December 2, 2016
Motel Hell (1980)
Grade: 43/100

Director: Kevin Connor
Stars: Rory Calhoun, Nancy Parsons, Nina Axelrod

What it's about. Farmer Smith (Rory Calhoun), Vincent to his friends, is a wiry middle-aged man with a thriving small business, selling pork barbecue to locals and tourists. He also runs a motel, where there are always vacancies. Guests want to know: what is the secret ingredient that makes his meat taste so good?

We, the audience, soon find out. Vincent traps and captures motorists on the highway. He also gasses his motel guests. The victims are buried alive up to their necks. Their throats are slit to destroy their vocal cords. A feed bag is put over their heads. They are kept alive for a few days, then slaughtered to provide the "secret ingredient."

Vincent is not alone in his activities. He's helped by his portly sister Ida (Nancy Parsons), a mischievous and malevolent woman who enjoys the family business even more than his brother. Vincent also has a much younger brother, Bruce (Paul Linke), the local sheriff, who lives down the road is unaware of Vincent's murderous nocturnal activities. Famous disc jockey Wolfman Jack shows up as a television preacher.

One night, Vincent ambushes grizzled motorcylist Bo (Everett Creach) and her hottie twenty-something girlfriend Terry (Nina Axelrod). Vincent shoots out the tires, the motorbike crashes, and its occupants are knocked unconscious. Bo is planted in the "garden", but Vincent takes a (fatherly?) interest in Terry, and brings her into his house.

Terry, seemingly alone in the world, is in no hurry to leave, and is treated as a family member. Bruce begins to date her. Meanwhile, Vincent continues his nefarious activities, capturing and "planting" a punk band that includes future "Cheers" mailman John Ratzenberger. He also plants whip-snapping "Match Game" regular Elaine Joyce and her S & M partner Dick Curtis.

Ida attempts to drown Terry, but she is saved by Vincent. Terry is so grateful that she agrees to marry Vincent. This makes Bruce suspicious, and he investigates his older brother, finally cornering him in the barn with Terry's life in peril. The moment we have all awaited finally comes, when Vincent dons a pig's head and engages in a chainsaw battle to the death with Bruce.

How others will see it. Motel Hell failed to set the world on fire upon release. It did earn a profit in theaters, mostly due to a low budget. It received a grand total of one festival nod, from the Saturn Awards, who nominated Nancy Parsons' twisted but amusing performance for Best Supporting Actress.

Today at, the film has a measly 7K user votes (Friday the 13th, released the same year, has 85K user votes). The user rating of 6.1 out of 10 is hardly impressive, but it does confirm that a sizeable number of viewers consider the movie a hoot. Which is all that it ever tried to be. The top user reviews are positive, albeit short of laudatory.

How I felt about it. Motel Hell was a fairly early effort in the prolific career of director Kevin Connor. Mostly, he has stuck to television work, and is still cranking out television movies to this day, though he is approaching his 80th birthday. It appears that Connor's work is unremarkable but watchable, with Motel Hell par for the career coarse.

Calhoun and Parsons are fun, and while Axelrod isn't much of an actress, she does at least understand that she is in a campy film and behaves accordingly. Motel Hell knows its limitations and doesn't try to move beyond them. But outside of the climactic chainsaw battle, the emphasis is more on comedy than horror. But the film is never more than merely amusing. It also has its groaner moments, such as Terry making a pass at nearly elderly Vincent. Clichés include Bruce falling face first in the mud while trying to get his car unstuck, and a preacher "confiscating" a pornography magazine for his own future gratification.