Movie Review: HOTEL OF THE DAMNED

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hotel of the damnedUn’Corked Entertainment
2016
NR

Abandoned hotels are a staple of horror movies. You have your haunted hotel, or…well, that’s pretty much it. Unless we’re talking about an abandoned hotel that has cannibal hillbillies squatting in them, like in Hotel Of The Damned.

This being one of the offerings on the Amazon Prime streaming, I really wasn’t expecting much. I had my expectations lowered. And, it seemed like one of those movies I could throw on, and not pay too close attention to while I transcribed stuff on my laptop and still could follow along with the plot.

I mean, the plot itself is a tried and true one: dark and stormy night, car wreck, nearby abandoned building to take shelter in…this is the standard beat of every “true ghost story” legend in my personal library. Only, instead of ghosts, this hotel is haunted by cannibals. Also, instead of your typical group of annoying young adults being the ones finding themselves stranded and spending the night there, the movie does get a bit creative with that trope.

A recently released ex-con is hoping to make things right with his estranged daughter. Things get to a bit of a rocky start when he learns that she has run off with her junkie boyfriend. So the ex-con and his pal track them down to bring the daughter home, with her boyfriend in the trunk of the car. On the way, they manage to crash the car and left stranded, so they take up refuge in a nearby abandoned hotel until morning. Things go well enough as to be expected, until they happen to run into a family of cannibals living in the hotel as well. From then on, it’s a game of avoid being captured and eaten and try to escape, with varying results.

Overall, Hotel Of The Damned was the kind of horror survival movie that gains some points with making the cast not a bunch of annoying teenager stereotypes, and going with a more nuanced gangster father/daughter/junkie boyfriend setup (with the friend of the gangster father for that extra zip and zing). However, by the time they get in the accident and hole up in the abandoned hotel and encounter the cannibals, things settle into the standard cat-and-mouse game you would expect.

As a movie, Hotel Of the Damned is okay. It works better with its family drama aspect, and maybe should have ditched the cannibal horror aspect and worked with that angle. Otherwise, it’s not a bad way to kill some time.

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Movie Review: MOTEL HELL

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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.

Movie Review: TOOTH AND NAIL

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tooth and nailLions Gate Films / After Dark Films
2007
R

“What’s the point of being a carnivore if all we can eat is rabbit food?”

A small group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world take refuge in an empty hospital with plans on re-building society. They rescue a young girl who is the victim of a brutal attack, but soon discover that they were followed by a savage band of cannibals known as Rovers. The Rovers begin to kill them one by one, and the trapped survivors must find a way to outwit their stalkers.

Oh, hey, another post-apocalypse flick! What brought this one on? Science gone awry? Cataclysmic natural disaster? Post-nuclear fallout? Alien invasion? None of those? Well, what was…um, the world ran out of gas? Seriously? The sudden lack of combustible fuel brought about the sudden degradation of society, turning civilized humans into instant savage troglodytes? Sorry, I don’t buy it. But, let’s just stretch out my suspension of disbelief (I’ve done it so many times before), for the sake of argument. At least tell me there’s some zombie action going about. No? Cannibals, you say? Well, that’s halfway to a zombie, I guess. One of ’em is played by Michael Madsen, but then he gets offed halfway through the movie? And the “protagonists” are a bunch of annoying little whiny drama queens that you actually start rooting for the cannibals before you even realize there are cannibals in the movie? Gads, why am I watching this movie again? Oh, right. I made a blood oath to watch all of the After Dark movies before I die. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

So, here you have a post-apocalyptic movie with a weak premise and a badly cribbed Assault On Precinct 13 story with the only bright spot coming from the afore-mentioned Michael Madsen, who really exemplifies the kind of actor who can take literally nothing and have fun anyway. All’s the pity, as this points out that Tooth And Nail could have been much more fun than what it turned out to be.

Movie Review: DYING BREED

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dying breedLionsgate / After Dark Films
2008
R

“Simple Simon met the Pie Man, playing with a knife. Said Simple Simon to the Pie Man, ‘Will you take my life?'”

On a quest to find a rare tiger, four adventurers in Tasmania enter an isolated township named Sarah, once the hideout for an infamous cannibal called “The Pieman.” The four hunters suddenly become the hunted as they discover that the township still upholds its cannibalistic heritage, and needs fresh “stock” to breed.

Okay, right off the bat, I have to ask: Who designed the cover art for the After Dark DVD series release of Dying Breed? I’m morbidly curious as to what kind of mind could take the blurb you just read up there, taken from the back of the DVD case itself (assuming you read that part of the reviews), and make the logistical leap to “eyeball in a martini glass”. Not exactly the first things my mind conjures up when I read about camping trips, Tasmania and cannibals. And after watching Dying Breed, I can fully report that there is not one martini glass to be found in the movie. Nor any disembodied eyeballs, come to think of it. Mind you, the Australian release has three different covers, all of which nail the content of the movie visually. Unfortunately, since I dwell here in the States, and I like to remain consistent with the cover art of the version I watch and review, the “shaken not stirred” cover is used in this posting. But, I digress.

Dying Breed falls somewhere in the Murderous Cannibal Rednecks territory, which is on the lower level of the list of horror genre movies I like. To give you an idea of how I view these types of movies, let me once again use food analogies (since I’m so very good at those): If slashers like Halloween and Friday The 13th are the McDonald’s type burgers, then movies like Dying Breed are the kind of microwavable “burgers” you find at gas stations and truck stops. Edible in a pinch, and sometimes they taste decent, but nothing you’d want to base a diet on.

And like those processed “meat” patties with questionable nutritional value, Dying Breed was surprisingly tasty for an exploitation flick. Mind you, it can easily be described as “Deliverance meets Wolf Creek” (especially that last one, as one of the stars of that movie is in this), and the story itself is the standard “young people go camping, run across a town of inbred cannibal rednecks, young people find themselves hunted by said inbred cannibal rednecks” that we’ve seen in other movies of this kind, complete with a “twist” ending that can be deduced around the opening credit sequence.

The scenery shots are just gorgeous, taking advantage of Tasmania’s natural beauty. I’m a sucker for forests and rivers, really. And the forest scenes were used to good effect for the tense stalking scenes. And, there was a nice tie-in to Alexander “The Pieman” Pearce, a cannibalistic murderer that was held on Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land) when it was still a British penal colony. There’s kind of a wasted side story about finding the elusive Tasmanian Tiger…elusive because they’ve been extinct since the early 20th Century. For a bit, I was hoping the movie would just throw convention to the wind and just make the local cannibal rednecks Tasmanian were-tigers. That would have been one heck of a twist. But, no…merely an allusion to being descendants of The Pieman.

Despite being one of the better made movies of its subgenre, Dying Breed lacked any characters that I could feel empathy for–the protagonists were all annoying jerks…especially the one named Jack, which may or may not have had a passing resemblance to Jack Black. Regardless, Dying Breed is good for a rental some night if you’re looking to supplement movies like Wrong Turn and Don’t Go Into The Woods.