Enjoy Your Stay at… – Motel Hell (1980)

Motel Hell is a horror film that is not so much as scary as it is funny. Perhaps it was not intentional to be as laughable as it was, but rather than take away from what they were trying to do, the movie actually turned out to be rather good, if a little overlong. Sometimes a little comedy can go a long way and that is true in this case as star Rory Calhoun, legendary actor known more for his western films than anything else, delivers a smart performance as the man with the best meats around, people not knowing that the sausages the man sells are cultivated from human flesh.

It all begins with a motorcycle accident, caused by Calhoun’s character Vincent Smith and from there, things spiral into the surreal. One victim who still lives, he plants in his garden and the woman he takes into his home. As she gets better, Smith and his sister who lives with him, become far more murderous as they intend to expand their garden. Nobody is safe except for Terry as played by Nina Axelrod, or at least one is led to believe. Insanity reigns and as Terry tries her best to survive it all, those that were planted in the garden to be harvested later, make their escape and seek vengeance upon those that put them there.

Despite everything that goes on throughout this movie, none of it would have worked if it were not for Calhoun whose performance was so over-the-top that it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Jack Nicholson might have been able to do it justice or even Dennis Hopper, but Calhoun channels his inner John Carradine and becomes the perfect villain. Part of it might be due to his unassuming nature. He looks and talks like an old Southern gentleman and obviously wants nothing more than to help Terry come to terms with her current situation. It is only when things start to get out of control, no thanks to his sister as played by Nancy Parsons, that the cracks start to show and the insanity that he embodies comes to the forefront.

There were few special effects needed for the film, almost all of it relying upon the cast to sell the events taking place and when they were present, they did not look half-bad. The music was decent and the direction by Kevin Connor good and overall, though it was not scary in the slightest, the movie ended up being entertaining enough to deliver more than a few gruesome chuckles. Motel Hell is campy, cheesy fun and is a nice break from the more serious type of films present in the genre.

4 out of 5

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