Motel Hell (1980)


(director: Kevin Connor; screenwriter: Robert Jaffe/Steven-Charles Jaffe; cinematographer: Thomas del Ruth; editor: Bernard Gribble; music: Lance Rubin; cast: Rory Calhoun (Vincent Smith), Nancy Parsons (Ida Smith), Paul Linke (Sheriff Bruce Smith), Nina Axelrod (Terry), Wolfman Jack (Reverend Billy), Everett Creach (Bo), E. Hampton Beagle (Bob); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Robert Jaffe/Steven-Charles Jaffe; United Artists/MGM; 1980)
“It’s meant to be weird, campy and funny but settles for being tasteless, gruesomely awkward and moronic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Britisher Kevin Connor (“The Land That Time Forgot”-1974/” At the Earth’s Core”-1976/”The People That Time Forgot”-1977) directs this repulsive gross-out horror film about rednecks serving up motorists in their smoked meats. It’s meant to be weird, campy and funny but settles for being tasteless, gruesomely awkward and moronic. It’s written and produced by Robert and Steven-Charles Jaffe, with the screenplay proving to be crude without anything else in its favor. It’s meant to be in the same vein as “I Spit on Your Grave,” “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “The Hills Have Eyes,” and succeeds only in investing the film with self-parody for the redneck horror genre film.

Genial farmer Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun) and his evangelical loving portly sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) run the backwoods Motel Hello in redneck territory, but the neon letter o is out giving the impression it’s named Hell (think Bates Motel in Psycho). For the last thirty years Vincent has being serving human beings as smoked meat and has become famous for selling such a tasty product to his unaware customers, who because of his reputation of serving such quality meats at a low cost without preservatives have come from far distances to sample his products. Vincent gets his meat supply by causing cars to go off the road by setting chains across the road and then harvests his catch of motorists as he plants them in the ground in his secret garden, pumps them up with cattle feed, cuts out their vocal chords with a sharp knife (the film’s most effective gory images are of the imprisoned buried up to their necks and sounding off like pigs with their throats slit). When the vics are ready Vincent takes them to the slaughterhouse and then to the smokehouse, and with the help of his overeating sis prepares them like one would regular animal meat. Vincent also uses the motel guests for his meat supply.

A pretty young blonde named Terry (Nina Axelrod) survives one of Vincent’s bear traps while riding on the back seat of a motorcycle driven by her boyfriend Bo and is nursed back to health by Ida on Vincent’s orders, while Bo is buried by Vincent without an autopsy (in reality he’s planted in the garden). That this burial without notifying the next of kin or authorities is legal is seconded by the sheriff Bruce Smith (Paul Linke), who happens to be Vincent’s cloddish kid brother. While Vincent has plans to eventually bring Terry into the business of his smoked meat business and treats her in a kindly paternal way while the loner gal resides in his motel and recovers from her shocking loss, Bruce develops a romantic interest in her. But Terry falls for Vincent and is set to marry him when all hell breaks loose, as the jealous Bruce clashes with his kinfolk to save the girl he loves. The film reaches a climax at the end, when it suddenly wakes up and becomes grotesque in a way such a sleazy film is expected to and has Vincent dressed in a severed pig’s head fight a chain saw duel with his brother dressed in his cop uniform. The funniest dialogue moment has Farmer Vincent tell us the reason why he thinks he’s doing good in the world is because “There are too many people in the world and not enough food.”