director Kevin Connor
Motel Hell has held an odd and long-standing place in my cinematic world, something somewhat notable due to the countless movies I’ve seen in my 46 years. When it was released in 1980, it somehow tickled my fancy. I can’t now say exactly why or what, or even if it was on Siskel and Ebert’s Sneak Previews or it was a television ad campaign or what exactly it was that made me interested in it. I always had a penchant for horror films, had even seen my first R-rated horror film in the theater by then, the Ridley Scott now classic Alien (1979). But for some reason, I never saw it.
In reality, a bit of an obscurist’s horror film (how many people do you know who’ve seen Motel Hell?), it also lingered in my consciousness. And while there were many films that intrigued me over my childhood years, by this time in life, I’ve hunted down and seen most of them. There are not too many hanging chads left on that list of films that piqued interest in my childhood self of which I have yet to track down and see.
Motel Hell tells the story of Vincent and Ida Smith (Rory Calhoun and Nancy Parsons), a brother and sister pair of small town weirdos who run a motel and a smoked meats business. Only little does the public know how those two businesses cross over on one another. Well, it’s probably little secret that it’s human flesh.
Which is probably interesting enough, but it’s far weirder than mere cannibalism and rather early turns at organic farming. The couple kidnap passers-by, slit their vocal cords, and then bury them up to their necks in the garden, force feeding them and also injecting them with something potentially psychedelical. Then when the folks are ripe for the picking…well, that part is probably self-explanatory.
The film is not the lowest of budget efforts, though low-budget it is. Though it might have benefited from a little more gore or outre-weirdness, it leans toward comedy at times and in ways, though not overtly.
I’m not entirely sure if this was a film my parents wouldn’t take me to see or not, though I didn’t see it at the time it came out. I did however watch it with my 13 year old son, who jokingly questioned my parenting on said irony.