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Kevin Connor
Rory Calhoun, Nancy Parsons, Nina Axelrod, Wolfman Jack
Writing Credits:
Robert Jaffe and Steven-Charles Jaffe

Farmer Vincent’s popular products contain a special ingredient that the psychotic farmer and his sister would literally kill to keep a secret!

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 101 min.
Price: $29.93
Release Date: 8/12/2014

• Audio Commentary with Director Kevin Connor
• “It Takes All Kinds: The Making of Motel Hell” Featurette
• “Shooting Old School” Featurette
• “Ida, Be Thy Name” Featurette
• “From Glamour to Gore” Featurette
• “Another Head on the Chopping Block” Featurette
• Photo Galleries
• Trailer and Previews
• DVD Copy


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Motel Hell [Blu-Ray] (1980)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 27, 2014)

Occasionally Shout! Factory produces a Blu-ray release for a movie well known to the general public, but most of their offerings tend toward the cult horror audience. In that vein comes their newest product, 1980’s cult classic Motel Hell.

Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun) runs remote “Motel Hello” with his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons). He also produces “Farmer Vincent’s Smoked Meats”, popular treats that involve a special ingredient: human flesh.

Vincent traps passers-by and uses them for his smoked meats, but when he sees lovely Terry (Nina Axelrod), he can’t bring himself to involve her in his products. This leads to complications when Nina finds out the truth behind Vincent’s business.

In its first act, Hell provides a surprisingly creepy and involving horror tale. It draws us into the material in a subtle manner, as it hints at weirdness but doesn’t reveal the meat of the matter for a fair amount of time. We get to know Vincent and the others in a gradual way that suits the film and makes its horrible reveals scarier.

After that, though, the movie starts to go off the rails more than a little. While it still manages some fun, the tone of Hell shifts all over the place and makes the end result something of a mess.

Perhaps I dislike these changes because I think the first act works so well. When Hell invests in the creepy side of the tale, it satisfies, so the decision to go away from that creates disappointment.

This becomes especially true because Hell shifts a loooong way from the spookiness of the initial segment. Once we meet stoners who end up on Vincent’s farm, the film changes into much more of a comedy/parody, and by the time the swinging couple arrive at the motel, any hint of the initial mood vanishes. It still delivers gruesome moments but it doesn’t capitalize on the terror the story can provide because it opts for a wackier feel. Apparently many people enjoy the movie’s comedic elements, but they don’t work for me, largely because they seem so scattershot; the movie invests in them too sporadically for them to succeed.

Hell also runs too long. No, 101 minutes doesn’t put it in “epic” territory, but it’s a good 10 to 15 minutes longer than the average flick in this genre, and the viewer seems likely to feel the extra time. The story drags as it goes and loses a lot of steam.

All of this leaves Motel Hell as a disappointment in the end. The movie displays real potential but it fails to capitalize on its positives as it proceeds.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Motel Hell appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was an erratic but acceptable image.

For the most part, sharpness looked fine. A little softness cropped up on occasion, and I couldn’t call the film razor-sharp, but it showed pretty positive delineation the majority of the time. No issues with jaggies or shimmering materialized, and I saw no signs of edge haloes.

Print flaws became the biggest problem with the image, mainly due to small specks. These weren’t a constant distraction, but they cropped up more often than I’d like. The image mostly lacked other problems, though.

In terms of colors, the film opted for a natural palette. Overall, the hues seemed appealing; while they didn’t leap off the screen, they showed reasonable pep and clarity. Blacks were fairly dark and tight, and low-light shots offered decent smoothness. Though the image could’ve been cleaner, it still offered decent visuals.

As for the film’s DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack, it seemed fine for its age. Don’t expect a whole lot from the stereo soundscape, though, as effects didn’t offer a lot of breadth. They occasionally spread mildly to the sides but the track maintained a largely monaural impression.

The mix delivered pretty good stereo music, and that became a bonus. Given the film’s age, genre and budget, I expected mono sound, so I was pleased to find this stereo track, limited though it may be.

Audio quality showed its age but held up fairly well. Speech showed occasional edginess – usually during screams - but the lines remained intelligible and were usually reasonably natural. Music was pretty full and rich, whereas effects seemed decent; those elements lacked much punch but they didn’t display notable problems. This was a better than average track given its era.

Like many Shout! Factory releases, Motel Hell comes with with plentiful extras. These open with an audio commentary director Kevin Connor. Along with moderator Dave Parker, this track looks at aspects of Connor’s career and how he came to Motel Hell, sets and locations, story/characters, cast and performances, music, sound, effects and related domains.

The commentary starts well but sputters somewhat as it progresses. Both Connor and Parker manage to remain engaging, and we get decent material across the entire movie’s running time. However, these moments show up less frequently as the film goes, so expect an inconsistent chat.

The disc comes with a bunch of featurettes, and these launch with It Takes All Kinds: The Making of Motel Hell. In this 24-minute, 33-second show, we hear from Connor, writers/producers Robert Jaffe and Steven-Charles Jaffe, and actor Marc Silver. “Kinds” looks at inspirations/influences and the movie’s origins/development, Connor’s take on the material and issues with the studio, casting, sets and locations, and the film’s reception.

Some inaccuracies occur here, such as the claim Nancy Parsons got her role here due to Porky’s even though the latter didn’t come out until 1982. Overall, though, “Kinds” offers a nice overview and turns into an enjoyable program.

Visuals come to the fore in Shooting Old School. This 15-minute, 45-second piece offers comments from director of photography Thomas Del Ruth as he discusses how he came into the movie business, his move to cinematography, and his work on Motel Hell. This becomes a tight, informative show.

During the 18-minute, nine-second Ida, Be Thy Name, we locate comments from author/critic Staci Layne Wilson, Critic Twitch Film’s Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg, and actors Chantelle Albers and Elissa Dowling. They look at women in horror films and related subjects. A few interesting elements emerge, but the program feels unfocused and scattershot; it’s not an especially concise discussion, especially as it digresses into “strong women” in general.

A former Playboy Playmate chats about her experiences during From Glamour to Gore. In the 11-minute, 28-second reel, actor Rosanne Katon goes over her launch into show business as well as aspects of the Hell shoot. No great moments emerge, but Katon offers some decent thoughts.

Finally, Another Head on the Chopping Block goes for 14 minutes, 52 seconds and contributes memories from actor Paul Linke. He talks about his time on Hell as well as other aspects of his career. Like other clips, this one doesn’t deliver a bunch of insights, though I do like Linke’s willingness to criticize the film.

The set also includes Photo Galleries. We find “Behind the Scenes” (17 shots) and “Posters and Production” (127). Both offer good images, though obviously the majority of the material shows up in the second collection.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find ads under More from Shout! Factory. This area provides clips for The Funhouse, Terror Train, The Fog and It Came Without Warning.

A second disc provides a DVD copy of Hell. It includes the same extras as the Blu-ray.

With Motel Hell, we find part of a good horror movie, especially in its first act. It starts well but loses its way as it progresses. The Blu-ray offers erratic but acceptable picture and audio as well as a nice array of supplements. Hell comes with some high-quality moments but its lack of consistency harms it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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