. The rest of the disc is basically interviews, but they cover everyone from cast and crew to academics looking to have a word about the relative merits of a horror comedy like this. Some of it is repetitive, some of it is recycled directly in multiple interviews, but all of it is informative and interesting, at least if you appreciate the movie.
The rest of it isn't what one could call high art or even good horror, but somehow it works. There's a fair bit of gore and a reasonable number of laughs, so it delivers exactly what it promises. Motel Hell (Blu-ray) Collector's Edition is not something I'm going to return to all that often, but it's definitely something you can sit down with your friends to watch and have a weird time.
Keep on rolling, Farmer Vince, sausage is the best.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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