Nina Axelrod an Jack
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Motel Hell (1980)
4th May 13
Meat's meat, and a man's gotta eat!
Back in 1980, English director Kevin Connor – who had previously helmed classics like The Land that Time Forgot - was having trouble finding work in Los Angeles, when a fortuitous encounter eventually landed him the job of directing this oddball little horror movie. He accepted on one condition: that it plays for laughs.
The plot centres around Farmer Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons), who run Motel Hello whilst also enjoying the reputation of producing the best smoked meat to be found anywhere. You can see where this is going already, right? People meat is the order of the day, because “it takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!”
Vincent routinely sets traps on a nearby road to ensure traffic accidents, quickly rescuing the still living victims and planting them in his “secret garden” until needed. When a young female victim, Terry (Nina Axelrod), is lucky enough to be spared becoming jerky, Vincent’s Sheriff brother, Bruce (Paul Linke), takes a shine to her but she ends up falling for Vincent, as she inexplicably starts to feel at home in this strange backwood. But how long will Farmer Vincent and rotund kin Ida get away with this unorthodox meat smoking? And just how secure are those squirming bodies in the secret garden?
Motel Hell owes a lot to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre without blatantly ripping it off. It’s more of an affectionate pastiche with all that nastiness replaced by good humour, and despite the fact that some of the jokes are way too old hat, you won’t mind much because the overall effect is great fun. And despite the obvious inspiration, it actually feels somewhat unique and original, mostly due to the feature of their secret garden, which, trust me, has to be seen to be believed. It’s seriously weird stuff.
Rory Calhoun is on top form as the main man, Farmer Vincent. The veteran actor of countless Westerns – not to mention Night of the Lepus and Hell Comes to Frogtown - is immensely likeable throughout which is no mean feat considering he’s playing a human flesh farmer. And he’s clearly enjoying every last minute of it. In fact the entire cast is flawless here. Calhoun is assisted by Nancy Parsons whose presence, as well as her physical girth, fills the room, and her facial expressions are a dream for any director. Credit also to Paul Linke, whose Sheriff of Buffoonery delights at every turn; the guy is born to play the role. Which is quite fortunate, considering it was written especially for him. Oh, and John Ratzenberger from Cheers also features as the drummer in a rock band who fall foul to Vincent’s meat sourcing.
Given that most of today’s horror movies are either remakes or a po-faced bores (or both), it’s so refreshing to see a finely aged classic like this, which isn’t afraid to laugh at itself while also managing to keep the viewer completely engaged in its bizarre plot. Even if you didn’t see it back in the day, you will probably be familiar with the almost iconic image of Farmer Vincent wearing a pig’s head and wielding a chainsaw. You don’t see that kind of stuff every day.
Arrow Video's Blu Ray presentation is top notch, and comes with the customary plethora of extras:
- High Def Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the film.
- Uncompressed original 2.0 Stereo PCM audio [Blu-ray].
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
- Audio commentary with director Kevin Connor moderated by Calum Waddell.
- “Another Head on the Chopping Block” - Interview with star Paul Linke.
- “From Glamour to Gore” - Interview with co-star, and former Playboy Playmate, Rosanne Katon
- “Ida, Be Thy Name” - A look back at Motel Hell’s frightful female protagonist Ida Smith and the secrets of creating a convincing slasher siren, with Scream Queens Elissa Dowling and Chantelle Albers, genre commentator Staci Layne Wilson and critic Shelagh Rowan-Legg.
- “Back to the Backwoods” - Director Dave Parker (The Hills Run Red) speaks about the importance of Motel Hell.
- Original Trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jeff Zornow.
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kim Newman, illustrated with original archive stills and posters, plus Motel Hell comic book extracts and exclusive interview with artist Chris Moreno.