Friday, November 23, 2018

Worth Mentioning - It Takes All Kinds of Critters

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Backwoods murderers, an ancient evil, and a movie you may not believe exists.


It makes sense that Tobe Hooper was at one point in the running to direct Motel Hell, since the film is basically a mash-up of his films The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive. Actually, Hooper was too obvious of a choice to direct, because he would have just been doing the same thing all over again if he had made the movie. I'm glad he didn't, and not just because I wouldn't want to see him repeating himself in this way. More importantly, if Hooper had made a cannibal horror comedy that culminates in a chainsaw duel in 1980, he probably wouldn't have gone on to direct my beloved Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 in 1986 - that being a cannibal horror comedy that culminates in a chainsaw duel. Instead, the world got Hooper's TCM2 as well as Motel Hell, which ended up being directed by British filmmaker Kevin Connor. The horror genre, and the world, is better for having both of those films in it.

Motel Hell is a movie I was aware of for decades before I was able to watch it. As a kid, I would read through issues of Fangoria, and in the ad for back issues I was always drawn to the image of the cover for Fangoria #9, which prominently featured Motel Hell, the cover dominated by a farmer wearing a pig's severed head over his own, wielding a bloody chainsaw. Already a firmly established fan of the first two Texas Chainsaw movies, I felt a strong urge to see this other film that promised some chainsaw insanity.

When I finally did see Motel Hell, it didn't impress me as much as those first two Chainsaw movies had, but I still enjoyed it.

The film stars Rory Calhoun as Vincent Smith, who runs a pig farm and also has on his property a motel called Motel Hello (but the last O on the neon sign has a short in it, so it keeps flashing on and off). Vincent's grandmother was a woman who loved to smoke meat, and she wasn't picky about what sort of meat she smoked. The story goes that grandma once had Vincent kill an annoying dog for her, and after that the dog meat was smoked and enjoyed by the whole family. As terrible as that is, this lack of pickiness continues on to another level of extreme.

Vincent has a line of smoked meat products called Farmer Vincent's Fritters that can be purchased within a 100 mile radius of his farm, and the secret of this tasty meat is that it's not pure pork. "It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent fritters", and he mixes the meat of his pigs with the meat of humans he catches from a road near his house (and occasionally motel clientele).

Helping Vincent run the farm and motel is his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons), who is fully aware of his meat-mixing ways. In fact, she helps Vincent catch new "livestock" and slaughter them when the time comes. The slaughter doesn't happen immediately - Vincent and Ida capture people, sever their vocal cords, and bury them neck-deep in a "secret garden" on the property. They then wait a certain amount of time before slaughtering their humans, who Vincent sees as being no different than a typical farm animal raised for meat. This is all just farming to Vincent... but the sight of these people struggling in the ground, unable to speak, is quite a strange and disturbing sight.

This whole set-up is put in jeopardy when Vincent causes a motorcycle crash. The biker gets added to the secret garden, but Vincent decides to bring the unconscious young woman who was also on the bike, Nina Axelrod as Terry, back home with him. When she regains consciousness, Terry is understandably thrown for a loop when she finds out her biker boyfriend was killed in a crash that Vincent "saved" her from. It's less understandable why Terry sticks around on the farm... She sticks around so long that Vincent and Ida's younger brother Bruce (Paul Linke), who also happens to be the town sheriff, makes an attempt at becoming her new boyfriend.

Terry isn't that into Bruce, though. For some baffling reason, she has fallen in love with the much older Vincent (Calhoun was 33 years older than Axelrod) and might even be willing to marry him. This twist in the tale might be even stranger than any of the cannibalistic farmer shenanigans.

You might think that Bruce being the sheriff would be a good thing for Vincent and Ida, but he's actually completely clueless about what his siblings have been doing. He loves the smoked meat they make, Vincent describes him as the biggest cannibal in the county, but he has no idea it contains human. It's the sibling rivalry over Terry that causes Bruce to realize some uncomfortable truths... and leads to that aforementioned chainsaw duel.

Motel Hell is a fun movie with a good sense of humor.  Calhoun is great in the role of Vincent, and there are some wonderfully goofball supporting characters, the most memorable being Elaine Joyce and Dick Curtis as a pair of swingers. While it's slightly too long at 101 minutes and has some odd elements, it delivers enough laughs and weirdness that it's worth watching. Multiple times. It's not a movie I would be able to sit through with any sort of regularity, but it's a good one to come back to every few years or so.

How could I resist rewatching it occasionally when it features a cackling farmer wearing a pig's head while having a chainsaw duel?


Director J.R. Bookwalter's The Sandman is a strange film, made at a strange time and under strange circumstances. When the basic concept is described, it makes the film sound like a low budget Nightmare on Elm Street knock-off: the title character is a cloaked supernatural being with glowing red eyes who visits people while they sleep... and then murders them with a sickle. The execution, however, is not Elm Street at all.

For one thing, the movie takes its time acknowledging that it's a horror story. Since an opening scene with the Sandman was cut, more than 35 minutes pass before we can know for sure that there really is something called the Sandman lurking around and killing people. Up to that point, we've just been hanging out with struggling insomniac author Gary (A.J. Richards) and meeting the wacky fellow residents of the trailer park he lives in. There's the off-kilter Vietnam veteran Zachariah (James Viront), who's always going off on inappropriate rants; the kooky old lady Mrs. Martinak (Barbara Katz-Norrod); Gary's dimwitted and irresponsible cousin Ozzy (Matthew Jason Walsh), who shows up one night to let him know he's moving in with him; sleazy photographer Bud (Terry J. Lipko); and Gary's girlfriend Maris (Rita Gutowski), who is such an unpleasant, rude, unsupportive, constantly raging harpy that it's impossible to understand why Gary wants to be around her at all.

Once you've seen the Maris character in action, it's no surprise to hear that Bookwalter was on the verge of divorce when he made this movie.

Within those first 35 minutes there are some references made to the Sandman and the fact that the number of people dying in their sleep has risen 200% over the last 4 months, but that exposition is hard to take seriously because it's delivered by Zachariah and through an over-the-top, ridiculous TV show that spoofs the Geraldo Rivera talk show that was on the air at the time. Specifically, the 1988 episode in which a fight broke out and Rivera's nose was broken. Here James L. Edwards wears a fake mustache to play talk show host Gerald Rivers.

Eventually the Sandman starts killing off some of these characters we've met, and as the bodies stack up in his trailer park Gary becomes determined to figure out exactly what's going on and how to bring an end to it.

This is an indie production where the back story is more interesting than the story that's told within the film. The movie, with its meandering pace and off-the-wall dialogue, doesn't work very well for me, but I find the audio commentary recorded by Bookwalter and Edwards to be very entertaining to listen to. On that track, they discuss what it was like to make this movie in that trailer park at this particular time in their lives. They rented the trailer that serves as Gary's home for a month, then would branch out through the rest of the park while filming. The trailer park sat in a bad part of town and was known as "Camp Death" or "Camp Blood" to the local police... and Edwards spent the month living there in Gary's trailer, joined by other people involved with the production. Issues with the park owner, a confrontation with gang members, the ensuing brawl, and an insanely high phone bill are all discussed on the commentary.

Bookwalter wasn't too pleased with how The Sandman turned out - he's not as disappointed with it as he was with something like Robot Ninja or some movies in the series he refers to as "The Six Pack", but he didn't feel like it lived up to its potential. I would agree with that, but while I find The Sandman underwhelming, it does hold some level of appeal for me. It probably has a lot to do with the movie being filmed in my home state of Ohio during my childhood.

The Sandman is watchable, but I'd rather watch it with the commentary on.


In 1960, four teenagers were brutally attacked on the shore of Lake Bodom in Finland, three of them dying as a result of their wounds. The killer was never brought to justice. That's a true story. The film Lake Bodom, which was directed by Taneli Mustonen from a screenplay Mustonen wrote with Aleksi Hyvärinen, is not a true story, but it draws inspiration from that real world tragedy.

The film starts out very much like your average slasher movie, the only difference being that this one was filmed in Finland. Four modern day teenagers head out to Bodom to camp in the exact spot where those murders occurred back in 1960, and there are a couple obvious options for which way this film might go. One option: the teens are going to find out the truth about what happened in 1960 and some of them are going to suffer the same fate as the campers who came before them at the hands of either the original killer, still stalking the lake all these years later, or someone connected to that killer. The other option: the boys on the camping trip (played by Mikael Gabriel and Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä) have terrible intentions in mind for the girls (Nelly Hirst-Gee and Mimosa Willamo).

The second option seems like a major possibility, because the boys have lied to the girls to get them to accompany them on this camping trip, one of them is constantly looking over crime scene photographs from the '60 murders, and they say they want to reconstruct the scenario.

I won't say which direction Lake Bodom goes in, but I will say that the film truly surprised me. I didn't expect much of what happens, aside from the fact that characters do get murdered in it. The story takes effective twists and turns, and although it sputtered out toward the ending and sort of disappointed in the final moments, I quite enjoyed the ride on the way to that point.

Lake Bodom has its problems, but it has enough tricks up its sleeves that I think it's worth at least one viewing.


What do you get when you have famed novelist Richard Matheson, his son/Three O'Clock High co-writer Richard Christian Matheson, and Bob Clark, the director of such films as Black Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Porky's, team up? The answer is the 1990 action comedy flop Loose Cannons, which stars Gene Hackman as Washington D.C. cop MacArthur "Mac" Stern and Dan Aykroyd as his partner Ellis Fielding. A comedy that begins with a boatload of people, including the lovable and funny Dom DeLuise as a pornographer called The Hippo, being menaced by a villain who has a man's severed head stuck on the end of a fishing pole.

That odd and unexpected opening is actually the perfect lead-in for a movie that involves German villains going on a killing spree to stop a homemade porno that features Adolph Hitler engaging in gay group sex from leaking out to the public. It's that string of murders Mac and Fielding are out to solve when they cross paths with The Hippo, who they protect as they head to New York, where the film is.

Mac, Fielding, and The Hippo are pursued not only by modern Nazis, but also by Nancy Travis as a Mossad agent and Ronny Cox as an FBI agent who doesn't want Hitler's sex reel leaking out because one of the men he was having sex with has gone on to become a political figure.

If this didn't sound bizarre enough, there's another major part of this film that I haven't mentioned yet: Fielding has multiple personality disorder and will lapse into over-the-top demonstrations of different personalities whenever violence erupts around him... and most of his personalities are pop culture icons. Dirty Harry, the Lone Ranger, the cast of Star Trek, the Cowardly Lion, various cartoon characters, an unleashed Aykroyd cycles through a bunch of different impersonations.

Revisiting Loose Cannons twenty-eight years later, it's easy to see why it was a critical and financial failure; it's stunning that it was even made. What were the filmmakers thinking when they assembled this madness? But that's looking at it and questioning it from an adult perspective - when this film was released on VHS, I loved it. I dug the action and thought Aykroyd was hilarious. So it worked for a six or seven year old, but you can't say a film with a Hitler porno as the MacGuffin was aimed at a viewer that young. This didn't know who it was aiming at, and it's pure luck that it just happened to work for me at the time.

This is a movie that will always mean something to me because I have a nostalgic connection to it, but it's also something some viewers might like to check out so they can be stunned that it exists.

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