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by Jeff Allard
The horror genre offers a veritable smorgasbord when it comes to tales of cannibalism but 1980’s Motel Hell has a quirky flavor all its own.
Amid the then-rising slasher wave of the early ‘80s, Motel Hell’s mix of madness and mirth didn’t quite fit with the trends of the times. No masked slashers in this. Instead there were the cheery, welcoming faces of Ida and Vincent Smith (Nancy Parsons and Rory Calhoun) – a seemingly kindly, if eccentric, brother and sister pair of motel owners who have a booming side business as smoked meat entrepreneurs. Vincent’s meats have made him something of a local celebrity with his slogan that it “takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.”
Mostly what it takes, though, is human flesh as Ida and Vincent prey on travelers – kidnapping them and burying them up to their necks in a hidden garden upon which they’re fattened up (via being force-fed through a funnel) and then “harvested” (as humanely as possible as they’re lulled by hypnotic colored lights prior to execution) to become part of Vincent’s irresistible recipe.
Directed by Kevin Connor and produced and written by siblings Steven-Charles Jaffe and Robert Jaffe, Motel Hell didn’t spawn a famous franchise like some of its contemporary competitors did but it is responsible for one of the most iconic images of ‘80s horror – that of the overall and flannel-clad Vincent wielding a chainsaw while donned in a blood-spattered pig mask; a striking, surreal sight which adorned the cover of the much-coveted FANGORIA issue #9.
Satirical rather than especially scary or gory (which hurt its commercial prospects back in the day), Motel Hell is something of an acquired taste but when you sit down for your Thanksgiving feast, leave some room for Farmer Vincent’s fritters. Motel Hell’s wicked roasting of traditional American values makes it ideal viewing on this most American of holidays.