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Details

Director: Kevin Connor
Writer: Robert Jaffe, Steven-Charles Jaffe
Cast: Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons
Year: 1980
Length: 101 min
Rating: R
Region: A/1
Disks: 2
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: August 12, 2014

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio:  English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: English

Extras
  • It Takes All Kinds: The Making of Motel Hell
  • Shooting Old School with Thomas Del Ruth<
  • Ida, Be Thy Name: The Frightful Females of Fear: Panel discussion on women as horror villains
  • From Glamour to Gore: Rosann Katon Remembers Motel Hell<
  • Another Head on the Chopping Block: An Interview with Paul Linke
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Behind the Scenes Gallery
  • Posters and Production Stills Gallery

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MHBRCover72dpiMotel Hell is a welcome change-of-pace; it’s to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as Airplane! is to “Airport.” 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

What better way is there to discuss Motel Hell than by opening with a quote from Ebert? Ebert was a man who unabashedly hated most horror films, even going as far as to consider them dangerous. So what was it about Motel Hell that Ebert found so entertaining? The quick answer seems to be reflexivity/parody. A cursory glance at Ebert’s reviews showcases his appreciation for numerous films that exploit horror conventions for comedic and/or reflexive ends: Motel Hell is one of these films. Originally slated to be a darker, non-comedic film, Motel Hell’s script was altered when Kevin Connor signed on to direct. With Connor on board, the film became what we know (and love) today. For those who have recently come to find Motel Hell for the first time, the film may seem a bit obvious and conventional, but keep in mind Motel Hell was on the cusp of ’80s horror cinema, helping to usher in a tone whose influence is still prominent today:

“I’ve no idea why it has become a cult classic. The major difference to the slasher films is as I said before, that you never see any violence or blood – it is all suggested. It’s what you don’t see and imagine that has the effect.”
-Kevin Connor (Director of Motel Hell)

The Film

After their tires on their motorcycle blow out and they crash, Terry (Nina Axelrod) and Bo (Everett Creach) are taken to Farmer Vincent’s motel/farm, Motel Hello. After nursing Terry back to health, Farmer Vincent (Rory Calhoun), along with his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons), inform her that Bo hasn’t survived the crash (or so they say). Taking refuge at the farm/motel, Terry quickly falls under the spell of the wholesome, charismatic Vincent. Entering the picture shortly after is Vincent and Ida’s dimwitted brother, Bruce (Paul Linke). Bruce takes a liking to Terry, and begins trying to court her. Bruce’s plan is foiled, however, when Terry reveals her feelings for Vincent. Regionally famous, known across the Deep South for his renowned smoked meats, Vincent is more than he appears, and the film is quick to reveal it. Vincent’s motto, “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters,” turns out to be more literal than originally thought. As the audience soon learns, Vincent and Ida’s secret ingredient is human. Trapping and kidnapping their prey, Vincent and Ida “plant” the humans in their secret garden, keeping them alive and fattening them up until their inevitable slaughter/harvest date approaches.

Kevin Connor's Motel Hell (1980) [click to enlarge]

Kevin Connor’s Motel Hell (1980) [click to enlarge]

Motel Hell has often been compared to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—as Ebert, himself does—but while the film is clearly using TCM as a referent, anyone expecting the gritty darkness of Hooper’s classic will surely be let down. In fact, any explicit attempt to reduce the film to any single referent will fail, because Motel Hell can’t help but be singular. Surely, the filmmakers are without a doubt paying homage—even mocking—TCM, with its chainsaw-wielding finale and depictions of slaughter, but the result is more than simple replication; it is innovation.

The parodic tendencies at bay in Motel Hell result in a genuinely funny film, and open it up to a multitude of readings. Not a prevailing interpretation by any stretch of the imagination, but an interesting task nonetheless, is to read the film as being concerned with animal rights. By aligning pleasure with the consumption of smoked human meat and placing humans in roles generally occupied by animals, the film paints and personalizes a rather disgusting depiction of the meat industry and human’s desire to consume flesh. However, the film has generally been understood more in terms of excess and genre in relation to the horror industry.

Kevin Connor's Motel Hell (1980) [click to enlarge]

Kevin Connor’s Motel Hell (1980) [click to enlarge]

Despite the film’s meager budget, the picture quality is surprising. One might expect that, because Connor was still very much new to the industry himself—with only a few low budget features under his belt—and it being cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth’s debut feature (he would go on to shoot Stand By Me, The Breakfast Club, and The Running Man), that Motel Hell would be riddled with errors. This assumption is, for the most part, incorrect. There are a few glitches here and there, but overall the film is pleasant to look at— with the scenes in the garden standing out the most. Shot with a soft, hazy look;,the garden takes on a dreamlike essence—with Del Ruth, in the included interview, even referring to the garden as the “magical garden.” Nothing that appears in the film is photographed in quite the same manner, leaving the viewer with a distinct feeling associated with the planting and harvesting of humans. In contrast, scenes inside the slaughterhouse are almost underexposed, the grittiness and gain heightened to create a sense of tension.In juxtaposition, the visual make up of these scenes does a lot to push forward the message of the film, to connect the fantastical with the horrific.

While Connor/Del Ruth’s collaboration yields impressive results within the confines of the paltry budget, the film’s core lies with the actors. While horror may be hard, comedy is often harder, yet all of the principle characters play their parts with ease. An absolute dedication to their character from the actors, no matter how ridiculous those characters may be, gives Motel Hell the edge that it needs to defy its own absurdity. While each of the characters is perfect for their roles in their own right, Rory Calhoun as Farmer Vincent is the glue that holds this picture together. His charm is felt off-screen, and despite the silliness of his final words, they are delivered with an earnest passion.

Kevin Connor's Motel Hell (1980) [click to enlarge]

Kevin Connor’s Motel Hell (1980) [click to enlarge]

Video

Motel Hell offers a bit of a conundrum in terms of video quality. While it can’t be said that this is Scream Factory’s best-looking print, it is hard to pinpoint where the degradation in the image is coming from. The 1.85:1, AVC Encoded 1080p picture is at times very pleasing. The colors are quite remarkable: sharp, with a depth of contrast and shades. Overall, film grain is kept faithfully intact; however, there are numerous incidents that display hefty amounts of grain. While, in the past films these inconsistencies, when they appear, have been non-distracting, there are a few scenes in Motel Hell that call attention to the noise. To this reviewer’s eye, the noise always seemed like natural film grain and not digital artifacts; so it is possible that the print suffers strongest in the original filmic elements, not as a result of a poor transfer.

Kevin Connor's Motel Hell (1980) [click to enlarge]

Kevin Connor’s Motel Hell (1980) [click to enlarge]

Audio

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix suffers from problems that a lot of low budget films do: lack of definition/clarity. With that being said, the transfer is not bad in particular. There are moments of dialogue that get a bit lost in the mix, but overall the audio track is adequate, with no age-related damage to report. If you are expecting a verbose, complex track you are looking at the wrong film; what we have here is a faithful representation of the meager original elements that exist.

Kevin Connor's Motel Hell (1980) [click to enlarge]

Kevin Connor’s Motel Hell (1980) [click to enlarge]

Extras

Like all other of their Collector’s Edition packages, Scream Factory has put together an excellent array of assets to dive into. Interviews with the cast and crew are strewn across five featurettes, resulting in nearly an hour and a half of material. A treat for cinephiles, like the recent Without Warning release, Motel Hell features a great interview with cinematographer Del Ruth, where he discusses the restraints of low budget filmmaking. Another worthy and appreciated addition is the Ida, Be Thy Name: The Frightful Females of Fear featurette, where a panel discuss the image of women a horror villains. It is refreshing to see this type of content continually show up on Scream Factory releases, as in-depth (and removed) analyses of films are often just as thought-provoking—if not more so—than the more standard cast/crew take. Rounding out the package are two galleries, an original trailer for the film, and a commentary track with director Kevin Connor and filmmaker Dave Parker.

Kevin Connor's Motel Hell (1980) [click to enlarge]

Kevin Connor’s Motel Hell (1980) [click to enlarge]

Bottom Line

Motel Hell has remained a sort of horror rite of passage, a must-see film that no horror fan feels complete without having experienced. Despite its immense cult fan base, the film has still managed to evade distributors’ eyes, only now landing its first Region A Blu-ray release—with only a handful of prior DVD, VHS, and Laserdiscs of varying quality. But, with Scream Factory behind this release, fans know what they are getting into. A gorgeous package, featuring new artwork—one of the finest commissions by Scream Factory yet—by Nathan Thomas Milliner, and the original artwork on the reversible side, this Blu-Ray is for sure a visual marvel.