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I'm hard pressed to remember a movie that was so good and yet so bad at the same time.
Writers Robert Jaffe (DEMON SEED, NIGHTFLYERS) and Steven-Charles Jaffe (Producer, NEAR DARK and FLY II), I'm betting, tapped into daddy's money (Herb Jaffe: Producer, DEMON SEED, FRIGHT NIGHT I & II) to make this new take on cannibalism. And why not? Cannibal movies were trendy in the Horror genre of that time with the release of such scathing flicks as DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), ULTIMO MONDO CANNIBALE (1978), CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979), ZOMBI HOLOCAUST (1979), APOCALYPSE DOMINI (1980), MANGIATI VIVI (1980), SEXO CANNIBAL (1981), TERROR CANNIBAL (1981), DON'T GO NEAR THE PARK (1981), and CANNIBAL FEROX (1981). Once they recruited director Kevin Connor (FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS), they found themselves a suitably creepy hotel and a slaughter/smoke house and started rolling.
Rory Calhoun (HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN) stars as Farmer Vincent, known throughout the area for his outstanding smoked meats. Their flavor comes from a special ingredient, of course: people (what did you expect? Oregano? This is a horror flick!). With the aid of his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons: SUDDEN IMPACT, but perhaps best known for her role as Beulah Balbricker in the PORKY'S series), Vincent traps unsuspecting travelers and plants them in the ground for awhile. He slashes their voice boxes so they can't speak and feeds them through tubes. By day, he keeps their heads hidden beneath burlap sacks. Once they soften up enough, he kills and smokes them and adds them to his pork.
"FARMER VINCENT'S FRITTERS ARE MADE FROM PEOPLE! THEY'RE PEOPLE!"
What's neat about the characters is that they're sincere about what they do. All too often we see characters in horror flicks doing their unspeakable thing more or less because they just feel like it. Vincent and Ida, however, feel they are doing the world a service: not only are they solving overpopulation, they're fighting world hunger ("Yes, waiter, I'd like a side of SOYLENT GREEN with that, please . . .").
Their younger brother Bruce (Paul Linke: SPACE RAGE, SHRUNKEN HEADS), was a runaway as a youth, but came back home and became the local sheriff. His siblings, however, don't share their special recipes with him. Effectively, he's a bumbling idiot and they're all too happy to let him gorge himself on the meats.
Early one morning, Vince lays a trap for a couple on a motorcycle. Boyfriend Bo (Everett Creach: GARGOYLES, EMBRYO, THE CAR, PROPHECY, NEAR DARK, EVE OF DESTRUCTION) is planted with the others, but Vincent takes pity on lithe, young, and lovely Terry (Nina Axelrod: BRAINSTORM, CRITTERS 3). He carries her unconscious body back to the motel and forces Ida to nurse her back to health.
The main focus of the plot involves younger brother Bruce trying to win the affection of Terry. Only Terry is attracted to Vincent for saving her life (she seems attracted to old guys - Bo was no spring chicken himself). While Vincent continues to trap more people on the sly, Ida plots to do away with Terry before the girl discovers their secret. But too late as, inevitably, Vincent falls in love/lust with Terry himself and plans on showing her the "family secret." This would be a triangle between Vincent, Terry, and Bruce, were it not for Ida skulking around the edges. Merry Mishaps occur.
Unfortunately, the film lacks in execution. The first problem is that the film is fairly boring. There are several minor promising events, but they're over so quickly that you wonder why they even bothered shooting them.
The second problem is the writing, specifically where Terry is involved. She is understandably distraught by the death of her boyfriend (as well as the sudden disappearance of his body), and is rather creeped out by the two strangers that have taken her into their home. But when Vincent says "Hey, we saved you!" suddenly she's all sweet and happy and acts like the perfect little daughter. Then, when Bruce has her alone in his car, he puts the moves on her: Rather forcefully. Seconds later, they race off to answer a call of distress on the radio, and she's totally forgotten that he just tried to rape her.
The ending, to put it gently, is laughable. The big fight isn't so bad, but look for the horrible (and expected) cliché as Terry is strapped to the cutting board and moving toward the Big Saw (Holy cow, but did we know that was coming!). Then, as Vincent lays defeated, they suddenly feel bad for him as he delivers a horrible monologue.
I should say, however, that Calhoun's acting is what saves the film from the most horrible rating I could throw at it. Despite the cheesy ending (hey, he didn't write it), he puts in an even performance and took the whole thing seriously. Still, I have to wonder how the star of countless Western flicks found himself relegated to such a role. Even worse, the poor guy got stuck in HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN (the film that put the coup de grace to Rowdy Roddy Piper's acting career) before his death in '99. Sad.
Look for some other faces in MOTEL HELL, too. Almost legendary radio DJ Wolfman Jack (MIDNIGHT [with Tony Curtis - HA!]) puts in a cameo as the Reverend Billy. He mostly appears on television in the movie, doing the white-suited evangelist routine to beg for cash. When he later catches Bruce reading a "Hustler" magazine, he takes it to "ensure it is properly disposed of." Of course, it disappears into his valice.
Also keep an eye out for John Ratzenberger (HOUSE II, MONSTERS INC., THE INCREDIBLES). That's right, America's favorite know-it-all barfly, the mailman Cliff Clavin from Cheers. He doesn't even land a line in this flick, despite it being his tenth role. He's a drummer for the band "Ivan and the Terribles", all of whom are destined for Vincent's grinder. After being planted for awhile, Vincent and Ida hypnotize the poor guy and strangle him, during which he performs the most horrible of death expressions: the comically protruding tongue. I think there's little doubt his stint in Cheers and television was a step up from his movie career.
You'll see this one billed as a comedy in some places, but I don't buy it. Sure, there's some attempts at humor, such as when the swingers come to the motel lookin' for love, and there are a plethora of one-liners, but if you pick this one up watch it for the horror and save your sanity.
I give it three negative shriek girls for being so bad it's good.
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