Friday, June 19, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: CRANE: Sex , Celebrity, and My Father's Unsolved Murder


 

Robert Crane has stories to tell, that’s for sure.  His dad starred in a popular 1960s TV series, and was found murdered in a Scottsdale Arizona apartment in 1978.  If that sordid saga isn’t enough, Crane also carved out his own little niche in Hollywood, interviewing celebrities for magazines, writing a biography of Jack Nicholson, and spending several years as John Candy’s manager. 
 
Crane’s extremely readable autobiography Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father's Unsolved Murder,  (co-written with his longtime writing partner Christopher Fryer)  has a strange duality about it. One chapter will be about Bob Crane, who starred as Colonel Hogan in CBS’s Hogan’s Heroes, and the next will be about young Robert, who adroitly describes the snags that can come with having a famous father.  And while the rest of the country was shocked to learn that the elder Crane was a roving sex addict with a penchant for filming himself in the act, Crane had known about it for years. At one point he suggests his randy dad should’ve been neutered. “That,” Crane writes, “might have helped.”
 
Still, there’s something ultimately warmhearted about Crane’s story, and as we learn about this “happy go lucky show business family” succumbing to various pressures, the Cranes begin to symbolize every bit of innocence lost during the hectic 1960s.  Hell, Bob Crane even got his start on the old Donna Reed show. How’s that for a symbolic arc?
 
Crane, who has written extensively for various top magazines,  can tell a good story. Chapters about playing games with his dad, or hanging out at WICC in Bridgeport, Connecticut, while the old man worked his radio show, are told with a kind of homespun warmth. This is no easy trick, because daddy Crane’s idea of fun was to find a copy of Deep Throat and re-edit it with sounds from the Johnny Carson show (“Hi Yo!), as if he was trying to create the mashup of cheap thrills and cheap TV that swam around in his head.   The elder Crane was a mercurial sort, who not only excelled as a radio personality, but was also a competent  jazz drummer, and an actor who aspired to be the new Jack Lemmon.  But all Bob Crane could do once Hogan was canceled was to tour the country’s dinner theaters and score with the star fuckers of the hinterlands.  He piled them up like pancakes while a twisted feeb named John Carpenter filmed the sessions. Again, hi yo!
 
The generally accepted story is that Carpenter lost his temper when Bob Crane told him they were through as a team. Angered that he’d no longer have access to Bob’s throwaways, Carpenter allegedly bludgeoned the actor with a tripod, leaving him with a head that looked like a squashed melon. The case was never solved, but Robert Crane has another suspect in the story, and it’s none other than his father’s second wife, who certainly had her own reasons for wanting to see her actor/husband dead. The author doesn’t sew up all the loose angles, but he’ll have you wondering.
 
Crane also goes back in time to revisit his own career, first as a magazine writer and aspiring filmmaker, than as a member of Candy’s crew. There’s some inside showbiz stuff, including a funny bit involving Chevy Chase, and a fascinating section that shows Jack Nicholson morphing into a neurotic Hollywood phony in just a matter of years. There’s also enough family squabbling to make you glad you didn’t grow up in La-La land. Crane often compares his life to a Fellini movie. It’s worse. But he succeeds in depicting his dad as not just a degenerate sex-fiend. Judging by the tales shared in this book, Bob Crane was a funny, nice man, and a good, if occasionally absentminded father.  His vices led him into some dark places. Still, many people could’ve had the same habits and not end up dead. The truth is that Bob Crane had bad luck to go along with his bad taste.
 
The author also shares some sad personal moments, such as the death of his first wife, and the early passing of his buddy Candy. In the end, though, this is a story about a man whose father was murdered. Crane isn't too impressed by the idea of “closure”, though he does end the book with scene at an auction house where Colonel Hogan’s leather jacket is sold for a pretty good price. Fellini? More like Billy Wilder.
 
The story reminded me of a theory among psychologists that all men take up professions designed to impress their fathers.  It’s interesting that the son of a sex addict has been a longtime contributor to ‘Playboy’, perhaps hoping he'll get the old man’s attention if he's close enough to the centerfold.
 
- Don Stradley

 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: STRONG BOY...




John L. Sullivan has only been represented a couple of times in movies, most notably by brawny Ward Bond in Gentleman Jim. Bond did a fair job of swaggering, but there was more to Sullivan than strolling into a bar and shouting that he could lick any son of a bitch in the place.  As we learn in Christopher  Klein’s Strong Boy, Sullivan was not only the heavyweight boxing champion for 10 years, but lived a life that would make Floyd Mayweather and Mike Tyson look like Boy Scouts. 

From the start, Sullivan had the very modern philosophy of “go big or go home.”  For instance, the name “John Sullivan” was generic, even during the 1880s when he first came into the public view, but the insertion of the middle initial “L” gave  it flair.  He wanted you to know that he wasn’t just any John Sullivan from Boston. He was the strongest man on whatever continent he trod upon, and could level you with one blow from his meaty right hand, a shot described by one opponent thusly:  “I thought that a telegraph pole had been shoved against me endways.”

Of course, newspapers loved Sullivan.  Whether he was crushing some opponent in the ring, or drinking his way through a new town, he was good copy. “My excesses have always been exaggerated,” Sullivan said.  But he added, “I am public property, and the press is free to say of me what it pleases.”

Klein’s tasteful, well-written biography chronicles an extraordinary American life and quietly tries to separate the truth from the folklore.   Strong Boy reads like a concise American epic,  starting with the influx of Irish immigrants in the 1800s. Klein doesn’t delve into Sullivan’s psyche, but is content to report on what Sullivan did and said, letting us draw our own conclusions.  The author touches on Sullivan’s well-known racism, but doesn’t dwell on it.  Perhaps Klein felt that focusing on Sullivan’s “drawing of the color line” in regards to his career would dilute  Sullivan’s historical importance.  A more daring  writer might have offered more insights into the touchy subject, but Klein seems squeamish, even writing Sullivan’s favorite slur as "n-----".  

Still, the book is packed with great moments:  Sullivan whipping Paddy Ryan in New Orleans for the American championship in 1882;  the time in 1881 when he fought John Flood, “The Bulls Head Terror”, on a Hudson River barge;  his ambitious “knockout tour” of the country, when he brought his growing  legend to the hinterlands;  brawling for several hours under the boiling Mississippi sun to turn back challenger Jake Kilrain in 1889;  and his surprising success on the theatrical stage, when Sullivan happily learned that his drawing power remained strong long after his retirement from the ring.

Sullivan’s highs were matched, and some would say trumped, by spectacular lows, including  drunken conduct that is still embarrassing to read about more than a century later;  and an egomaniacal streak that can only be ascribed to Sullivan not only reading his own press, but believing it.  “The American publicity machine and celebrity culture was beginning to crank,” Klein writes, “and John L. knew how to pull the levers.” 

It must be said, though, that Sullivan was worthy of the hype. He not only popularized gloved boxing, but managed to dominate his weight class while fighting under both the London bareknuckle ring rules, and the newer Queensberry rules, which is roughly comparable to fighting successfully in both MMA matches and boxing.  And not only did he do it at a time when the police were always trying to shut down fights, and opponents wore spiked boots and  thought nothing of cutting into your legs and feet, but he was usually nursing a hangover.

Klein’s book is well-done, but there are some minor shortcomings.  Like some previous Sullivan biographers, he ends the tale with Sullivan’s 1918  funeral, when the frozen ground at  Mount Calvary Cemetery  had to be blasted with dynamite.  That’s a fine place to end the story, but surely  there was some legacy to be discussed.  Klein is fine at syphoning material from old archives, but his own thoughts are as absent from the story as are black fighters from Sullivan’s record.

There are also occasional lapses into purple prose. “Sullivan’s broad jaw,” Klein writes, “was as solid as the granite chiseled from the quarries of his native New England.”   Lord, that’s a tough one to swallow. Fortunately, most of the florid stuff comes early, as if Klein is clearing his mind of fluff before getting ready for the later chapters, which are nicely written.  But not even Klein can make the potato famine interesting.

Anyone writing about the life of John L. Sullivan will be confronted by holes in the story.  The traditional narrative arc of how this young man came out of Boston with hurricane force, became a larger than life jerk, and then mellowed into a gentleman pig farmer, has always struck me as slightly contrived.  Was he really so content in retirement? Were Sullivan’s early days entirely without signs of the whirlwind to come?  Klein sometimes mentions Sullivan’s generosity,  but gives few significant details.  Sullivan’s  friendship with George Dixon, a black bantamweight known in the papers as “Little Chocolate”, would’ve been ripe for discussion, but again, Klein touches on it and moves along. 

But then, Sullivan has receded so far back into mythology that his biographers are compelled to avoid the murkier stuff in favor of the more obvious  points.  As Klein writes of Sullivan capturing the heavyweight title, “No Bostonians celebrated more than the Irish, who had felt blistered by the red-hot Brahmin scorn since their arrival. Now, one of their own was champion of America. Sullivan instantly became an Irish-American idol, one of the country’s first ethnic heroes.”

True enough.  But it’s not enough.  The Sullivan saga is not merely, as many claim, a product of the time in which he lived. His tale is so primal that we’ve seen it  replayed by  other fighters, from Jack Dempsey, to Muhammad Ali, to Tyson, dominant ring men with oversized personalities who turned out to be all too human.  There is something of the fable in Sullivan’s life, something distinctly American, about a man who had it all, lost it all, and became a better person.  He’s a big American figure who deserves a big American book. But until someone can write it, Klein’s version will do.



 - Don Stradley


Monday, June 8, 2015

THE NIGHTMARE...




I've experienced 'sleep paralysis' similar to what is described in The Nightmare, a chilling documentary from director Rodney Ascher. I'll be in the middle of a sound sleep, when I sense that someone is in the room with me. I try to wake up, but I'm frozen in my bed and can't speak. The person, who looks a bit like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, edges closer. Finally, with a great effort, I'm able to shake myself awake. That ends it. But it makes for an uncomfortable night.


Unlike the people in the documentary, I've only experienced this a few times, but the effect was unforgettable. The people in the movie claim to experience it nightly, which would be more than I could handle. Also, I'm certain it's just a bad dream, while the people in The Nightmare are convinced that something more sinister and otherworldly is going on. When you hear some of their stories, you may be convinced, too.

Eight people from various locations are interviewed. They vary in age and social background, but they tell the same story. In short, they are continuously stalked in their sleep by shadowy figures. Some of the apparitions are playful - one man recalls being tickled by them - but most of them are menacing. A whisper from one of them is filled with the howls of tormented souls. A woman describes one of these shadow people hovering over her and feeling as cold as death. 

A pattern emerges. Not surprisingly, it's psycho-sexual. One of the women recalls being raped in her sleep. A man in the movie claims a shadowy figure taunted him about masturbating in his mother's bed. After awhile I was convinced that all of the people being interviewed had been molested as children because the 'visitors' appear to walk freely into their bedrooms, and usually climb into bed with them. (This idea of childhood trauma is never developed, though one of the women being interviewed reveals that she'd been beaten often as a child.) The shadow people are occasionally hostile. One young man recounts a demonic figure appearing in his room and hissing, 'I know what you are, and I'm going to kill you." No wonder the poor guy looks as if he hasn't had a good night's sleep in years.

These peculiar visitations are recreated for the movie, and they're chillingly effective. In fact, these scenes are scarier than most of the horror movies I've seen this year. Rodney Ascher is an interesting filmmaker. He gave us Room 237, which explored a mythology built around Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. He's obviously intrigued by urban legends, and his films are effective because he respects these legends and treats them accordingly. He also respects the people he interviews, which gives his work a solemn, serious tone.  You can tell these people in the movie are happy and relieved to have someone hear them out.

Of course, many of the stories in The Nightmare could be explained away as dreams. Some, though, are not so easily dismissed, such as the time two people in the same bed experience very similar 'visitations' from a dark figure with red eyes. Both wake up screaming. It's weird. Is it possible that their proximity made them pick up each other's dreams, like a radio frequency?

It's hard to understand why our minds would play such evil tricks on us. From what I understand about sleep paralysis, the human body goes into something like suspended animation as we sleep. This is to protect us, more or less, from falling out of bed. But why would our minds be so filled with menacing characters? Some suggest that these dream figures are alien presences, or creatures from another dimension. I'm not sure if that's valid or just hokum. On the other hand, I don't know what causes these people to be terrorized in their sleep by the same shadow shapes, and that bugs me. 

I felt sorry for the people in this documentary. They've sought help, but as one of them says, if a doctor doesn't know what you have, he doesn't care. I find it interesting that one of the women became a born again Christian, and no longer suffers from these frightening visits. The others seem resigned to their fate. One even accepts that he'll probably die in his sleep someday. What makes The Nightmare so discomforting is that the shadowmen seem hell-bent on winning. What's less clear is what they're trying to win.



Wednesday, June 3, 2015

ANIMALS...



Animals Movie Review



Even in an era where caped superheroes dominate the local movie screens, there’s always room for a good drug movie.  Heroin, it seems, is just like Jell-O.
 
Junkies are, historically speaking, good fodder for movies. I vaguely remember seeing a late night showing of Frank Sinatra in The Man With The Golden Arm many years ago.  He shivered and perspired, trying to kick his habit, looking less like a real drug addict and more like modestly talented actor hoping to impress the Academy voters.  Drugstore Cowboy made junkies look as dumb and desperate as they probably are, with some surrealism thrown in.  Trainspotting turned heroin addiction into an ugly comedy with a rockin’ soundtrack.  To their everlasting credit, the makers of Animals don’t go in for nightmare imagery or histrionics.  Jude and Bobbie, the two main characters, are just a pair of lost souls being slowly destroyed.   
 
In the wake of those earlier films, viewers might expect to see at least a few scenes of torment and torture, or hear a few screams of anguish. But we don’t see the addicts at their worst, just a few scenes of them shooting up in public toilets.  Jude and Bobbie are not exactly Sid and Nancy.  They pull off some con jobs to get money, but they aren’t the swashbuckling rebels that have made most drug movies somewhat entertaining.  If there’s a resemblance to any couple in previous drug movies, it’s to Al Pacino and Kitty Wynn, the colorless pair from Panic in Needle Park (1971).  
 
I mention those previous movies because the druggie film is a genre in itself, as predictable as film noir or a horror movie, with certain characters going through the same ordeals as those in previous films.  All addicts seem to have the same story: they get hooked, they enjoy it for a while, they experience some sort of downfall, and then they try to clean up.  Someone dies;  someone survives.  Animals is no different than the drug films that came before it, though it’s more low key.  Jude has rotting teeth.  Bobbie thinks she has breast cancer.  They live in their car and they’re running out of money.  Jude loves her, and often stares at her with moony eyes.  She appears to love him, too, but she’s harder to pin down.  Then again, he gets her to pretend to be an escort so they can rip off unsuspecting guys.  Is she doing it for him, or the junk?
 
The movie has a soft-edged, dreamy effect.  It never quite gains momentum, and the few dramatic events are small.  The story might have made an interesting memoir, but as cinema it feels light and airy.  Still, it’s more watchable than most of the ‘indy’ stuff that has come down the pike in recent months. 
 
This may be because of the terse screenplay by David Dastmalchian, who also stars as Jude.  The story was allegedly personal to him, though I don’t know to what degree.  Jude appears to be a na├»ve bumbler, quickly coming up with seedy ways to make money even though he claims to have come from a privileged background.  At one point he wonders how a well-to-do white kid became addicted, ruminating briefly on his cultured background.  He doesn’t go any deeper than that, which is just as well.  Dastlmalchian and director  Collin Schiffli are more interested in showing people trying to get out of the trap, than falling into it.
 
Bobbie is less contemplative than Jude. She’s in love the way a teenager is in love. She probably loves him because he’s always telling her how wonderful she is. But she doesn’t take advantage of his worship.  She’s a pretty good sport, considering they spend most of their nights sleeping in the front seat of his old shitbox. At one point we see Jude straining at the toilet, suffering from constipation.  “How’d it go?” Bobbie asks later. “Not even an M&M,” he says.  Only a couple truly devoted to each other could engage in such dialog.
 
As Bobbie, Kim Shaw is playful and believable as an object of desire.  She never seems quite as smart as Jude, though she proves in the end that she’s a survivor.  Jude, though he seems more intelligent, proves in the end that he’s not as smart as he thinks.  Loving Bobbie and trying to maintain a heroin addiction proves too much for him.  I like the way he takes it, though.  He may turn out to be a reasonable, decent man.
 
Fortunately, neither kid dies.  Had this been a 1970s film, one of them would’ve croaked, to be sure.  At the very least, a baby or a puppy would’ve died.  Instead, it’s 2015 and people are a bit less fatalistic these days.  The other curse of indy films circa 2015 is that the makers of the movie fear going over the top.  The film, at times, tries so hard to be unemotional that it flatlines.  This is a mistake, because Jude and Bobbie are so insipid that there should’ve been something loud or violent keep us interested.  Jude lingers around some shady drug dens, and has a run in with some cops, but that isn’t enough.  Why do we remember Easy Rider Because everybody gets blown away in the end. 
 
Still, I liked Animals.  It is the movie it wanted to be, and even if it doesn’t say much, it does so in its own voice.
 

 

Monday, June 1, 2015

LOOKING BACK: MOTEL HELL (1980) ...




I remember the lot of us piling into someone's car, probably driven by someone's well-meaning older sister who just wanted to get out of the house for a night, and heading over to the local twin cinema where Motel Hell was playing.  We were beside ourselves with anticipation, for we considered ourselves connoisseurs, having already endured such fare as Halloween and Friday the 13th, not to mention drive-in showings of Night of the Living Dead and The Exorcist, already a few years old but still packing a wicked punch. So you can imagine our gradual disappointment as Motel Hell played out: it was a comedy.

We didn't know who to blame. We couldn't remember which of us had read about the movie and recommended it. Maybe we were all guilty. After all, we'd heard there was a guy in the movie wearing a pig mask, attacking people with a chainsaw. How could that not be great?  But there were too many pratfalls in the mud, and too many corny jokes.  I don't recall how the audience reacted, but our little group slumped out into the parking lot, about as disappointed as any quartet of movie goers could be.

"Some of it was ok," somebody said.

"The cutting out of the vocal cords," someone else said.

We tried to muster some enthusiasm for the guy in the pig mask, and we all agreed that the beautiful Elaine Joyce, queen of TV game shows and 'Love Boat' episodes, was a delight. But our comments were empty. We were just trying to see the best in something that would go down as one of the great disasters of our young movie going lives.

Over the years, though, the movie occupied a place in my heart. It reminded me of fun times, and Fangoria magazine, and the maniacal promise that all horror movies offer just moments before you step in to the darkness of the theater. I remember thinking in those days, with the release of each new horror movie,  that maybe this time I'd be shaken and changed forever. Deep down, I desired to be carried out of the theater on a stretcher, paralyzed with fright, images from the movie burned into my brain, ruining me.

And if not for a few twists of fate, Motel Hell might have been the film to do it.

The original screenplay by Robert Jaffe and Stephen-Charles Jaffe was much darker than the finished product. It was rumored to be  far more violent, and even included scenes of bestiality. It was not played for laughs. Tobe Hooper, who'd directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was originally slated to direct the picture for Universal.  This, I think, is the movie I would have enjoyed.

The Jaffe brothers were relatively new in Hollywood - Robert had adapted a Dean Koontz novel for the Julie Christie film, Demon Seed (1977), while Stephen had served as a producer on that film, as well as Time After Time (1979), a well-regarded time travel film starring Malcom McDowell.  The Jaffes' dad, Herb, was also a producer, having helmed The Wind and the Lion (1975). All three Jaffes were aboard for Motel Hell, but once Universal understood what the grotesque feature was all about, the production was canceled. Without Universal's backing, Hooper also moved on. The project was suddenly without a director or a distributor. More time passed. Finally, in March 1980, a British director happened to be in LA, looking for work.

Kevin Connor was 43 at the time, with a few movies under his belt, including an excellent Amicus anthology called From Beyond The Grave (1974). With no jobs coming his way, he visited his agent, Bobby Litman. When Connor moaned about his lack of work, Litman told him about an opportunity to direct a horror film. This turned out to be Motel Hell, which had been languishing for nearly two years without any takers.  Connor met with the Jaffes, showed them a print of From Beyond The Grave, and talked them into turning their screenplay into a "black comedy" and "removing all the unnecessary crudeness." 

I have a feeling that the unnecessary crudeness is what I missed. 

A comfortable five week shoot ensued. The majority of exteriors and location filming were shot in Northern California in Canyon County. The ranch house of the Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, California acted as the motel office; a nearby stables doubled for the motel itself. Interiors of the motel, farm, and smokehouse were filmed on constructed sets at Laird International Studios in Culver City. 

Veteran cowboy star Rory Calhoun was onboard as Farmer Vincent (after Harry Dean Stanton had turned the role down), and Nancy Parsons was cast as Vincent's degenerate sister Ida. Paul Linke, a college friend of Robert Jaffe, was cast as Vincent's younger brother Bill, the hero of the piece. Linke dropped 25 pounds to play the role (he was probably best known to audiences as Grossman on NBC's 'CHIPS'.) Playboy Playmates Monique St. Clair and Rosanne Katon had small roles, as did famous radio personality Wolfman Jack. (Look for John Ratzenberger of 'Cheers" fame in a small role, too.)

United Artists released the movie in Oct. 1980, and it slowly worked its way across the country. Motel Hell enjoyed a small success - the movie cost about three million, and made about six. It wasn't enough to spawn a franchise, but it wasn't a loser. UA had to be happy with a film that earned back more than double its production costs with a minimum of fuss.

The story: Vincent and Ida run a roadside establishment called Motel Hello, but the "O" has shorted out in the neon sign, thus we get the film's title. The motel is just a front, though, for Vincent makes most of his money by selling his world famous smoked fritters. His secret? He mixes pork with human flesh. His trick is to set traps on the road near the hotel, where unsuspecting drivers inevitably wipe out. Vincent drags the bodies to his special garden, buries them up to their necks, and cuts their vocal cords so they can't scream for help. Why bury them? So he can feed them and fatten them up like captured veal. When one of his intended victims turns out to be a pretty young blond woman, he falls in love with her. This, of course, creates problems.

The film has a black comedy feel that seems ripped from the pages of old EC comics. Whatever violence or sexuality there may be is more laughable than visceral. But the tongue in cheek humor that Connor was so proud of left a few critics scratching their heads. From The NY Times News Service: "There are liberal dashes of intentional humor that make one wonder whether the movie is not laughing at itself. If it is, it is not laughing nearly hard enough, so the innocent bystander is uncertain whether he is watching sly merriment or serious mayhem..."

Strangely, Roger Ebert practically swooned over it, calling it "a welcome change of pace," and adding that "most of the sleazoids would be a lot more fun if they didn't take themselves with such gruesome solemnity."

Of more importance to the movie's status was the recognition given to it by the horror cognoscenti, perhaps most notably in Phil Hardy's excellent 'Encyclopedia of Horror Movies', a landmark tome that belongs on the bookshelf of any horror buff. It described the final chainsaw battle as "one of the truly great moments in the Grand Guignol pantheon." Hardy's book also described the satirical aspects of the film as 'pretty juicy," and Vincent's belief that he was doing the country some good was, "the epitome of Reagan's America."  Never mind that the script was written during the Carter administration; the film's supporters latched onto the idea that the story was a  social statement. As one American critic put it, the movie's "eerie ambience shows America and its simple minded ideals through puke colored lenses."

Whether Motel Hell was a successful satire or not, it attained cult status over the years for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that it received an X-rating in England.  Motel Hell wasn't on the list of VHS  movies banned during the U.K.'s infamous "video nasty" era, but it seemed to benefit from the hype, as did most gory horror movies of the era. 


In Great Britain the movie was released on tape in the early 1980s, still saddled with the X, meaning the movie was not suitable for youth below 18. Until 1982 the X certificate existed and was replaced by the 18 certificate of the BBFC. This version was slightly censored, which created a mythology that an uncut version existed.  The excised footage, not more than a few seconds, had to do with a scene where Farmer Vincent accidently guts himself with his own chainsaw. Another factor that added to Motel Hell's legend was the word "cannibalism," which always cropped up in stories about the film. Missing footage and cannibalism could only whet the appetites of gorehounds. When the movie occasionally appeared on American television, usually late at night on some far flung cable channel, it would be heavily edited, creating more interest, and frustration, for aficionados.  In 2002 the film was finally released on a DVD double bill with Deranged, giving a new generation, and an old one, a chance to see what the fuss was about.

Ultimately, the film has earned its reputation because it's pretty good. Despite my initial reaction, it's a solid movie with some strong flourishes. For me, the real star of the film is Nancy Parsons as Ida. She's a great heel, mixing in just the right amount of comical villainy with downright sadism. The scene where she invites Vincent's new girlfriend out for a swim and then tries to drown her is nearly perfect. I'll always wonder what the original screenplay might have been like, but there's plenty to like in Motel Hell.  Cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth created a cheesy post card feel for the movie which worked beautifully, and there are a couple of scenes that are exceptionally good, particularly when we see the buried victims, their heads visible above the dirt, articulating their pain in horrific gurgles. 

The Jaffes didn't do much writing after Motel Hell, but the father and son producers remained busy during the next two decades. Their combined resumes include such hefty titles as Night Flyers, The Lords of Discipline, Ghost, Near Dark, Star Trek VI, Strange Days, Fright Night, Fright Night Part 2, and The Fly II.  As for Connor, he established himself as a prolific television director. 

Motel Hell has its moments.  Unfortunately, I came of age during a time when horror movies were rather gloomy and serious, and I had no patience for a feature littered with campy jokes. I'll always think the tale of Farmer Vincent and his fritters could have been better. When I watched Motel Hell recently, I couldn't help thinking there was a good horror movie in there trying to get out, the Jaffe's original script still trying to be heard. In a way, like one of Vincent's victims, its own throat had been cut. 

Motel Hell was released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory in Aug. 2014.  It's also available on many streaming services, including Xfinity VOD.