Motel Hell (1980)


Motel Hell is a 1980 horror comedy film directed by Kevin Connor and starring Rory Calhoun as farmer, butcher, and meat entrepreneur Vincent Smith. It is often seen as a satire of modern horror films such as Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Because of its low budget nature, the original intent was to make a serious horror film, with moments of disturbing wit and irony. The film's score was composed by Lance Rubin.


Farmer Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun) and his younger sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) live on a farm with a motel attached. It's called Motel Hello, but the O on the sign constantly flicks on and off. Vincent makes smoked meats said to be the most delicious in the surrounding area. Vincent's secret is human flesh, and Vincent has the areas around his isolated motel strewn with various booby traps to catch victims. The victims are placed in a 'secret garden' where they are buried up to their necks and have their vocal cords cut so they cannot scream; Vincent keeps them in the ground, feeding them special food, until they are ready and then kills them. Ida helps, and seems to enjoy it, whereas Vincent seems rather calm and certain in his belief he's not doing anything wrong. Vincent even refers to the people he's captured as "animals." The movie opens with Vincent shooting out the tires of a motorcycle a couple is riding on: The male (Bo) is placed in the garden, but Vincent takes a shine to the young female (Terry) and brings her to the motel. The next morning, Vincent's naïve and mild-mannered younger brother sheriff Bruce (Paul Linke) (unlike Ida, Bruce is not aware of his brother's secret) arrives, and Vincent tells Terry that her boyfriend died in the accident and that he buried him: a trip to the graveyard shows a crude grave marker placed there by Vincent. Terry, having nowhere else to go, decides to stay at the motel. Most of the film consists of Vincent (with Ida's help) capturing more victims for his garden (first a health inspector for Vincent's pigs who spies the hidden garden by chance, goes to investigate, and then becomes part of it; then a van full of drugged-up band members) while using his folksy charm to woo Terry, much to Bruce's dislike, who tries to woo her himself without much success. Vincent captures more victims by placing a pack of cardboard cows on the road (when one of the victims goes to move the cows, Vincent gases her, and then follows the other in a long car chase wherein the woman in the car apparently faints from the stress of her terror, allowing Vincent to capture her) and then lures in a pair of swingers who show up with a false ad that the motel is a swinger's paradise. The next day he suggests he may teach Terry to smoke meat. Ida finds out about this and, jealous of Terry, attempts to drown her in the pond (by luring her out there to play on inner tubes), but Vincent comes in time and saves her. This proves to be a catalyst for Terry, who tries to seduce Vincent (he stops her, claiming it would not be proper until they were married) and then agrees to marry him. Bruce, unhappy that he's 'lost' Terry, drives down to the motel once he hears the news and bursts into the bathroom to protest Terry's choice (and during his rant to slander his brother claims his brother has 'syphilis of the brain', which might explain Vincent's calmness towards murder and cannibalism), but Vincent appears and chases his brother off with a shotgun. Having decided to have the wedding tomorrow, Vincent, Terry, and Ida share a glass of champagne, but Ida drugs the champagne to knock Terry out so she and Vincent can prepare some of the garden victims (presumably for the wedding feast tomorrow). Meanwhile, Bruce, still angry over losing, starts doing some detective work on a few strange things he's noticed and starts to feel that something is not quite right at his brother's farm. Vincent and Ida kill three of the band members (by hypnotising them, then tying nooses around their necks, attaching the rope to a tractor, and driving the tractor to break their necks) and pull them out of the ground to take to Vincent's meat processing plant. However, doing so seems to loosen the dirt around Bo, as he begins to try to escape. Bruce sneaks back to the motel to try to rescue Terry, but Ida returns to the motel for a snack and overhears Bruce trying to get Terry to leave. Ida ambushes Bruce when he leaves the room and knocks him out, and then takes Terry at gunpoint to the meat processing plant. Meanwhile, Bo escapes and frees the other victims in the garden. Vincent, upset that his 'love' found out his secret the way she did, sends Ida back to the motel to fetch his brother, but the victims, having escaped (and in a nod to zombie films, have staggered around groaning and hissing due to their cut vocal cords), ambush her and knock her out. Terry tries to escape the meat processing plant, but the door is locked and Vincent sadly knocks Terry out with gas, and then ties her to a conveyor belt, apparently planning to kill her too. He is interrupted by Bo, who crashes into the meat plant via an overhead window and brawls with Vincent, but he is weak from being trapped in the garden for so long and Vincent strangles him. Bruce awakens, finds one of his brother's shotguns, and goes to the meat packing room himself, but finds that his brother has armed himself with a giant chainsaw (and placed a pig's head over his own as a gruesome mask). Vincent manages to disarm his brother, but Bruce grabs his own chainsaw and proceeds to have a violent duel with Vincent (later parodied in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), in the process turning on the conveyor belt Terry is tied to, sending her slowly towards a meat cutting blade. Despite suffering several wounds, Bruce drives the chainsaw into his Vincent's side for a mortal wound. Bruce frees Terry and then returns with her to his wounded brother, who gasps his final words, leaving the farm and 'secret garden' to Bruce, and then lamenting that his whole life was a lie and he was the biggest hypocrite of all ("My... meat... I... I... used... preservatives!") before he dies. Bruce and Terry go to the secret garden and find Ida buried in it as revenge... head first! (Of the victims there is no sign. They seem to have wandered off somewhere, presumably getting help.) They then head past the motel, while Bruce comments on how he had no idea what was going on and was glad he'd run away when he was eleven. Terry suggests they just burn the motel, claiming it's evil. The sign saying MOTEL HELLO finally fully shorts out, permanently darkening the O and leaving the title: MOTEL HELL.