Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Review: Motel Hell

Synopsis: A horror-comedy movie about the seemingly nice Smith family, proprietors of both a motel and a smoked meat company. But what is the terrifying secret behind the special flavor of the "Farmer Vincent" pork products?

Review: "Motel Hell" is quite a difficult film to gauge. It is referred to as a horror-comedy, but that description isn't very accurate, as it is more weird than funny and more macabre than scary.

The story revolves around a couple of hoteliers (played by Rory Calhoun and Nancy Parsons), who have a side business selling fine smoked meats. But what makes the meats so good is the terrifying secret ingredient of human flesh.

I have to say, going into this film, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. With cannibalism being a factor in the film, you might be expecting a lot of gruesome scenes. Yet, surprisingly, there is very little in the way of graphic gore to be found. The story is also a bit odd, in that there are some scenes that seem to drag on, yet give you little in the way of a pay-off. Also, most of the acting is fairly poor. Whether this is due to the lack of skills of the actors, or a case of a script that gives them little to work with, I can't really say. The side drama about the love triangle involving Terry (played by Nina Axelrod) and the brother of the cannibal farmer, who is also the town's Sheriff (played by Paul Linke), is little more than a strained (and sometimes dull) attempt to set up the final conflict between the brothers. Although, the film can boast of being an early work for actor John Ratzenberger (who would go onto heights of television fame on the series "Cheers"). Unfortunately, he gets very little to do in the film (including not a single piece of dialog) being nothing more than a victim to be killed. Director Kevin Connor never really seems to bring the story to life, until towards the very end. And if you haven't found yourself engaged long before that point, it probably won't much matter to you. The cinematography is fine, but it feels like it would play better on an old drive-in screen, than on your television, which is probably only fitting, as the film was obviously geared for such a venue.

The only things that save this film from the scrap pile, are the last 20 minutes of the film and the solid performance of Rory Calhoun as the cannibalistic farmer. He manages to make you believe both his down-home country manners and his twisted psychotic reasoning in killing people for food. His performance stands high above anyone else in the film. And the final battle at the film's end also brings a spark of life to what, up until this point, has been a very strange and slow-moving tale. When Calhoun's character comes out wearing a pig's head and wielding a chainsaw, it is truly a sight to behold.

As I said at the start, "Motel Hell" is a hard film to figure out. It's not really good and looks extremely dated today, but neither is it total crap and completely uninteresting. Die-hard horror buffs might want to check this one out, but I highly doubt many others would have much interest in this cult film. It really is an enigma in the world of horror cinema.

Rating: 1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

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