Friends, it was on October 24th of 1980 that Motel Hell was originally released to theaters – a darkly funny horror romp that immediately became a cult classic. And like the last couple of films that we have shared that are celebrating their fourth decade – Motel Hell was a movie that I didn’t originally experience at the local theater or drive-in of my youth. Once again, my Father and I first caught this film on the Movie Channel – late one night – around a year after it was originally released. It’s truly humorous take on a sort of backwoods family and the secret of their prized meats is one we would watch again and again.
Yes, that is indeed John Ratzenberger, who already had a cameo in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – and just two years later would become quite well known for his portrayal of Cliff Clavin on Cheers for eleven seasons.
If you’ve not seen Motel Hell for yourself, it concerns the Smith Family – elder brother Vincent (Rory Calhoun), his Sister Ida (Nancy Parsons), and their younger brother Bruce (Paul Linke) who also happens to be the town sheriff. Vincent has made quite a name for himself thanks to his popular line of smoked meats – in addition with help from Ida, they also run the Motel Hello. Unbeknownst to Bruce and the legion of devoted fans of ‘Farmer Vincent’s smoked meats’ – the secret ingredient is the source of the meats… which is long pig. Ida and Vincent capture folks passing by or even some of the guests at their motel – planting them in a secret garden after severing their vocal cords so they can’t cry for help. The trouble begins for the Smiths though when Vincent takes a shine to a survivor of one of his ambushes on the road – a young woman named Terry (Nina Axelrod) who also catches the eye of Bruce.
Naturally I do realize that synopsis doesn’t sound all that funny – but I assure you that director Kevin Connor (At the Earth’s Core) layered the film with an impressive amount of black comedy. Although having said that I will admit that if you watch the original theatrical trailer for Motel Hell, there is no humor to be seen. You definitely get the idea that the Studio was trying to attract The Texas Chain Saw Massacre crowd.
So here is to 40 years of Motel Hell – with it’s garden of human beings, chainsaw dueling scenes, and the ability to make you pause before you snap into that next Slim Jim. After all as Vincent Smith is fond of saying:
“It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.”