Motel Hell (1980)
★★★ / ★★★★
Farmer Vincent’s smoked sausages, though not internationally available, was renowned for its unparalleled tasty goodness. Excited travelers often checked into the motel, managed by Farmer Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and Ida (Nancy Parsons), just so they could try the local delicacy. But the farmer and his sister had something brewing a couple of yards away from the motel. In one of their well-camouflaged gardens, they planted people in the ground, neck-deep, removed their victims’ vocal cords so they couldn’t scream, and fattened them up so, when the time came, their flesh could be used as the secret ingredient to be mixed in with the pork. Written by Robert Jaffe, Steven-Charles Jaffe, and Tim Tuchrello, “Motel Hell” was an inventive macabre story about cannibalism which supported the idea that real horror is embedded in the details. Much of the picture was plagued with comedic eccentricities in order to dilute the evil happenings in the farm. The brother and sister had a sly sense of humor which was very appropriate because we got to know them as more than serial killers who liked to cut people up and serve them to the public. As much as they took glee in watching people compliment their meat, they took greater pleasure in the hunt. The duo set traps, like putting cardboard cows in the middle of the road, to capture their victims’ attention. Since the campiness was given more screen time than the torture and the gore, I almost wanted the outsiders to get out of their vehicles and investigate. Furthermore, with each person who was captured, we got to know a little bit more about Vincent and Ida’s deranged methods. Just how did they avoid being caught without so much as a suspicion from their friends and neighbors? The motel was always empty but it was always open. One had to wonder. There was a lack of a strong hero or heroine which, surprisingly, did not work against the film. There was Sheriff Bruce (Paul Linke), Vincent and Ida’s brother, who had no idea about what was happening in the farm. I wish it was explained why his siblings didn’t let him in on the secret. His being a man of the law was not good enough. After all, Vincent and Ida could have exploited their brother’s profession as protection from investigators like the ill-fated animal inspector (E. Hampton Beagle). And then there was Terry (Nina Axelrod), “rescued” by Vincent after she and her boyfriend fell into one of the traps. She slept most of the time. When she woke, she walked around and expressed her disbelief in quickly being accustomed to farm life. I had to scoff; she didn’t lift a finger to help out with chores or the business. Vincent and Ida smiled forcefully. I shared their sentiment. There was an awkwardly funny subplot involving Terry’s attraction toward Vincent who was probably around twenty years older than her. Ida felt threatened. One had to wonder if she was attracted, subconsciously or otherwise, to her own brother. “Motel Hell,” directed by Kevin Connor, nicely straddled the line between showing something full-on and simply suggesting an idea or an image. I found it refreshing, even for its time when slasher films dominated, that I wasn’t able to predict which parts were going to be shown and which were going to be left to the imagination.