Review: Motel Hell




I picked this movie not because of it’s obvious influence to TCM 2’s famous chili cook-off plot. And not because it stars veteran actor Rory Calhoun, who did hard time for stealing cars, married twice, and had affairs with hundreds of women.
Rather, it was the first movie I thought of. First time I saw it I had picked it out of my copy of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (a fantastic resource) for a movie night at home. It didn’t disappoint me then and seeing it again has made me an even bigger fan.
Motel Hell is set in a, you guessed it, motel, which according to the neon sign is called Motel Hello, the O of which flickers on and off ominously. The owners are Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and Ida (Nancy Parsons), a brother and sister duo who sell their smoked meat fritters to locals and visitors alike.
They pride themselves on smoking a variety of meats for their roadside fritters because as they say, “Meat’s meat and a man’s gotta eat,” which has to be one of the most adorable horror movie catchphrases out there.
The story begins with the beautiful and young Terry, who falls off her boyfriend’s motorcycle near Motel Hello in the same crash that kills Bo, the said boyfriend. Vincent finds her and takes her in and has his sister fix up some healing herbs with dandelions or something. I honestly don’t know but who cares because within a couple hours Terry’s fully recovered!
Vincent and Ida’s much younger brother Bruce, who also happens to be the Sheriff, drops by the motel and checks out the hot new blond in town. Terry (played by Nina Axelrod who later went on to be a casting director for such illustrious films as Critters 3 and 4, respectively) displays her fine acting abilities fighting what appears to be a nasty migraine. But she’s still ok!
OK, very promising act one! Now, at this point I was wondering when does this horror movie turn into camp horror, and I got my answer at 33 minutes and 40 seconds when the rockin’ band Ivan and the Terribles, high as fuck, flip their presumably psychedelic van over and are dragged to the secret garden where they are “planted” up to their necks while enduring injections, hypnosis, and the ever-so-fun severing of their vocal cords so they can only gurgle during this whole DIY zombification. Not really sure if “zombification” is the right word here as this sequence has more in common with a syphilitic fever dream than a zombie movie.
In the meantime, Terry gets comfy in the motel and quickly falls in love with the decades older Vincent, completely ignoring the younger brother’s aggressive advances and the sister’s intent to kill her. But hey, who’s to judge an impressionable young girl with a head injury.
About an hour into the film we’re graced with the presence of famed radio DJ, Wolfman Jack, who plays the reverend (he was a man of the cloth in real life too) that plans on performing the wedding ceremony for Vincent and Terry.
Everything would have worked out beautifully if it weren’t for that meddling sheriff who finally figures out his brother and sister are killing people to use as meat to sell in their fritters to unsuspecting customers. What a dick!
The movie escalates to, seriously, a climatic double-chainsaw fight scene between Vincent and Bruce. This scene seems like the stunt fight coordinator went to lunch and told them to not touch anything until he got back and they just went ahead and filmed it anyway. Add a pig’s head that Vincent wears as a mask/helmet and you got camp gold stew.
This is the point in the review where I want to spoil the REAL finale, but I won’t. I promise! I highly recommend watching this movie because A. It’s fun gore, B. Cliff from Cheers is in it, and C. Rory Calhoun delivers his lines perfectly.
Check out Motel Hell, write a Yelp review, tell everyone! It’ll be worth it.
-Carolina Hidalgo