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31 Days Of Horror: 'Motel Hell' (1980)

Kris King Kris King
October 27th, 2010 8:39pm EDT

Motel Hell

If there’s a common consensus amongst horror movies it’s that rednecks are complete lunatics out to eat your skin. It doesn’t matter if it’s a ghost story or a slasher flick, if there’s a backwoods hillbilly involved then he probably wants to do something really horrible to someone. Occasionally a director will come along and subvert that expectation a bit, like Eli Roth does at the end of Cabin Fever, but overall the lesson is this: Don’t leave the city, don’t talk to the yokels, and for the love of Christ learn how to change a tire.

I bring this up because today’s movie, Motel Hell, follows a pair of redneck innkeepers that make jerky out of hapless passersby, and aside from that vague plot summary, I can’t really think of anything else to say about it. It’s poorly lit, and has its moments of pretty sharp black humor—and that’s about the extent of my notes. I realize that this movie’s casting country-folk as murderous crackpots is kind of a cheeky send-up of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but the redneck threat is something that’s come up in several of the movies I’ve covered this month: Cabin Fever, vengeful rednecks; The Burning, homicidal redneck; The Crazies, crazy rednecks; I Spit on Your Grave, rapey rednecks; and, finally, Motel Hell, cannibal rednecks. Jason Voorhees lives in the woods, Leatherface is a Texan. See the pattern here?

So what is it about hillfolk that scares us so badly? I think it comes from the assumption that every person who lives outside of a city or well planned suburb is an inbred, racist, ignorant asshole. And you know what, horror movies? That’s kind of mean. These people can’t help that they were born in Sassafras, Kentucky and that there’s nothing else to do but till fields and shoot animals. If you were born in a one-bedroom house to a family of 12 you might come off as a little weird too.

You know whose fault this is? Lazy screenwriters. That and Deliverance, but mostly it’s the screenwriters. In order to build suspense, your characters need to be isolated and their cell phones need to break, and rather than come up with anything original, horror writers just ship them off to the middle of nowhere and call it an homage to somethingorother. The problem is you also need a threat. And what’s in the middle of nowhere besides nothing? Rednecks. And cows. So what you get are killer rednecks with a weird hang-up on slaughtering things.

We need more urban horror movies. I don’t mean things like Vampire in Brooklyn or Jason Takes Manhattan, but something awesome like Rear Window.  No killer rednecks in Rear Window. The city is a great landscape for horror, with plenty of dangers lurking around everywhere. You’ve got serial killers, raving homeless people, CHUDs, stalkers, killer train conductors. Pick on them more, horror movies. If we’re going to exploit stereotypes, how about a movie that sends an innocent country girl into the big city and then have it eat her alive? I am getting tired of watching toothless Billy Bob chase after some disproportionately hot girl. It’s boring. Kind of like Motel Hell.

Tomorrow: Classing up the place a bit with Onibaba On second thought, to hell with class, I'm watching Blood for Dracula

Photo Credits: United Artists, 1980