motel hellUnited Artists
1980
R

“I’m the biggest hypocrite of them all. My meats…I used preservatives.”

Well, here we are. One of the pantheon of legendary cult favorite horror movies that I knew, as a fan of horror flicks, I was required to watch. Hotel Hell was one of those titles that I remembered always seeing on the shelves at the old Applause Video store whenever my family would make the weekly pilgrimage to Fremont, Nebraska in the 1980s, in the Horror section, the box artwork hypnotizing me with the two smiling leads on the cover, somehow conveying a nice balance between friendly and inviting with complete insanity. It simultaneously intrigued me and repulsed me at the same time. Which meant, I so wanted to watch this movie. Of course, at that age, that wasn’t going to happen, as there was no way I was going to convince my parents to rent it. It was always some obscure live action Disney movie or something we would end up getting.

Anyway, long story short, I recently finally gotten around to watching Motel Hell by way of the Amazon streaming service. Having done so, and knowing what kind of cult following this thing has, did I like this? Would my younger tween self have liked this had my parents consented to let me watch it? Well, let’s get to the rundown, and then let’s see if I’m able to ‘splain m’self.

The titular Motel Hell is actually Motel Hello, only the neon light “O” is on the fritz, and keeps blinking out. It’s an out-of-the-way cozy place that’s owned by Farmer Vincent, who is known all over the 30-mile radius for his extremely tasty meat snacks. Along with his sister Ida, they take care of their customers as well as keep up with the meat production. The secret to his famous smoked meats is a blend of pork, which he raises himself organically (or so he says), and also some humans that he can trap from the road that passes by the place. One night, while doing just that, he snags a biker and his girlfriend, knocking both of them out. The biker went into his “human garden” hidden on his farm; the girlfriend gets told her boyfriend died, and so she develops Stockholm Syndrome and begins helping out on the farm. This causes a bit of a rift when a bizarre love triangle between the new girl, who has fallen in love with Farmer Vincent (eeeew), Ida, who doesn’t want to share her older brother (eeeeew) and the younger brother, who’s also the local sheriff, who has the hots for the new girl but is unreciprocated (SEE: in love w/ Farmer Vincent…eeeeew). Things come to a head (no pun intended) when the humans in the Human Garden manage to escape and attack the family, which leads to a chainsaw showdown at the end.

After watching this movie, going in with minimal knowledge of it beyond a couple of hick folks make meat snacks out of people (which always elicits a cry of “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!” from me, regardless of who’s around to hear it), I emerged from this experience…well, not a changed man, per se, but I now understand why Motel Hell is held in such high regard. It’s a black comedy about back road cannibals that isn’t exactly the best one of this sub-sub genre — movies like Parents and the second Texas Chainsaw Massacre would come out later in the decade and prove to be far more effective — but it has a kind of laid-back charm that casts aside the whole political commentary side of things, and just gives us an off-beat story that’s chock full of WTF moments (those swingers, a rock band called Ivan and the Terribles, and the one and only Wolfman Jack as a local televangelist) but also a kind of charm to it, as well as the lo-fi effects kills on and off screen.

Overall, I found Motel Hell quite enjoyable on that campy fun level. It’s not the best one, and you get the impression that the writer and director could have pushed the limits just a bit, but were maybe afraid to do so halfway through the production. But, Motel Hell also is far from the worst one of the bunch. It’s available on the Amazon Prime Streaming, which is how I watched it, but however you take in your movie watchin’ experience, I would urge you to check out Motel Hell at least once.

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