Release Date(s)1980 (August 12, 2014)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
With a tagline like “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters,” you know you’re in for something special. Motel Hell was pretty much a cult classic right from the get-go. Released in 1980, it hit the horror scene and never left, thanks to its quirky, satirical edge and long-lasting imagery. Where else are you going to see a chainsaw duel between a cop and a crazy farmer wearing a pig’s head?
Motel Hell, in many ways, is a satirical answer to something as serious as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was one of the biggest horror titles of the era. It tells the store of Farmer Vincent and his wife Ida, who harvest humans for meat, planting them in their gardens and severing their vocal chords so that they can’t scream for help. Instead, they make a disgusting gurgling sound, which is the most memorable aspect of the movie, in my opinion.
Motel Hell was directed by Kevin Connor, who also directed another horror cult classic entitled From Beyond the Grave. The film stars Rory Calhoun, in an amazing performance, as Farmer Vincent. His home-spun, apple pie character on the surface hides a monster underneath who doesn’t see anything wrong with what he’s doing, but will do anything to protect his secret recipe. The film also features Nancy Parsons, Nina Axelrod, Paul Linke, and a small part by Wolfman Jack. You can also spot a pre-Cheers John Ratzenberger, in a non-speaking role, as one of Farmer Vincent’s victims.
The film is wonderfully psychotic and laugh-out-loud funny a lot of times, but it also has a lot of weird images and disgusting situations. It hits the comedy and the horror notes as often as possible (the former of which sometimes being unintentional), but it’s definitely one of the most memorable horror films out there. It has a nice blend of genres that keeps it from being boring, and seems to have its tongue planted pretty firmly in cheek. It wasn’t originally well-looked upon critically and commercially at the time of its release, but today it thrives amongst the horror community.
As far as Scream Factory’s transfer of Motel Hell to Blu-ray is concerned, I would venture to guess that this is one of their best titles. The film has never been one of great cosmetic care, being shot pretty low budget, but its part of the film’s charm. I’m happy to report that this charm has transitioned its way into the high definition arena. There is a very nice and think film grain running throughout the film, which often lights up the darker areas of the frame. So as a consequence, blacks are never as deep as they would be under other circumstances. Skin tones are also very good, and the color palette is quite bold. Both contrast and brightness are at acceptable levels and I didn’t notice any signs of unnecessary digital tinkery either. There are some film artifacts left behind, but none that overpower the presentation. They just give it that extra charm. The film’s audio track, which is an English 2.0 DTS-HD track, is mostly good without a lot of dynamic range. Dialogue is usually clean and clear, although I felt it was a bit too low at times. Sound effects and score sounded great, as well. Overall, it’s an appropriate presentation that gets a whole lot right. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
Motel Hell’s supplemental section provides some excellent content, including an audio commentary with director Kevin Connor, moderated by filmmaker Dave Parker; the It Takes All Kinds: The Making of Motel Hell documentary; the Shooting Old School with Thomas Del Ruth interview; the Ida, Be Thy Name: The Frightful Females of Fear featurette; the From Glamour to Gore: Rosanne Katon Remembers Motel Hell interview; Another Head on the Chopping Block: An Interview with Paul Linke; the film’s original theatrical trailer; a behind-the-scenes gallery; a posters and production gallery; and a set of trailers for other Scream Factory titles. Also included is a DVD copy of the film.
Motel Hell’s debut on Blu-ray stateside, courtesy of Scream Factory, is a long-awaited and well-rewarding release. It’s probably one of the most requested titles amongst fans that wanted the company to acquire it, and now it’s finally here for all to see in all of its people-eating, chainsaw-dueling, neck-breaking, preservative-containing glory. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons