Tag Archives: Rory Calhoun


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DIRECTED BY: Kevin Connor

FEATURING: Rory Calhoun, Nancy Parsons, Nina Axelrod, Paul Linke

PLOT: Out in Rural, USA, Farmer Vincent operates both the “Motel Hello” and a popular smokehouse; neither business is entirely kosher.

Still from motel hell (1980)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Quirky horror is always fun, and so is Motel Hell. However, the extra little touches added to Kevin Connor’s grinder make this a weird little morsel to ingest: psychedelics, home-spun folksiness, a human garden, and the left-field cameo from Wolfman Jack (as the local priest, no less)—all come together to make something strangely delicious.

COMMENTS: As Nietzsche didn’t quite say, “…if you gaze long enough into a sausage, the sausage will gaze back into you.” There is a strong philosophical undercurrent (casing, even) to Motel Hell. Our spiritual teacher is Vincent Smith: pig farmer, motelier, and all around stand-up country gent. Rustic affability courses through his veins, and cheery wisdom bubbles up through his placid surface. He treats his animals humanely; he is affectionate to his simple-minded sister; his guests are all graced with his decorum. And he has a plan to help God to save the world: through transforming sinful passers-by into the best damned smoked meat you can find.

Director Kevin Connor lays out his cards right quick, just in case you didn’t quite grasp the nuance in the film title. Meet Vincent. Meet Ida. Meat farm. Vincent and his sister are pranksters, spooking the twin girls of two guests. But later that night, he lays a trap for a passing motorcyclist and his far younger lover, harvesting the former and seducing-cum-adopting the latter. However, being so smitten as I am by Rory Calhoun’s charm, I’ve already gotten ahead of the game.

One of the delightful oddities in this B-movie blood comedy is just how Vincent and Ida prepare their meat. Sure, sure, there’s a smoking process and “secret spices” (as to be found in the smokehouse, labeled exactly as such), but there’s also the prep work. It involves holes in the ground, gunny bags, feeding funnels, and, when it is time to harvest the flesh-crop, some swirling spin rays, to give the harvest a “…radical, hypno-high. Heavier, but smoother than any trip [they’ve] ever had.” Beyond the groovy head-trips (chuckle along with me), Vincent brings a solemnity to his work. As he openly muses after a gathering, “Sometimes I wonder about the karmic implications of these acts.” His sister Ida, on the other hand, does not wonder. She just likes her work and, even more-so, the tasty snacks which ensue.

Motel Hell is a silly movie with cleverness, uneven acting, and a fun little chainsaw duel thrown into the mix. Connor and his team are obviously having fun, and are more than happy to provide the audience with blood, surprises, and some obligatory T&A. I enjoyed many a chuckle, and sounded an outright guffaw at Vincent’s scandalous confession at the climax. There are weirder movies, there are bloodier movies, and there are sillier movies, but Motel Hell, like Vincent’s secret blend, is a perfect balance of all these ingredients.


“It’s meant to be weird, campy and funny but settles for being tasteless, gruesomely awkward and moronic.”–Dennis Schwartz, Dennis Schwartz Reviews


“Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help!”

Cinematic horror had come a long way since its primitive infancy as part of the 1920s German Expressionist movement. The 1930s Gothic comedies of , the art deco perversity of , ‘s outsiders, and the 1940s literary subtleties of represented the genre in its adolescence. Of course, we are assured that each preceding generation, especially its artists, are comparatively naive—akin to cave painters. So, it should be no surprise that the genre evolved, by leaps and bounds, beginning in the modern era of the 1950s, which brought us the atomic Deadly Mantis in 1958 and topped that within a mere fifteen years: killer bunnies, in a certified classic with “Star Trek”‘s Dr. McCoy starring in his version of the “Wrath of Donnie Darko.” Yes, it’s Night of the Lepus.

This opus of oversized, rabid jackrabbits is such an abomination that star DeForest Kelley (whose career began with 1947’s suspenseful noir Fear In the Night) never made another film outside of the Star Trek franchise. This was at least a guarantee of superior mediocrity. Actually,  despite glued-on porn mustache accompanied by lamb chop sideburns and his polyester suit decorated with a necktie that threatens to swallow him whole long before the Jurassic hares escape the garden, Kelley embarrasses himself the least. Faring worse are former heroine Janet Leigh, “B” western star , Paul Fix, and Stuart Whitman. MGM (!?!) apparently never read the script, and later placed the entire blame on Director William F. Claxton, a veteran of anonymous westerns and television episodes (including the immortal “Love, American Style”). Unsurprisingly, Claxton never made another theatrical film after this ( the same fate met first and last time screenwriter Don Holliday).

Still from Night of the Lepus (1972)As mind-numbing and unfathomable as it may seem, Claxton and the cast and crew play it straight, despite Saber-toothed domestic bunnies, grown men dressed as a Jason Vorhees version of a Chuck Jones toon, and lotza red corn syrup. Predictably, the four legged critters are the only ones who seem to get it, being clearly annoyed by the FX hacks squirting dyed molasses into their eyes.

There is a degree of charm to be found in something so ludicrous being made by such a large, clueless team. Unfortunately, there is no Vincent Price as Irontail to save it from being a crashing bore. The plot is based on the standard Hollywood idea of atomic mutation. A pair of scientists (Whitman and a bell-bottomed Leigh) are solicited by Calhoun. Apparently,  Roger and Jessica Rabbit have been working overtime between the lettuce leafs. Calhoun is sick and tired “of them critters raiding my carrot patch.” Instead of calling Elmer Fudd, the scientists, with help from “Bones,” experiment with harmones! Their daughter (a good argument for birth control) releases the herd of photographically blown-up hares running in slow mo and…Strange things begin to happen at the Arizona Ranch indeed when “COTTONTAIL CANNIBALS” go a-stampeding. Outlining the plot further would only waste precious time.

It is not the yawn-inducing, pedestrian story, but rather the astoundingly slipshod execution (including woefully amateurish editing by John McSweeney) that makes it a movie that can only go well with store bought cardboard pizza. If only this film could have had a director and studio with a taste for rabbit pellets. One can only image what Ed Wood, , or could have done with this. Even more unforgivable than the film itself is the “special edition” DVD, which excised a classic scene of a victim engaged in a bit of sumo wrestling with an extra dressed in Ralphie’s Christmas suit.

The quoted dialogue in the opening above is delivered by a deputy sheriff to a crowd at the drive-in cinema watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon. No one is surprised.

The only authentic surprise is the amount of gore: multifarious scenes of severed limbs doused in gallons of tinted Aunt Jemima and extreme close ups of old Peter Cottontail munching away (but it ain’t marshmallow stuck in his teeth).

Actually, Night of the Lepus is probably better suited for Easter than Halloween viewing. It could potentially enliven that hopelessly dull holiday far more than any of those sanctimonious Bible pics always being shown while all the rugrats are out looking for eggs (after the obligatory once-a-year church service). Predictably, Lepus wound up as a so-bad-it’s-good list perennial. While I could think of far better candidates (like any of the Friday the 13th movies), it at least established a slightly hipper tradition.


DIRECTED BY:  Donald G. Jackson, R.J. Kizer

FEATURING: Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman, Cec Verrell, William Smith,

PLOT: After a nuclear apocalypse Sam Hell, one of the few remaining virile men on earth, goes into a town ruled by mutant frogs to rescue a harem of fertile women.

Still from Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Frogtown‘s most memorable quote is “you are one weird dude!,” spoken by a frog man who is about to cut off a wastelander’s futuristic chastity belt with a chainsaw. It just goes to show that “weird” is subjective, based on what you’re used to encountering in daily life. Although this charmingly stupid post-apocalyptic flick has a goofy mutant premise, we’re so besotted in bizarre pictures that we can’t honestly say “this is one weird movie!”

COMMENTS: No matter what you think about Hell Comes to Frogtown‘s quality, you cannot deny that the film delivers exactly what the title promises: it’s about a man named Hell who goes to Frogtown, which, as the name implies, is a town populated by frogs. The absurd premise disguises a by-the-numbers action plot, but the script throws in a few additional entertaining eccentricities. The first is Sam Hell himself, played by the affable “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in his debut film. Piper plays the archetypal reluctant hero more as a frat boy jonesin’ for a kegger than a dangerous rogue. Until the final act, the filmmakers don’t take advantage of his wrestler’s physique or athleticism; through the first half of the movie he keeps his shirt on and does nothing at all that’s remotely heroic or even physically imposing. He doesn’t even get into his first scrape until the 45 minute mark, when he’s coldcocked by a single punch—to the breadbasket. Further, Frogtown‘s biggest running joke is that studly Hell, the world’s most fertile man alive who can sleep with any woman in the wasteland, is never in the mood for love because his potential mates are either too aggressive, or too amphibious. There is a surprising amount of bondage imagery: Hell is outfitted with an electroshock chastity belt, to control his behavior and protect his precious seed. He gets to turn the tables on his at captor and putative love interest, voluptuous Spangle (Sandahl Bergman), in a role-playing session where she goes undercover as his slave girl, dressed in trashy black lingerie and a dog collar. Never has the mutual bondage inherent in romance been so elegantly allegorized in a mutant frog movie. As outlaws go, Hell is as nonthreatening a regular guy as you could imagine. But so much for Hell; what about the movie’s star attraction: Frogtown? It as, as stated, a town (actually an abandoned oil refinery, with all the action taking place inside warehouse-like interiors) inhabited entirely by mutant frog people. There are sexy stripper frogs, trader frogs in fezzes, chainsaw-wielding frogs. The toad masks are inevitably silly-looking, but actually effective; in the murky interiors, where we can’t really study their latex textures, they appear genuinely slimy. Kudos to the makeup department for just barely putting this over, using obviously limited resources. The rest follows standard action movie tropes, with (for the most part) reasonable budget execution of stock fight scenes. Of course, the entire rescue mission makes no sense on multiple levels: Hell and Spangle simply march into Frogtown with no obvious plan to rescue the captive women; and, if the world’s studliest remaining man is so valuable, why would you risk him on a dangerous infiltration? Don’t think twice about these things, though, as the script clearly doesn’t. What makes Frogtown work is that it toes a fine line of camp. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but neither does it apologize for asking us suspend our disbelief on something so ridiculous. It plays out its post-apocalyptic harem scenario as if it took place in a real alternate world, keeping the fourth wall intact. Frogtown is every thirteen-year-old boy’s ultimate fantasy: it’s like a summer vacation full of adventures, girls, and occasional frog-gigging. If you’re a thirteen-year-old boy, it’s the awesomest movie ever made; if you’re not, you may still find enough good-natured ridiculousness to keep you watching until the happy ending.

Donald G. Jackson made Roller Blade (an even more bizarre flick about futuristic roller skating nuns) in 1986 for under $100,000, and it grossed over $1 million at drive-ins. This success convinced New World Pictures to allow Jackson to tackle a more ambitious project, but they were nervous about handing the neophyte auteur a million dollar budget, and insisted on a co-director for insurance purposes. R.J. Kizer came from a sound design background and had shot some second-unit footage for Godzilla 1985. According to Jackson on the DVD commentary, Kizer had little creative input in the production.


“The film has a clear eye for the absurdities of its own plot without fully rupturing the envelope of credibility…”–Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review

(This movie was nominated for review by Royce. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)