One of the major sources of titles for Scream Factory label has always been the MGM film library: their arrangement with this studio has resulted in fine discs of titles like The Burning and Lifeforce. Their latest treatment of an MGM-sourced acquisition is a new blu-ray/DVD set of Motel Hell: and the result makes for a worthy addition to the cannibal section of your hi-def horror collection.
Things start off with a solid transfer for the film. Motel Hell is a challenging title because several sequences go for that “diffused” look that was so popular in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. The non-diffused daytime exteriors look the best here, with the rest doing as well as the naturally soft and dim look of the film allows. The results don’t stun but there is a notable upgrade from its DVD incarnation in detail and depth. Colors pop here and there (look out for those swirling lights that Vincent brings out for his livestock).
The audio part of the transfer sticks to the film’s original 2.0 Dolby Stereo mix, delivered in lossless form on the blu-ray, and it sounds pretty good for its age: stereo panning effects are subtle but noticeable and the rich musical score sounds really nice.
This set also boasts a full, comprehensive set of extras that will keep the film’s fanbase busy. Things start with a new commentary track that pairs director Kevin Connor with moderator/filmmaker Dave Parker. Though Connor’s memory can get fuzzy on some of the super-specific details, he’s frank about his first American filmmaking experience and reveals some interesting details. For instance, he reveals that he played a role in toning down the script from its John Waters-ish initial version and how Dr. Gene Scott inspired the film’s use of televangelists. Parker keeps him primed with questions and adds some fun trivia here and there, like how The Devil’s Rejects was shot at the same ranch location and the controversy created by the film’s infamous Fangoria cover.
Next up are five featurettes, two created for this set and three carried over from Arrow Films’ U.K. special edition. The first of the new featurettes is a making-of piece entitled “It Takes All Kinds” that features writers/producers Robert-Charles and Steven Jaffe, Connor and actor Marc Silver. The Jaffe brothers reveal how a mixture of bizarre childhood incidents and horror films inspired their script’s outré sensibility, Connor expands on some of his stories from the commentary track and Silver tells a few fun stories about being “in the pit” as one of Farmer Vincent’s victims.
The other new featurette is a 16-minute chat with Thomas Del Ruth, the veteran cinematographer who shot Motel Hell. He offers a relaxed yet informative stream of chat: he starts with tales of growing up in showbiz, including an early run-in with Rory Calhoun, and then discusses working with Connor and the rigors of shooting the chainsaw duel finale. A surprising moment comes when he reveals his wife died shortly before the shoot and he continued to work to keep himself occupied.
From there, the disc gets into a series of Arrow-sourced featurettes. “Ida Be Thy Name” collects interviews with a pair of female genre critics and a couple of modern day scream queens to create a thought piece about the function of the female villain in horror, including an analysis of Ida in this context. The focus of the piece drifts to and fro but there are some interesting comments to be heard, including Elissa Dowling’s take on how a female horror villain should be played.
The next piece is a brief (11:30 minutes) chat with Rosanne Katon. She starts with some brief comments about her work as a model and Playboy Playmate before getting in some fun tales about the shoot, including fond memories of Parsons and how hilarious it was to shoot the “garden” scenes despite their physical demands. She shares her memories with a contagious joy and shows a likeable appreciation of the film.
The last of the featurettes is a fifteen minute chat with actor Paul Linke. He reveals how a college friendship with one of the Jaffe brothers led to a role being written for him in the film then goes on to tell tales about shooting his big chainsaw fight and his surprising disappointment with the final product. He also discusses his subsequent stage career, which has included a famous one-man show and work with Ben Gazzara.
The remainder of the disc is devoted to promo materials. The film’s theatrical trailer tries to play the film as straight horror and mostly jettisons its humor elements. Two image galleries follow. The first is a brief behind the scenes gallery that gives a nice impression of the sense of fun involved in the film’s shoot. This is followed by an extensive poster and production gallery that includes tons of stills, a few lobby cards and array of posters, including several unused concepts. The disc closes out with a “More From” trailer gallery that is appropriately ‘80s-centric, including titles like Without Warning and The Funhouse.
In short, this is another strong entry from Scream Factory that gives a new transfer to a deserving cult fave and provides a red-carpet treatment when it comes to extras. If you already love this flick, don’t hesitate to dig in.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Motel Hell, click here.