Kevin Connor directed the Amicus-produced From Beyond the Grave, as well as several fantasy films for that studio and others in the 1970’s that included The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core, The People That Time Forgot, Warlords of Atlantis and Arabian Adventure. It was almost made by Tobe Hooper, which seems like the kind of urban legend that follows so many late 70’s and early 80’s horror movies.
That brings us to Motel Hell, which arrived as the slasher boom was about two and a half years in. While this was intended as a serious film at one point, it certainly ended up anything but.
It was shot at the Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, California, the same location where The Devil’s Rejects, The Lords of Salem, Hatchet and many more films were lensed.
Farmer Vincent Smith (cowboy actor Rory Calhoun) and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons, Beulah Ballbricker from the Porky’s series) own a farm with the Motel Hello on the grounds. Their smoked meats are famous everywhere, because as the tagline says, “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.”
That’s because — no spoiler really — they’re human flesh. The farmer sets traps, catches drivers on the roads nearby, cuts their throats and then buries their bodies in his secret garden until they’re ready for harvest.
One of those victims is a motorcyclist named Bo, who is buried deep while his girlfriend Terry (Nina Axelrod, Roller Boogie) is taken to the motel. After being told her man is dead, she settles in and is unsuccessfully wooed by Sheriff Bruce (Paule Link, TV’s CHiPs and Grand Theft Auto). Much to Bruce’s chagrin, she seems attracted to his brother, Farmer Vincent.
Meanwhile, our protagonist — I guess Farmer Vincent is the kinda sorta lead of this — is luring in more victims via wooden cows that cause accidents and ads in swingers magazines. Soon, he decides to teach Terry how to smoke meat, which causes Ida to go bonkers and attempt to drown the young girl. Vincent saves her, she falls head over heels and instead of having sex — as she hoped — he asks her to marry him. She agrees.
Bruce tries to protest, saying that his brother is simple and has syphilis of the brain, but Vincent chases him off with a shotgun. That causes him to start to investigate all of the disappearances.
After a champagne toast, Terry passes out due to her spiked drink and our brother and sister tea, start prepping the wedding feast. As they head to the slaughterhouse, Bo gets loose and frees the other people planted in the garden. And as Vincent tells Terry his secret recipe, she freaks out.
What follows is slasher movie history, as Farmer Vincent dons a pig’s head and duels his brother with chainsaws before dying, gasping out that he was a hypocrite for using preservatives. As the survivors leave the farm, the sign finally malfunctions, leaving behind the words Motel Hell.
There are plenty of great secondary players in this, from radio DJ turned entertainment personality Wolfman Jack as a TV evangelist named Reverend Billy to Elaine Joyce (Ragman’s mother in the slasher par excellence Trick or Treat), Monique St. Pierre (November 1978 Playboy Playmate of the Month and 1979 Playmate of the Year who is also Cerce in post-nuke treat Stryker), Rosanne Katon (September 1978 Playmate of the Month, also in Bachelor Party and the Swinging Cheerleaders before leaving acting behind to do stand-up comedy, raise her autistic son to be an expert cellist and working with her husband to do good around the world with Operation USA, which supplies relief to areas impacted by natural disasters and poverty) and a rock band that has John Ratzenberger (yes, from Cheers but also from House II) in it.