It’s clear by now to regular readers that Missile Test is a big fan of regional cinema. It’s hard to overstate the stranglehold that large media companies have over the artistic content of the country. Sometimes the consolidation of media becomes so egregious that even the federal government gets involved to stop it. Not nearly enough to make an actual difference, but that’s a story for another day, perhaps after Disney makes a bid for DC or Image. Anyway…
Mountaintop Motel Massacre is regional cinema from Louisiana. Directed by Jim McCullough Sr., from a screenplay by Jim McCullough Jr., Mountaintop Motel Massacre filmed in the fall of 1982, or the spring of 1983, depending on the source. It then showed in some theaters in the south under the title Mountaintop Motel, before being picked up for distribution by Roger Corman and New World Pictures. They insisted on reshoots, including a new ending, ‘Massacre’ was attached to the end of the title, and the rest is history.
Mountaintop Motel Massacre follows six people who end up at the worst motel in the south. Filming was done at an abandoned fishing camp, and looks it. The state of the cabins would be enough to convince most tired and weary travelers to carry on, but not the characters in this flick. Seven bucks a night is just too good to pass up.
The motel is run by Evelyn (Anna Chappell), an older woman who had been released not too long before from a mental institution. She runs the motel with her daughter, Lorie (Jill King), but after catching Lorie performing some occult rite, Evelyn slices her up, and the movie is off and running.
No one can believe such a timid lady could be guilty of such a brutal crime, so she is left to return to running the motel, although her demeanor resembles serious shellshock.
By some miracle, a whole passel of people from diverse backgrounds show up for a stay at the motel. There’s Reverend Bill (Bill Thurman), handyman Crenshaw (Major Brock), newlyweds Vernon and Mary (Gregg Brazzel and Marian Jones), traveling sales exec with a silver tongue Al (Will Mitchell), and cousins Tanya and Prissy (Virginia Loridans and Amy Hill). They all have different reasons for ending up at a shithole motel, and it doesn’t matter a bit. The whole point of the film is to put these people in harm’s way.
Evelyn starts small, playing practical jokes on her guests. There is a tunnel running underneath all the cabins, and she uses it to introduce bugs and rats and snakes and what have you into the rooms. Then she gets to killing. She picked a good night for it. There is only a solitary dirt road leading to the motel, and it has been blocked by a tree, fallen in a rainstorm, preventing the guests from fleeing or seeking help.
Al and Crenshaw fill the obligatory roles of the responsible adults in the film, being the first to pick up on the danger. What follows is a game of cat and mouse, as Evelyn adds to the bodycount, and the others try to stop her. It pushes suspension of disbelief that Evelyn could get the drop on so many people, but that’s the movie. Death, death, pursuit, death, etc., leading to that reshot finale that is, in truth, a little silly.
This was McCullough’s second feature behind the camera after a hiatus of six years. He showed a fine grasp of pace. This movie doesn’t suffer from a case of the slows. Technically the film is a little rough. The print I saw had not been restored, but even so, one can tell it was shot too dark. Storytelling was also a bit of a struggle for McCullough. The ‘whys’ of the plot are numerous, and unanswerable. The closest a viewer will come to answers is ‘because a movie needed to happen.’ Even randomness is no excuse, as the idea of random acts of violence has been explored countless times in film to greater effect. This film is a commentary on nothing. There is no depth to explore. There is only material to exploit, but even there, McCullough and company didn’t go all in.
That makes the film basically a boilerplate slasher flick. It has blood, gore, a killer, a cast of fodder, and an ending. The details are almost trivial, as long as the film continues to hit the right subgenre notes. There are so, so many slasher flicks from the era that a film must have something which stands out to be memorable. This film does not, but there are some moments of hilarity. My personal favorite is when Crenshaw, even before the killings, has had enough of the slovenly motel. But before he leaves, he’s going to get one good sit in on the crapper.
Then there is Al. He’s a real sleaze, the kind a viewer may hope suffers a really nasty death. He becomes the most heroic of the cast eventually, but before then it’s a treat watching Mitchell play him as a mother’s worst nightmare. Just the way he looks and dresses carries with it all sorts of cues about his character. He was so absurd that I found myself wanting more.
I also enjoyed watching this entire film, probably more than I should have, with so many other horror flicks in the rearview.
Slasher flicks come and slasher flicks go, but the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index is forever. Mountaintop Motel Massacre lands just in the top half, taking over the #211 spot from The Lost Empire.