Taking Responsibility for the Planet

The gutsy thing about Motel Hell is the willingness to let the audience figure out whether it’s camp, schlock, black comedy, or straight genre filmmaking. Oddly enough, it’s one of the few movies where any – if not all – of those labels apply.

Absurdist in the extreme, Motel Hell follows the same values of countless slashers from the era (although in 1980, Motel Hell predated many of the icons). Sex is evil, drugs will kill you, and greed dooms you. The script takes offense to hypocritical TV preachers, apparently the only thing Farmer Vincent (Rory Calhoun) can watch out in the country. Mocking the most extreme religious fringes, Vincent won’t have sex before marriage, but for a buck, will happily plant people in the ground until they’re ready to be eaten (mixed in with the ham, anyway). Almighty God is secondary to the almighty dollar.

Motel Hell follows the same values of countless slashers from the era

Calhoun is Motel Hell’s anchor, so friendly and outgoing in public as to elicit chills – like Norman Bates, it’s creepy hospitality. Ida Parsons takes a co-starring role, infinitely funnier and goofier in her performance to balance out the crazy on display. The duo’s madness is funnier because they realize their business is raw evil, enough to hide the buried victims, but not enough for that to impact their moral compass.

Motel Hell never gives a “why” Vincent started his mania. In the now, it’s a distorted belief in human over population, but it’s that religious connection drawing suspicion as to the origins of his insanity. What is clear is that Vincent loves being a cannibal, never more apparent as he pulls a body from his smoker, rips off a chunk, and gives a satisfied look toward the camera. Good eatin’.

For all of this ludicrous plot development, the story isn’t in a hurry, taking detours for senseless nudity and failed relationships. Even in the credibility-strained Motel Hell, the idea that young Terry (Nina Axelrod), having lost the only person she knew, would willingly accept Vincent as a husband goes needlessly far; it’s hardly a plot factor at all. Instead, that weirdness gums up the pacing in a movie running at least 10-minutes too long. That said, it’s 10-minutes more of something that has never been done before or again.


Scream Factory debuts Motel Hell on UHD with a fresh 4K scan, and the benefits appear immediately. The grain structure isn’t an easy one, but the encode has enough space and a delicate touch to keep it intact (slight aside for the smokiest/haziest scenes aside). It’s generally a spotless print too. While much of Motel Hell takes place in darkened, confined areas, daylight exteriors reveal splendid definition of the landscapes. In darker light, texture still carries punch, doubly so in close.

With Dolby Vision’s touch, color reaches brilliant, vivid tiers. Vincent’s yellow tractor never appeared so bright in previous home releases, for one example. Primaries, including the superlative greenery around the farm, make full use of the format’s potential. The red neon of the motel sign looks spectacular. Flesh tones resolve warmly and naturally.

Black levels veer from the truest black, more a case of the cinematography finding the balance between tone and visibility. Motel Hell still brings depth with it from the early ’80s, and a nicely elevated brightness gives pop to various light sources.


While the score offers refinement and clarity worthy of this DTS-HD track, the dialog is an issue. It’s rough, scratchy, and sloppily defined. While Motel Hell doesn’t lose any lines or render them unintelligible, the result is unusually coarse, even when considering the period. Sound effects wane too, but in terms of benefit, the ranking goes music, effects, then dialog.


Director Kevin Connor is joined by filmmaker Dave Parker on a commentary. Scream Factory puts the rest on the included Blu-ray. This includes separate interviews with actors Paul Linke & Roseanne Katon, and cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth, with a full making-of including Connor, actor Marc Silver, and the writing duo of Robert Jaffe & Steven-Charles Jaffe. A look back at actress Ida Smith precedes trailers and stills.

Motel Hell
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Absurdist, dark, and a few times absolutely hysterical, Motel Hell runs with its creative premise.

User Review
3 (2 votes)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 39 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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