Motel Hell – USA, 1980

“It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent Fritters”

Motel Hell is a 1980 American comedy horror feature film directed by Kevin Connor (The House Where Evil Dwells; At the Earth’s Core, Frankenstein[2004]; From Beyond the Grave), from a screenplay by producers Robert Jaffe and Steven-Charles Jaffe, and stars Rory Calhoun as farmer, butcher, and meat entrepreneur Vincent Smith. The movie is often seen as a satire of key genre films such as Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

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Farmer Vincent Smith and his younger sister Ida live on a farm with a motel attached. It’s called “Motel Hello,” but the neon ‘O’ flickers. Vincent smokes meats said to be the most delicious in the area. The secret is human flesh, and Vincent has the areas around his motel strewn with various booby traps to catch victims, including a couple of would-be swingers.

The victims are restrained, then placed in a ‘secret garden,’ buried up to their necks, and have their vocal chords cut to prevent them from screaming. They are kept in the ground and fed until they are ready for harvest. Ida helps Vincent, who feels he does no wrong and sees the victims as animals…

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Reviews:

“With its crazy characters, sick psychedelic scenes, oddly ecological message, multiple murders and manic performances, Motel Hell is a definite cult movie in every sense. Throwing in sex fiends, slaughtered pigs, chainsaw fights and a garden of live heads, the film keeps you entertained all the way through.” Love Horror

“The greatest delight in a film full of unexpected treats is the cast, headed by Rory Calhoun. Sometimes an actor who has been reliable but unremarkable finds a part which he was born to play, and in the case of Calhoun that part turned out to be Farmer Vincent. Years of playing the lead in cowboy movies has given him an aura of solid reliability and he uses this to brilliant effect, making the fundamentally crazy Vincent seem strangely reasonable and even heroic.” The Digital Fix

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  • Audio Commentary with director Kevin Connor, moderated by filmmaker Dave Parker
  • 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
  • Shooting Old School with cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth
  • Another Head on the Chopping Block: an interview with actor Paul Linke
  • 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
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Photo Galleries

“Campy and self-referential, filled with puns and sarcasm, Motel Hell is well deserving of the audience it didn’t find upon release. The screenplay doesn’t hold back and the director takes advantage of his opportunities […] In addition to the satirical gore and some flashes of nudity, Motel Hell offers a host of strange and amusing images or situations […] The only flaws are some weak or obvious jokes (e.g. the preacher reading Hustler, or the overeager swingers).” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers, Lulu, 2012

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“Despite its gruesome aesthetics, you’re not subjected to the signature slasher images associated with the others — the camera will cut away, for example, before you see Ida’s blade even touch the skin of her human pets — but despite it being wasted on its original audience, Motel Hell is, rather inexplicably, nostalgically charming and heart-warming in the oddest possible way.” Michelle Butterworth, Bring the Noise

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“Before it’s over, virtually every melodramatic cliche imaginable – including the heroine on the buzz saw – has been brought into play. The filmmakers make good use of stark lighting and gurgling sound effects to create their creepy atmosphere.” Videohound’s Complete Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics

Motel Hell could have been a great black comedy, but the uneasy direction of Kevin Connor, combined with the gore that comes with this territory, fails to get most of the picture off the ground.” James J. Mulay, The Horror Film, CineBooks, 1989motel_hell_2d_dual

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“It has some great moments, including a duel fought with chainsaws, a hero swinging to the rescue on a meathook, and Farmer Vincent’s dying confession of the shameful secret that he concealed for years. These moments illuminate the movie’s basic and not very profound insight, which is that most of the sleazoids would be a lot more fun if they didn’t take themselves with such gruesome solemnity.” Roger Ebert

“Played with a straight face, Motel Hell is not only seriously funny, but damn frightening […] The ending, which features a return of the dead-style siege of the would-be victims (still gurgling) and duelling chainsaws, is a bizarre high-watermark of low-budget 1980s horror films.” John Kenneth Muir, Horror Films of the 1980s, McFarland, 2007

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” …the farm is the epitome of Reagan’s America, where the grossest exploitation lurks just beneath the placid plastic surface, where murder is less blasphemous than sexual liberation, where idiotic families or tourists eat the most unutterable junk and the sheriff is ‘the biggest cannibal around’. Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

Cast and characters:

  • Rory Calhoun as Vincent Smith – Hell Comes to Frogtown; Night of the Lepus
  • Paul Linke … Bruce Smith
  • Nancy Parsons … Ida Smith
  • Nina Axelrod … Terry
  • Wolfman Jack … Reverend Billy
  • Elaine Joyce … Edith Olson
  • Dick Curtis … Guy Robaire / 1st T.V. Preacher
  • Monique St. Pierre … Debbie
  • Rosanne Katon … Suzi
  • E. Hampton Beagle … Bob Anderson
  • Everett Creach … Bo Tulinski
  • Michael Melvin … Ivan
  • John Ratzenberger … Drummer
  • Marc Silver … Guitarist
  • Victoria Hartman … Female Terrible
  • Gwil Richards … Mr. Owens
  • Toni Gilman … Mrs. Owens (as Toni Gillman)
  • Shaylin Hendrixson … Twin #1
  • Heather Hendrixson … Twin #2
  • Margot Hope … Dixie
  • Barbara Goodson … Voice #1 (voice)
  • Kim Fowler … Voice #2 (voice)

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Filming locations:

Exteriors filmed at Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, California, USA.

Interiors of the motel, farm, and smokehouse were filmed at the Laird International Studios in Culver City, California.

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