Title: Motel Hell
Release Date: October 18th, 1980
Budget: $3,000,000 (estimated)
Box Office: $6,342,668
Tagline: "You Might Just Die ... Laughing!"
Motel Hell is a 1980 horror comedy film directed by Kevin Connor and starring Rory Calhoun as farmer, butcher, and meat entrepreneur Vincent Smith. It is often seen as a satire of modern horror films such as Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Because of its low budget nature, the original intent was to make a serious horror film, with moments of disturbing wit and irony.
Farmer Vincent Smith and his younger sister Ida live on a farm with a motel attached. It's called “Motel Hello,” but the neon ‘O’ flickers. Vincent smokes meats which are said to be the most delicious in the area. The secret is human flesh, and Vincent has the areas around his motel strewn with various booby traps to catch victims. The victims are restrained, then placed in a 'secret garden,’ buried up to their necks, and have their vocal cords cut to prevent them from screaming. They are kept in the ground and fed until they are ready for harvest. Ida helps Vincent, who feels he does no wrong and sees the victims as animals.
Vincent shoots out the tires of a couple on a motorcycle. The male, Bo, is placed in the garden, but Vincent brings the female, Terry, to the motel. The next morning, Vincent and Ida's naïve brother, Sheriff Bruce, arrives. Vincent tells Terry her boyfriend died in the accident and was buried: a trip to the graveyard shows his crude grave marker. Terry, having nowhere else to go, decides to stay at the motel. Vincent and Ida subsequently capture more victims for the garden while Vincent uses his folksy charm to woo Terry, much to Bruce's dislike, who tries to woo her himself without much success.
Vincent captures more victims by placing a pack of cardboard cow roadblocks to entice victims, and luring in a pair of swingers who have read a fake ad and believe the hotel to be a swing joint. The next day, he suggests he teach Terry to smoke meat. Ida becomes jealous and attempts to drown Terry, but Vincent arrives to save her. This is catalyst for Terry, who tries to seduce Vincent. He agrees to marry her the next day.
Bruce drives down to the motel to protest Terry's choice. He tells Terry Vincent has 'syphilis of the brain,’ perhaps providing a reason for his behavior, before Vincent appears and chases his brother with a shotgun. To prepare for the wedding, Vincent, Terry, and Ida drink champagne, but Ida drugs it so Terry passes out. Ida and Vincent then prepare some victims for the wedding. Meanwhile, Bruce does detective work and becomes suspicious of his brother.
Vincent and Ida kill three victims and take them to Vincent's meat processing plant. Doing so loosens the dirt around Bo, and he begins to escape. Bruce sneaks back to the motel to rescue Terry, but Ida returns and ambushes Bruce when he leaves the room. She knocks him out, and then takes Terry at gunpoint to the meat processing plant. Meanwhile, Bo escapes and frees the other victims. Vincent sends Ida back to the motel to fetch his brother, but the victims knock her out. Terry tries to escape, but Vincent gasses her, and then ties her to a conveyor belt. He is interrupted by Bo, who crashes through a window, but Vincent strangles the weakened man.
Bruce awakens, finds one of his brother's shotguns, and goes to the plant, but finds that his brother has armed himself with a giant chainsaw and placed a pig's head over his own as a gruesome mask . Vincent disarms his brother, but Bruce grabs his own chainsaw and duels Vincent. During the fight, the belt Terry is tied to activates, sending her slowly towards a cutting blade. Despite suffering several wounds, Bruce drives the chainsaw deep into Vincent's side. Bruce frees Terry and then returns with her to his brother, who gasps his final words, leaving the farm and 'secret garden' to Bruce, and then lamenting that he was a hypocrite because he used preservatives.
Bruce and Terry go to the ‘secret garden’ and find it empty, except for Ida, who is buried head first. They head past the motel, while Bruce comments how he was glad he left home when he was eleven. Terry suggests burning the motel, claiming it is evil. The sign saying “Motel Hello” finally fully shorts out, permanently darkening the ‘O’.
- The movie was filmed at the famous Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, California with the white brick stable building as the backdrop to the motel and farm. The building and Sable Ranch locations were used in the filming of hundreds of both Hollywood and independent movies and TV shows for over 60 years. Interiors of the motel, farm, and smokehouse were filmed at the Laird International Studios in Culver City, California.
- In 2002, MGM released Motel Hell as part of its "Midnite Movies" collection of double feature DVDs. It was released along with the 1974 feature film Deranged.
- On August 12, 2014, a Collector's Edition Blu-ray will be released by Scream Factory.
The distinctive taste of Farmer Vincent's (Rory Calhoun) prime meats is renowned in the farmer's rural area. In fact people come from far and wide to sample his uniquely delicious meat treats. The only real question is why is there rarely anyone staying in his nearby motel and yet the `No Vacancy' sign is usually on?
‘Motel Hell' is a fun and somewhat graphic parody of films like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (1974) and ‘The Last House on the Left' (1972). By sparingly using shock tactics and graphic effects, ‘Motel Hell' plays up the more satirical aspect and keeps the viewer interested and entertained. In fact, the movie easily equals the number of shocking moments with a variety of funny and charming sequences which range from heckling televangelists to a hilarious send-up of the lives of swingers. Viewers of ‘Motel Hell' can be treated to a chainsaw duel (possible influence for ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2'), a garden of humans being prepared for harvesting, cannibalism and a particularly stomach-churning conversation about smoking dogs. This movie is without a doubt one of the most underrated movies of its era and while not being as effective, or enjoyable, as ‘Re-Animator' (1985) and ‘Evil Dead 2' (1987), it remains an intelligent, gruesome and witty horror/comedy. Unfortunately the movie tends to drag a little shortly before the final sequences which can be slightly off-putting. However, the highly enjoyable and eventful ten minutes more than make up for this brief lapse and round the film off almost perfectly.
Rory Calhoun, without a shadow of a doubt, steals the show with his portrayal of the deranged yet surprisingly pleasant Vincent. Some adept scripting from Robert and Steven-Charles Jaffe give his murderous character a somewhat pleasant and appealing personality. The viewer can only laugh at the God-fearing persona that Vincent possesses as he talks about the creative and artistic way he catches stray humans to mix in with his meat. Rory is brilliantly accompanied by Nancy Parsons in the role of his overweight and slightly dim-witted sister Ida. One could even question whether Ida is supposed to be a female and slightly more intelligent version of TCM's Leatherface. The rarely seen and beautiful actress Nina Axelrod is also delightful in her role as Terry, a young woman who was caught in but survived one of Vincent's devious traps. Unfortunately the scripting for the character of Terry was rather poor and it becomes hard for the viewer to connect with her. However, given the material she had to work with, Nina put in an impressive performance and when required, added greatly to the humorous aspect of the movie. One cannot also neglect to mention Paul Linke who plays Vincent's (much) younger brother Sheriff Bruce Smith. Linke's performance, although the weakest of the main actors, is still enjoyable and provides both a villain and a hero in one.
Kevin Connor's direction was of a particularly high standard although it seemed basic during the opening portions of the movie. Connor managed to capture the devilish yet fun atmosphere of the script and worked in all of the clever references to other movies seamlessly. These references (in addition to those already mentioned) included a captivating comedic illustration of ‘Night of the Living Dead' (1968) and Zombie Holocaust which was released in Italy earlier the same year. ‘Motel Hell' is probably worth watching for horror/comedy fans; though do not expect another ‘Evil Dead 2'. Thanks to some usually good scripting, above average performances and some truly side-splitting situations, ‘Motel Hell' succeeds at what it sets out to be - great fun for cheesy horror lovers! My rating for ‘Motel Hell' – 7/10.
Review by: Snake-666 from England 2 November 2003
|Directed by||Kevin Connor|
|Produced by||Robert Jaffe|
|Written by||Robert Jaffe|
Tim Tuchrello (uncredited)
|Music by||Lance Rubin|
|Cinematography||Thomas Del Ruth|
|Edited by||Bernard Gribble|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Release date(s)||*October 18, 1980|
|Running time||102 minutes|
- Rory Calhoun as Vincent Smith
- Paul Linke as Sheriff Bruce Smith
- Nancy Parsons as Ida Smith
- Nina Axelrod as Terry
- Wolfman Jack as Reverend Billy
- Elaine Joyce as Edith Olson
- Dick Curtis as Guy Robaire / 1st TV Preacher
- Monique St. Pierre as Debbie
- Rosanne Katon as Suzi
- E. Hampton Beagle as Bob Anderson
- Everett Creach as Bo Tulinksi
- Michael Melvin as Ivan
- John Ratzenberger as Drummer
- Marc Silver as Guitarist
- Victoria Hartman as Female Terrible
- Gwil Richards as Mr. Owen
- Toni Gillman as Mrs. Richards