Friday, 12 July 2013

Motel Hell (1980)/Pieces (1982) - Slasher Double Bill

I'll be honest. I don't love slashers but I don't hate them. I find the genre a mixed bag, but it is usually formulaic. For every Halloween, there's sixty Aerobicide (1987) or Splatter University (1984) types lurking on the aged video shelf. However, it's not all just hokey masked nuts hacking nubile but overaged teens.

Motel Hell (1980)
Directed by Kevin Connor.
Starring Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons, Nina Axelrod, Rosanne Katon

I like this movie. A rare United Artists attempt to jump the Halloween II/Friday the 13th bandwagon of major studios making exploitation horror. Directed by Kevin Connor, post-Amicus/Doug McClure, doing his first US film, it's a camp marvellous wonder that is a very noble attempt at doing a comedy horror. It's OTT and as cheesy as a grilled mozzarella bake, and that's the way it should be, complete with a chintzy z-rate country music theme by the possibly pseudonymous "Kregg Nance".
Ex-B-cowboy Calhoun is scene-swallowing (never mind chewing) as Farmer Vincent, a low-rent Colonel Sanders -type fast food merchant/motel owner behind Farmer Vincent's Fritters ('It takes all kinds of fritters to make Farmer Vincent's Fritters'.), helped by his younger sister Ida (Nancy Parsons, another scene-stealer as the overweight, pig-tailed, dungareed farm-girl), all is going well, until their  kid brother (Paul Linke, at 32, an improbable brother for the 60-odd Calhoun, less so for the 40-odd Parsons) returns with his new love, and all hell breaks loose.
This film has it all - creepy little girl twins, cannibalism (achieved by burying motel guests in the ground, their heads sticking out, tied with nooses, the ropes connected to a tractor, to make the tractor lift upward with the pulling power), swingers, hillbilly comedy, and a chainsaw-fight with Calhoun wearing a fake-looking pig's head.

PIECES (1982)
Directed by Juan Piquer Simon
Starring Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Ian Sera, Edmund Purdom, Paul Smith, Frank Brana, Jack Taylor

This, produced by semi-legendary smut/kung-fu/trash-horror producer Dick Randall is not the best slasher, but it is one of my favourites. It's not a good film, but it is semi-competently made. It has an all-star cast for a third-rate slasher (USTV stalwarts/married couple Christopher and Lynda Day George, Paul 'Bluto off Popeye/Midnight Express' Smith, former Matinee idol-turned-exploitation reliable Purdom, Spanish exploitation regular Jack Taylor) but because it is a Spanish film purporting to be an American one, it adds such a depth, such a layer, that it may indeed be the greatest film of all time. And it made $2 Million in America on its initial theatrical release, not bad for a low-budget film in a time when the drive-ins and fleapits died out.

The film begins in "Boston, 1942", though it clearly is "Valencia, 1982". A little boy in a cardigan is piecing together a jigsaw of a very 70s-looking naked lady with big Farrah Fawcett hair. Anachronistic baseball ephemera is seen on his wall, the look clearly trying to be more American than authentic period. His mother comes in, disgusted, asking for a "plastic bag" (in 1942) so he slaughters her up, then the neighbour and a Super Mario/Luigi alike cop comes in. The boy cries, saying a big man came in. Somehow, they believe he's innocent, despite him being covered in blood.
Cut- 40 years later.
In a suspiciously tropical Boston University, a girl skateboarding slowly crashes into a glass window carried Laurel and Hardy/Chuckle Brothers-style by two workmen from Masiello and "O'Donell" Co. (sic). Somehow, she survives and then is attacked by the killer who beheads her with a nice yellow chainsaw. The killer still holds dearly his mother's bloodied dress (How did he sneak it away from the scene of the crime I have no idea).
Meanwhile, the cops come in, invited by the Dean (Purdom). There's Lt. Bracken (George, tongue slightly in cheek) and Brana as his Leslie Nielsenesque sidekick. There's Smith as the odd caretaker, Willard (dubbed by the voice of Bud Spencer, Edward Mannix) who cherishes his yellow chainsaw. There's Professor Brown (Taylor), a polo-necked homosexual biology teacher who keeps bones in his office. The cops are helped by geeky permed stud Kendall (Ian Sera), who must have some ultra-magnetic attractive force, since he's not particularly desirable (this may be explained by a dubiously advised full frontal shot for our hero). Note how the cops accept Kendall, despite him being a potential suspect. Then, they bring in Lynda Day George as the world's worst tennis professional, Mary Riggs as an undercover cop/teacher, all watched by the Dean  (Purdom) and a Daria Nicolodi-lookalike nosy reporter.
This is undercut by weirdness - how is the killer able to sneak in a chainsaw into a lift? Why do they recognise him, behind his Shadow-esque scarf and wide-brimmed hat? Why does a kung-fu professor (an uncredited Bruce Le, a popular Bruce Lee-alike) wander about, kicking the air in the dark?
Only the identity of the killer is revealed - being the Dean, who is the boy, despite in the forty years between gaining an English accent (did he study at Oxford, Cambridge, Darlington Polytechnic?)
Well, he wants to create a jigsaw girl out of different body parts (Frankenhooker mark 1) to wear his mother's dress, why is not sure? Did he steal it from another Spanish Horror, 1969's The House That Screamed? Nobody knows.
The cops and Kendall rescue Mary from the Dean, and kill him before he plans to cut off her feet to put on the Frankenhooker.
The Frankenhooker comes to life, with a completely different face to the girl who was beheaded, whose head is now the hooker's.

And pulls off Kendall's penis through his denim jeans.
The film ends, freeze-frames on Kendall's anguished face.
Yes, not only did the Frankenhooker come alive all of a sudden (possessed by the Dean, the mother, one of the victims who was jilted by Kendall?) but it suddenly gained super strength.
The film is an enjoyable cheesefest. There's aerobic scenes, kung fu, laboured sex comedy between a breasty student asking where the pectorals are,  Friday the 13th poster (the head of Friday's production company, Steve Minasian produced PIECES).
The actors are serviceable, though the Spanish actors are quite stilted, rendered more by the dubbing.
But I cannot truly sum up this film's charms. Director Simon also did the 1979 Superman mockbuster Supersonic Man and a Kenneth More-starring Journey to the Centre of the Earth in 1976, also with Jack Taylor as a time-traveller, wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey bloke.

Both films have Arrow editions. Motel Hell has some interesting cast interviews, critiques by writers and journalists, and a  commentary with journalist Calum Waddell and director Kevin Connor.
There's a similar batch for PIECES, with a good amount of extras on one disc (though no features from the US Grindhouse edition) including a commentary by Fangoria editor Tony Timpone and Waddell, an interview with Jack Taylor, a nostalgic critique and a trailer. Both are recommended to horror fans.

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