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Blu-ray Review: 'Motel Hell'

Rory Calhoun in "Motel Hell"
Rory Calhoun in "Motel Hell"
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The Film:

“Motel Hell” is a cult classic from the 80s that has been described as something of a horror-“comedy.” This is a genre mashup that we’ve seen work marvelously several times before with films such as “The Evil Dead” trilogy, “”The Cabin in the Woods,” and “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” just to name a few. However, when it comes to this particular 80s flick, it becomes a rather odd label. In its story of Farmer Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and his sister, Ida (Nancy Parson), capturing and killing people to put into their famous smoked meats, there’s nothing that can really be considered comedy of even the blacker or satirical kind. Take the films mentioned earlier. Even when they’re not trying to be funny, some scenes are just so over the top that you can’t help but laugh. With “Motel Hell,” there’s nothing of that sort, nor is it making fun of anything in particular. In fact, it’s more accurate to say that it is what the writers (Robert and Steven-Charles Jaffe) think they’re making fun of: a cheesy horror film from an era that saw a multitude of them.

So, dismissing its comedy side that doesn’t really exist, we are left with an actual horror film to judge on its own merits, but even there “Motel Hell” doesn’t have much to offer. In that sense, it’s like a slasher film that’s stuck in a rut. The basic setup here is that Vincent sets traps for unsuspecting travelers, captures them, and brings them home to plant in their “garden,” where he and his sister prep them to be made into meat products. This is a setup we see several times throughout the film, so it becomes rather tedious pretty quickly. In an attempt to break this tedium, the writers throw in a half-baked love story involving a girl (Nina Axelrod) that Vincent “rescues” after her accident. Vincent’s brother, Bruce (Paul Linke), falls in love with her, but she falls in love with her rescuer. It’s a subplot that goes nowhere and is not nearly as interesting as the goings-on behind the scenes at Vincent’s motel, but it doesn’t stop them from trying to pad the film out with it. What we end up with is a dull and repetitive horror outing that lacks engaging material, and because of that, it’s something that only aficionados of bad horror cinema will take interest in. As for everyone else, it’s best to stay as far away from this motel as possible.

Video/Audio:

“Motel Hell” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85: 1, 1080p High Definition transfer that has been given amazing treatment from Shout! Factory. As usual, they’ve done a fantastic job cleaning up another low-budget horror flick, presenting an image that is incredibly sharp, with only small amounts of grain showing from time to time. The DTS-HD Master Audio is just slightly soft, but not enough to act as a hindrance to your experience. Overall, it’s doubtful that this small 34-year-old film could look or sound any better.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Kevin Connor, Moderated by Dave Parker
  • Interviews with Director Kevin Connor, Producers/Writers Robert Jaffe and Steven-Charles Jaffe, Cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth, and Actors Marc Silver, Paul Linke, and Rosanne Katon
  • Ida Be Thy Name: A Look Back at Motel Hell’s Frightful Protagonist, Ida Smith

Shout! Factory has once again provided a plethora of behind the scenes featurettes, featuring hours of interviews with the cast and crew, who take you through their experiences making the film. Also included is an interesting commentary, which is pretty much a feature-length interview with the director of the film conducted by filmmaker Dave Parker (a noted fan of the feature). Even though the film itself is of rather poor quality, these extras are still most definitely worth exploring.

Conclusion:

“Motel Hell” is a bland, repetitive, and forgettable horror film that has nothing interesting to offer to the genre. As always, Shout! Factory has done an admirable job restoring the film to optimal quality and providing a ton of fascinating in-depth extras, but it’s not nearly enough to cover up the fact that the film simply wasn’t worth the trouble of digging up, making this a release you can easily leave buried in obscurity.

Score: 2.5/5

Available on Blu-ray starting Tuesday.

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