Farmer Vincent (Calhoun) and his sister Ida (Parsons) make their own line of delicious smoked meats but the secret ingredient is human flesh. Vincent sets traps for passing motorists, buries the still living victims up to their heads in the ground, severs their vocal cords so they can’t scream and force feeds them until they are fat enough to be turned into his sausages – “it takes all sorts of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.”
After causing a young couple to crash, Vincent takes a shine to the woman, Terry (Axelrod), but she also attracts the interests of the local dimwitted Sheriff Bruce (Linke). Terry quickly forgets she ever had a boyfriend and inexplicably falls for Vincent’s elderly charms and spends much of the second half of the film either topless or in a wet-white t-shirt (for reasons clearly integral to the plot.) She also seems to forget that Ida has tried to kill her on several occasions.
Sheriff Bruce is predictably jealous and begins to uncover Vincent’s secrets, leading to the inevitable showdown – actually a pretty good chainsaw duel to the death.
There’s some pretty good lines (“Meats’ meat and a man’s gotta eat”) and an interesting, environmentally friendly message running through Motel Hell – Vincent genuinely believes he is helping the environment by harvesting humans rather than investing in the machine heavy machinery needed to breed livestock. It’d be nice to see Motel Hell redone with a little more made of this strand.
Motel Hell is also something of a black comedy, and there are a couple of stand out comedy scenes: the murder of a couple of swingers is one, as is Vincent and Ida taking some hippies on a ‘trip into outer space.’ Vincent’s final confession is a highlight too; but the problem is that these are isolated highlights in another wise fairly dull experience. Motel Hell is a hell of a central idea done reasonably well. There is just too much holding it back; it’s too slow a starter and it’s not smartly made. It also isn’t scary – thankfully there are almost none of the jump-scares which have spread like plague across modern horrors but it’s also lacking in atmosphere and tension and suspense.
There have been attempts to classify Motel Hell as a satire on (then) modern horror films, but the original intent was to make a serious horror movie with humorous aides.
The Verdict: Motel Hell doesn’t demand a viewing although I appreciate the dark humour and Calhoun’s performance as a politely deranged lunatic. If you stumble across it on late-night television it’s worth a watch, but only then.