Motel Hell (1980)

Genres - Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Horror Comedy  |   Release Date - Oct 18, 1980 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 101 min.  |   Countries - USA  |   MPAA Rating - R
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This underrated effort works both as a horror film and as a satire of the "rural terror" subgenre spawned by films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Race With the Devil. Robert Jaffe and Steven-Charles Jaffe's script keeps the premise from degenerating into a tacky shock-a-thon by doling out the gore in sparing doses and playing up the satirical angle of the script. Indeed, the film devotes as much time to humor as it does to scares and shocks. Motel Hell pokes fun at such diverse targets as televangelism, swingers, and good old-fashioned American capitalism as it chronicles Farmer Vincent's grisly doings. This script is ably supported by subtle, atmospheric direction by Kevin Connor, who captures the script's complex blend of humor and horror nicely and also works in some clever visual references to horror classics like Night of the Living Dead. Motel Hell also benefits from above-average performances. The obvious scene-stealer is Rory Calhoun, who fuels the quietly deranged Farmer Vincent with enough compassion and down-home charm to make him likable despite his villainous ways. His work is supported by a nice range of supporting performances, including slyly comic turns from Nancy Parsons as Farmer Vincent's childlike but deadly partner in crime and Paul Linke as his dim but determined younger brother. On the downside, Motel Hell's leisurely pacing and emphasis on characterization might throw off horror fans weaned on hard-driving fare like Re-Animator and The Evil Dead. However, even viewers turned off by these aspects will want to stick around for the film's bravura finale, which involves a chainsaw duel and a hero swinging to the rescue on a meat hook. In the end, Motel Hell is probably a bit too eccentric and grisly for the average viewer, but its solidly crafted blend of wit and gore makes it a natural for cult film fanatics and horror addicts with a sense of humor.