Like two great tastes that taste great together, that genre we call horror and that lodging we call a motel seem to be made for each other. Now, to be fair, mere mention of the two in the same sentence introduces an 800lb gorilla into the room, and it would be ignorant to ignore it. Hello there, Mrs. Bates… What’s the matter, cat got your tongue? Fine, sit there if you like. Anyway, perhaps that old woman’s one of the reasons the two have become so inextricably intertwined, eh? Arguably the harbinger of the ‘modern’ era of horror, with a seemingly endless ripple effect that assures the story and its film will live in our nightmares forever, Psycho laid the groundwork for all kinds of nastiness one could get into with a room key. I remember being freaked out once as a little kid when I went back to our hotel for a shower after a day at the beach (another formerly benign location that elicits two of the most simple, memorable, and frightening musical notes ever written) and I hadn’t even seen the movie! Now that’s impact. But what about some of the other works that have laid it down as wet and wild as that dutiful son, Norman? Let’s take a look through the peephole, and the years, at some memorably creepy check-ins. Room 1 okay for you? It’s closer to the office… y’know, in case you need anything…
Nasty stuff featuring the great Michael Shannon alongside Ashley Judd, who stars as a waitress living in a low-rent motel while mourning a missing son, hiding from an abusive ex, and slowly being drawn into Shannon’s delusional psychosis that gives this film its name. The unavoidable-yet-harrowing ending packs a wallop. My wife has a touch of entomophobia and I can’t get her near this one.
Unusual horror suspects, Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale, star in this surprisingly taut nail-biter (sorry, Underworld films only qualify as worthy horror if you’re prepubescent and on Ritalin), as stranded travellers who happen upon a remote motel that turns out to be a front for a snuff film operation. Vacancy‘s atmosphere-over-gore approach elevates this one well beyond its basic premise.
Motel Hell (1980)
You’ve heard the name, even if you haven’t seen it. The always-entertaining Rory Calhoun plays a farmer who also operates – you guessed it – a motel. He also smokes the area’s reputed best meats, which just happen to be human flesh from the victims he captures in numerous booby traps around his property. One-part horror, two-parts parody, Motel Hell(o) is still fun after all these years.
Eaten Alive! (1977)
Technically, the mayhem occurs in a hotel here, but it’s so dilapidated it feels like less, so I say it’s fair game. Directed by the great Tobe Hooper and starring a still-foxy Marilyn Burns, EA! has it all: a brothel and hookers, a travelling couple with child, a psychotic hotel owner named Judd, and his ravenous giant pet crocodile that lives in the neighbouring swamp. Though it’s shot like a stage play and is really just a riff on the earlier (and better) Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this one’s nevertheless a load of bizarre, screaming fun.
Play Motel (1979)
A curious mix of Italian giallo and hardcore porn, if you don’t watch this one with a few drinks, it’ll have you feeling drunk anyway, by the time all’s said and done. The stunning Anna Maria Rizzoli makes this one worth a peek through the peephole alone (her nude photoshoot is a blatantly welcome distraction for fans of flesh) and the murder, sex, and intrigue that follows is pure Italian exploitation of the most peculiar order. While not exactly great cinema, Play Motel is still an oddly memorable check-in.
On that note, it’s time for this kid to check-out. Also, I stole the bath towels. It’s been fun riding with This Is Horror from the very beginning, but as we know, good things come to an end all the time. It’s Horror of Babylon’s time. As we get ready to turn over a new year, I’m turning over a new decade and burying those wild, wild 30s. Life and other pursuits beckon. But fret not, fiendish faithful, this only frees us up to do more, and to surprise each other when we least expect it. Who doesn’t love a good sneak attack, eh? Big things are currently in the gun barrel, and if the TIH universe ever throws up the signal, you’ll goddamn well get what you ask for. Til then, be good to yourselves and fight the good fight. To, respectfully, lift a quote from Morgan Freeman in Se7en… “I’ll be around”.
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