Motel Hell (1980)

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*. What a disgusting mess.
*. Originally it was not conceived as a comedy. It stagnated in development for several years and was then made over as a satire, most obviously of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
*. The problem is that nobody involved had any feel for comedy, and the results aren’t funny at all. This is, of course, a personal opinion. I remember, when this movie came out, people laughing so hard talking about it they were almost crying. And even today it has a following. But I can’t see it.
*. I suppose it’s just compounding things to say that the humour is in bad taste, but that is the rub. The “secret garden” is just too repulsive and cruel a concept to be funny. Meanwhile, the more direct appeals for laughs all fall flat. The swinger couple aren’t funny. Wolfman Jack as a televangelist might have been funny, but isn’t. Indeed I wondered why he was even in the movie as he had no connection to the plot at all.
*. Do we see it through a different lens today? The crimes of Robert Pickton, the pig farmer turned serial killer who murdered nearly fifty women and rendered parts of them, apparently, into meat, may be one development that checks our amusement.
*. The other change in perspective has been the one brought about by the growing prominence of healthy eating. This was a thing in 1980, but it’s much bigger today and the “meat is murder” angle here plays well. Farmer Vincent is also a good locavore (he only sells his meat within 100 miles of his farm), doesn’t use chemicals on his livestock (he is embarassed that he even uses preservatives), and believes in treating his “animals” humanely (the way he kills them is perhaps the most bizarre part of the movie).
*. Farmer Vincent also makes the argument of Swift’s modest proposer: that there are too many people in this world and not enough food so he’s solving both problems at once. But that is far less convincing, especially given his battle cry that “meat is meat, and man’s gotta eat!”
*. There are a lot of weird moments, though I doubt they were entirely intentional. The aforementioned harvesting scene is one. Whatever the idea for it was, it doesn’t work and just seems strange. Then there’s Terry’s odd fixation on (much) older men. Nina Axelrod was 33 years younger than Rory Calhoun, and 22 years younger than Everett Creach. There’s no explanation for this, and I wonder if they were fully aware of it when they cast the film. Then there’s the totally hamfisted way the story is set up, with Vincent burying Bo as per the “custom of the county” under “extenuating circumstances,” and Terry just deciding she’s not only OK with that, but wants to stay on the farm.
*. Does it not work because it’s too unpleasant? Or because it isn’t very funny? Some of both. If it matters. I understand there are people who like this movie, and I can even sort of see why. I’m just not one of them.

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