Motel Hell Movie Review


Motel Hell Movie Review
It's not soylent green.

Motel Hell

Horror movies these days seem to be a dime a dozen. They're made on a cheap budget and seem to gross huge numbers, but the problem with the movies that are coming out today is that they lack creativity. Once the studios get their hands on these properties, they clamp down and wring them dry of ideas. When we used to get different takes on the genre in the past, now it's all about what the bean counters really believe will bring in the cash.

It's a shame too. When the "horror" movie genre was revived with the release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and later Jaws (I consider it a mix of horror/thriller) and Halloween, movies were released at a fast and furious pace. The difference is is that we got a wide variety of genre defining films. Films like The Toxic Avenger, Basket Case, Renny Harlin's Prison, Friday The 13th, Evil Dead, Altered States and Cannibal Holocaust, are just a few of the movies to come out in the 80's that continually redefined what the horror genre was.

Whether they were independent films or major studio deals, the films that were produced during the 80's was such an eclectic offering that almost anything that could be made into a horror film was. Puppet Master, C.H.U.D., Prom Night, hell even Disney got into the horror movie scene with Something Wicked This Way Comes, which gave this genre legitimate credibility. There were even parody movies like Motel Hell.

Now, Motel Hell is one of those oddities that is so bad that it is actually good. It had budding stars like John Ratzenberger and Nancy Parsons (Beulah Balbricker from Porky's) and established actors like Rory Calhoun, famous for his westerns, Paul Linke who was more a character actor than anything else and of course Wolfman Jack.

The story behind Motel Hell is that Farmer Vincent makes the best-smoked meats in the world, all from his farm house in rural somewhere America. The secret ingredient is, of course, humans. Farmer Vincent and his sister Ida (in fact the entire family is in on this) set up traps to capture the "undesirables" that come to their tiny hamlet. They knock out their prisoners, bury them in the backyard and cut out their voice boxes so that they can't scream for help. Then the captives are fed to fatten them up and then harvested.

Now, I was too young at the time to see this movie in theaters. So when I was a bit older (13 or 14) I was allowed to watch these movies and at the same time, this started my fascination with Fangoria Magazine and one of the first ones that I picked up was their issue for Motel Hell that had the pig head cover on it. I was hooked. Fangoria gave me what I wanted out of a movie "behind the scenes" magazine.

Fangoria Magazine was my entry into a life that I never had dreamed was even possible. They were my movie source. I don't think there were many magazines that went as in-depth as they did with their articles on movies that were coming out. Sure there was Cinefantastique, Starlog, and others like them, but in retrospect, no magazine could touch Fangoria for its ability to give their readers a real look at movie productions.

The reason I brought that up, is because Fangoria was responsible for putting Motel Hell on the map for me. It was a "must see". I had consumed a lot of horror movies like the Halloween series, Friday the 13th, Wolfen, The Howling, etc, etc. But the images that Motel Hell brought up reminded me of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and of course, that made me want to see this movie even more.


Motel Hell is not a movie that has left a lasting impression. As a parody, it works well. They don't pander to the audience for the cheap laugh, even the ending where Farmer Vincent confesses his biggest regret for using preservatives in the meat is funny.

The problem with the movie is the director wanted to make a serious horror film but was "limited" with his budget ($3,000,000), which was 10 times what John Carpenter got to make Halloween and 6 times what Sean Cunningham got for Friday the 13th. The film suffers from a lack of direction and decent lead characters. With the budget that director Kevin Connor was given, the movie should have been bigger.

This is what happens when studios try to make a movie by committee, it seems. Is it worth watching? Yes, just for the nostalgia alone and seeing John Ratzenberger play a musician/tough guy and the chainsaw fight at the end.

Rating 2/10

Motel Hell (1980)
R | 1h 41min | Comedy, Horror, Thriller | 24 October 1980 (USA)
A seemingly friendly farmer and his sister kidnap unsuspecting travelers and bury them alive, using them to create the "special ingredient" of their famous roadside fritters.

Director: Kevin Connor
Writers: Robert Jaffe, Steven-Charles Jaffe
Stars: Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons