“It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s
fritters.” That is, without a doubt,
one of the greatest taglines for any movie that I know of. The fact that it was created in order to
promote a film about a cannibalistic farmer and his sister is just as demented
as said advertising technique.
Motel Hell is the story of Farmer Vincent and his sister
Ida who kidnap unsuspecting roadside travelers, bury them up to their necks in
dirt and soil and feed them until they are plump. Peculiar, I know. But
when you realize it is all done in order to make Farmer Vincent’s famous meat
products… well, it doesn’t make it any less peculiar. But it does make it a hell of a lot more entertaining if you’re
into that sort of gruesome thing.
I decided to discuss this film in order to keep up with the
discussion I had in my previous article about drive-ins because Motel Hell
is, above all else, an authentic drive-in experience.
It was made with very little money and tells a decidedly
campy, anti-vegetarian tale. In many
ways, Motel Hell is the precursor to all horror-comedy hybrids that we know
today. Yes, plenty came before this
film, but very few did it this well.
While it is frightening on a number of levels, it isn’t to the point
where you could lose any sleep. It
does, however, acknowledge its campy nature and, thus, doesn’t take itself
too seriously. The self-deprecating
nature is a result of the wonderful acting of the leads, Rory Calhoun and Nancy
Parsons, relishing in their against-type roles.
Calhoun was an actor known for his undeniable presence in a
number of western projects throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, so seeing him as the
sadistic, yet endearing, Farmer Vincent is quite the sight to behold. Parsons, to this particular viewer, is primarily
famous for her portrayal of the ball-breaking gym teacher Beulah Balbricker in
the Porky’s trilogy. Both actors attack
their characters with such a unique sense of vigor and self-referential humor
that viewers can’t help but be sucked into the fun they’re having on screen.
Even though the film was made on the cheap, it emits an
unmistakable sense of dread, due mostly in part to a number of grotesque and
inventive sets pieces; one of them being a large soil and dirt bed, populated
with victim’s heads covered with burlap bags, waiting to be mutilated and fed
to unsuspecting townsfolk.
Hokey premises always find a home at the drive-in, which is
where Motel Hell made a name for itself.
Upon its release in 1980, the film found an audience when it hit
drive-in screens throughout America. At
first, audiences weren’t sure what to make of the off-kilter story, demented
characters and gratuitous violence.
Overtime, the film’s quirky atmosphere was noticed, driving it to almost
immediate cult status.
I always wonder at what point audiences realized it was a
campy horror comedy. It must have been
the moment when Farmer Vincent takes part in a deadly chainsaw duel, wearing
blood-soaked overalls and a decapitated pig’s head.
Just writing that makes me want to laugh out loud. And for once, I’m sure the filmmakers would
not be offended with such a sentiment.