Motel Hell

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Motel Hell
Theatrical release poster.
Directed byKevin Connor
Produced byRobert Jaffe
Steven-Charles Jaffe
Written byRobert Jaffe
Steven-Charles Jaffe
Tim Tuchrello (uncredited)
Frank Cotolo (uncredited)
StarringRory Calhoun
Paul Linke
Nancy Parsons
Nina Axelrod
Wolfman Jack
Music byLance Rubin
CinematographyThomas Del Ruth
Edited byBernard Gribble
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • October 18, 1980 (1980-10-18)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million (estimated)[1]
Box office$6.3 million

Motel Hell is a 1980 American comedy horror film directed by Kevin Connor[2] and starring Rory Calhoun, Nancy Parsons, and Nina Axelrod. The plot follows farmer, butcher, motel manager, and meat entrepreneur Vincent Smith, who traps travelers and harvests them for his human sausages.

Because of its low budget, the original intent was to make a serious horror film, with moments of disturbing wit and irony. It is often seen as a satire of modern horror films such as Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.[3] It was the number one ranked movie for the weekend of October 24–26, 1980.[4]


Based on a true story out of Wrocław (Poland) about German serial killer and cannibal Karl Denke, Farmer Vincent Smith and his younger sister Ida live on a farm with an attached motel, named "Motel Hello" (but the neon "O" flickers, turning the name into "Motel Hell"). Vincent's renowned smoked meats are actually human flesh. He sets traps on nearby roads to catch victims. He buries the victims up to their necks in his "secret garden", then cuts their vocal cords to prevent them from screaming. They are kept in the ground and fed until they're ready for "harvest". Ida helps Vincent, as they both see the victims as animals.

Vincent shoots out the front tire of a couple's motorcycle. The male, Bo, is placed in the garden, but Vincent brings the female, Terry, to the motel. Sheriff Bruce, Ida and Vincent's naive brother, arrives the next morning. Vincent tells Terry her boyfriend died in the accident and was buried. A trip to the graveyard shows his crude grave marker. With nowhere to go, Terry decides to stay at the motel. She gradually becomes attracted to Vincent's honest manner and folksy charm, much to Bruce's dismay, who tries to woo her without success.

Vincent captures more victims by placing wooden cardboards of cows in the middle of the highway to cause his victims to stop, allowing him to capture them. He also places a fake ad and lures in a pair of swingers, believing the hotel to be a swing joint. The next day, Vincent suggests he teach Terry to smoke meat. Ida becomes jealous and attempts to drown Terry, but Vincent arrives to save her. This causes Terry to fall in love with him completely, and she tries to seduce Vincent. Vincent denies her advances, saying they must marry first. She agrees to marry the following day.

Bruce visits the motel to protest Terry's choice. He tells Terry that Vincent has "syphilis of the brain". Vincent arrives and drives off his brother with a shotgun. Vincent, Terry, and Ida drink champagne, but Ida drugs Terry's glass and she faints. Ida and Vincent then prepare some victims for the wedding. Meanwhile, Bruce investigates the disappearances and becomes suspicious of his brother.

Vincent and Ida kill three victims and take them to the slaughterhouse. As they remove the victims' bodies, the dirt around Bo loosens and he begins to escape. Bruce sneaks back to the motel to rescue Terry, but Ida returns. She ambushes Bruce and knocks him out, then holds Terry at gunpoint to the meat processing plant where Vincent reveals his secret. Terry is horrified by the prospect of smoking human flesh. Meanwhile, Bo escapes and frees the other victims from the garden. Ida goes back to the motel to get something to eat, but the victims attack her and knock her out. Terry tries to escape, but Vincent gases her and ties her to a conveyor belt. He is interrupted by Bo, who crashes through a window, but Vincent strangles the weakened Bo.

Bruce awakens and finds one of his brother's shotguns. He goes to the plant but finds that his brother has armed himself with a giant chainsaw and placed a pig's head over his own as a gruesome mask. Vincent disarms his brother, but Bruce grabs his own chainsaw and duels Vincent. During the fight, the belt restraining Terry is activated, sending her slowly to a cutting blade. Despite his wounds, Bruce drives the chainsaw deep into Vincent's side. Bruce frees Terry and returns to Vincent. He gasps his final words, leaving the farm and "secret garden" to Bruce and lamenting his own hypocrisy for using preservatives.

Bruce and Terry go to the "secret garden" and find only Ida, who is buried head first. As they leave the motel, Bruce comments he is glad he left home when he was eleven. Terry suggests burning the motel, claiming it's evil. The neon sign saying "Motel Hello" fully short-circuits, permanently darkening the "O".



The movie was primarily filmed at the Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, California, with the white brick stable as the backdrop to the motel and farm. The Sable Ranch has been used in hundreds of Hollywood and independent movies and TV shows since the early 1920s.[citation needed] Interiors of the motel, farm, and smokehouse were filmed at the Laird International Studios in Culver City, California. The score, composed by Lance Rubin, was recorded at Warner Brothers Studios.


Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Motel Hell holds a 71% approval rating based on 24 critic reviews, with an average rating of 5.99/10. The consensus reads: "Eerie and satirical, Motel Hell has no vacancy when it comes to low-brow horror gags.”[5] On Metacritic, the film has an average score of 64 out of 100, based on reviews from seven critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[6]

Roger Ebert gave it 3/4 stars, writing, "What Motel Hell brings to this genre is the refreshing sound of laughter. This movie is disgusting, of course; it's impossible to satirize this material, I imagine, without presenting the subject matter you're satirizing."[7] Adam Tyner from DVD Talk awarded the film 4/5 stars, writing, "With its cacklingly dark sense of humor and some unforgettably twisted visuals, Motel Hell still feels fresh and wildly unique even all these decades later."[8] The Terror Trap gave the film 3/4 stars, calling it "A thoroughly enjoyable low budget horror with effective, low key doses of black humor".[9] Anthony Arrigo from Dread Central rated the film a score of 4/5, calling it "a darkly humorous film, played straight, replete with equal parts hilarity and horror".[10] Brett Gallman from Oh, the Horror! praised the film, calling it a successful imitator of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Comparing it to Hooper's film, Gallman wrote, "Motel Hell is one such successful imitator because it doesn’t just tap into these comedic implications—it unlooses them like a driller would a fount of oil, as its crude but wicked sense of comedy eventually spews forth, soaking the film’s proceedings with an offbeat vibe that forces audiences to consider just what in the hell is really going on here."[11]

Arrow in the Head rated the film 7/10, commending the film's acting, direction, and humor, but writing that the pacing, script, and finale should have been tighter.[12]

Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film 1.5 out of 4 stars. In his review, Maltin wrote that, although it was nice to see Rory and Wolfman share screen credit and commended its lively finale, he felt that the film still failed to distinguish itself.[13] TV Guide wrote, "Motel Hell could have been a great black comedy, but the uneasy direction of Kevin Connor fails to get most of the picture off the ground."[14] Dennis Schwartz from Ozus' World Movie Reviews gave the film a grade C-, writing that it is "tasteless, gruesomely awkward and moronic".[15] Chuck Bowen from Slant awarded the film 3/5 stars, writing that, although the horror portion of the film was somewhat effective, it failed to be even remotely funny.[16]

Home media[edit]

In 2002, MGM released Motel Hell as part of its "Midnite Movies" collection of double feature DVDs with the 1974 Deranged. On May 13, 2013, Arrow Video released the Region B Blu-ray for distribution in the U.K.[17]

On August 12, 2014, Scream Factory released a Region A Blu-ray for distribution on the United States and Canada.[18]


The film has gained a cult following over the years.[19] Motel Hell is referenced in the weird horror short story "Metaphysica Morum," by Thomas Ligotti.[20] The film is similarly referenced in "The Conspiracy Against the Human Race," Ligotti's only non-fiction work.[21]


  1. ^ Box office and business data for Motel Hell at the Internet Movie Database
  2. ^ "Motel Hell". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved January 4, 2017.
  3. ^ Prince 2000, p. 135.
  4. ^ "Motel Hell (1980) - Weekend Box Office Results - Box Office Mojo".
  5. ^ "Motel Hell (1980) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Flixer. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  6. ^ "Motel Hell Reviews - Metacritic". MetaCritic. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1980). "Motel Hell". Roger Ebert. Chicago: Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved January 4, 2017.
  8. ^ Tyner, Adam. "Motel Hell (Blu-ray) : DVD Talk Review of the Blu-ray". DVD Adam Tyner. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  9. ^ "Motel Hell (1980)". Terror The Terror Trap. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  10. ^ Arrigo, Anthony. "Motel Hell (Blu-ray) - Dread Central". Dread Anthony Arrigo. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  11. ^ Gallman, Brett. "Horror Reviews - Motel Hell (1980)". O the Brett Gallman. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  12. ^ "Motel Hell - Horror Movie Reviews". The Arrow. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  13. ^ Leonard Maltin (3 September 2013). Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 952. ISBN 978-1-101-60955-2.
  14. ^ "Motel Hell - Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV TV Guide. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  15. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. "motelhell". Dennis Schwatrz. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  16. ^ Bowen, Chuck. "Motel Hell". Slant Chuck Bowen. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  17. ^ "Motel Hell Blu-ray (United Kingdom)". Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  18. ^ "Motel Hell Blu-ray: Collector's Edition". Retrieved 2016-11-22.
  19. ^ Hamman, Cody. "Face-Off: Eaten Alive vs. Motel Hell". Cody Hamman. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  20. ^ Ligotti, Thomas (June 2014). The spectral link. Burton, MI. ISBN 9781596066502. OCLC 865496114.
  21. ^ Ligotti, Thomas (2010). The conspiracy against the human race : a contrivance of horror. New York, New York: Viking. p. 166. ISBN 9780143133148. OCLC 1023857590.


External links[edit]