Wednesday, August 13, 2014

MOTEL HELL (1980) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)

Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 101 Minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Cast: Rory Calhoun, Nancy Parson, Nina Axelrod, Wolfman Jack
Director: Kevin Connor

MOTEL HELL may just be one of the strangest slasher entries of the nineteen eighties. We have a cannibal farmer named Vincent (Rory Calhoun, The Red House) and his portly sister Ida (Nancy Parsons, Porky's) who run the welcoming Motel Hello just off a country road in the middle of nowhere. The duo sell a tasty variety of smoked meats to tourist under the name of Farmer Vincent's Fritters. They're motto is "It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent's fritters!", some of these critters just happen to be of the human variety.

That fun premise alone would be just odd enough but the producers of Motel Hell take it to even weirder places. Farmer Vincent is portrayed with straight-faced comedic perfection by Rory Calhoun who sets up elaborate traps on the roadways to ensnare fresh meat. My favorite scenario involves luring would-be swingers to the hotel under false pretense and a series of cows decoys - this is just fun stuff. But wait, it gets weirder! Vincent doesn't put his meat to the grinder right away - no sir! He plants them in a secret garden buried up to their necks with a burlap sack covering their heads. He then cuts their vocal chords and are fed cream corn through a series of funnels until they are ripe for slaughter. Now they're entranced by a psychedelic translucent pinwheel and plucked like a carrot from the ground. Vincent's strange gardening activities are shared by his demented sister Ida played by Nancy Parsons who is simply exquisite with her dry delivery and strange mannerisms. It's a damn shame we didn't to see more of her in these types of roles because she is a blast. 

Apparently not all tourists are destined for the smokehouse when Farmer Vincent develops a crush on a pretty young gal named Terry (Nina Axelrod, Remote Control). Scooping her up off the road following and accident he caused he brings her back to the motel after planting her boyfriend in his special garden. When she wakes Vincent explains that her boyfriend Bo (Everett Creach, Howard the Duck) was killed in the motorcycle accident, with nowhere else to go Terry decides to stay on at the motel. Vincent and Ida set about teaching Terry how to properly smoke a sausage... if you know what I mean. Over time Terry quite improbably agrees to marry the much older Vincent to the dismay of his distrusting sister. When Vincent's dimwitted brother Bruce (Paul Linke, TV's CHiPS) develops his own amorous feelings for Terry things turn sour - even more so when he discovers that big brother is turning tourists into breakfast sausages. 

When it is revealed to Bruce that his demented brother is stuffing his sausage with more than just pork products we are treated to a classic chainsaw vs. chainsaw battle that pre-dates Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) with farmer Vincent wearing a pig's head! Motel Hell is a strange and wonderful slasher with lots of quirk and black humor -  the wit is wry and the happenings are bizarre. The film has left an indelible mark on horror cinema - it's influence can  be seen in the indie film Porkchop (2010) with a pig-faced killer to Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror featuring a chef doubting his choices just before expiring

Motel Hell is a true cult-classic that just gets better with each subsequent viewing. This is one of my favorite movies and it comes highly recommended. It might be interesting to note that Tobe Hooper was originally tapped to direct this film but jumped ship to direct the carnival-slasher The Funhouse (1981). Watching it one cannot help but notice the similarities with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) which shares not just a weird sense of humor but the dueling chainsaw battle.     

Blu-ray: Having picked-up the Arrow Video Blu-ray last year I was still pretty damn excited to see this bizarre entry get a US release from none other than Scream Factory who are just on fire with a string of quality titles. Just in the past few months we've seen the first-ever DVD/BD releases of The Final Terror (1983) and Without Warning (1980) and jam-packed editions of genre favorites. From what I can see comparing the UK disc with this it's the same HD transfer and is a significant improvement over the previous MGM DVD with very nice colors reproduction, clarity and moments of fine detail. Some of the darker scenes can be a bit grainy but I've never been one to complain about a little grain - just glad it's not rampant with digital noise or marred by excessive DNR. Staying true to the original exhibition we have a DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo Audio is nice if unremarkable. The dialogue, Lance Rubin's score and effects come through crisp and clean with no distortion. 

Onto the extras lets begin with a few High Rising Productions produced extras carried over from the Arrow Blu-ray. Co-star Paul Linke gets a video interview with Another Head on the Chopping Block (14:50) as does former Playboy Playmate, Rosanne Katon with From Glamour to Gore (11:26). Porky's alum Nancy Parsons gets her own retrospective in Ida, Be Thy Name (18:07) with interviews from Scream Queens Elissa Dowling and Chantelle Albers, genre commentator Staci Layne Wilson and critic Shelagh Rowan-Legg.

We don't get the director commentary from the Arrow version but instead get a brand new audio commentary from the director moderated by Dave Parker - the director of The Hills Run RedThe new making of doc It Takes All Kinds: The Making of MOTEL HELL (24:33) is exclusive to this release with new interviews from director Kevin Connor and producer Robert and Steven Charles Jaffe plus actor Marc Silver - a fantastic new feature and the one that pushes this one past the Arrow release as the must-own edition of Motel Hell. The other new video feature is Shooting Old School with cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth (15:45).

The Collector's Edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory comes with a limited Edition slipcover featuring new artwork from Nathan Thomas Millner featuring the chainsaw wielding pig-faced killer bathed in that ominous neon-red.Millner who also did the artwork for one of my favorite pieces commissioned by Scream, that being the The Burning Blu-ray. There's also the standard sleeve of reversible art featuring the original theatrical poster art. 

- NEW Audio Commentary with director Kevin Connor, moderated by filmmaker Dave Parker
- NEW It Takes All Kinds: The Making of MOTEL HELL featuring interviews with director Kevin Connor, producers/writers Robert Jaffe and Steven Charles Jaffe and actor Marc Silver (24:33)
- NEW Shooting Old School with cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth (15:45)
- Another Head on the Chopping Block: An interview with actor Paul Linke (14:51)
- From Glamour to Gore: An interview with actress Rosanne Katon
- Ida, Be Thy Name: A look back at MOTEL HELL’s frightful female protagonist Ida Smith (18:09)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2:40)
- Behind the Scenes Gallery (19 Images) 

-  Poster and Production Gallery (73 Images) 
- Scream Factory Trailer (7:05) 

Verdict: A strange and quirky slasher entry with an awkward balance of skewed humor and straight faced horror which makes for an odd but awesome viewing experience that just gets better with every viewing.  I love me some Motel Hell and can safely say that this is the definitive edition of the film - a must own slice of offbeat slasher cinema.