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Movie Review: Motel Hell (1980)

Pretty odd picture, am I right?
Motel Hell (1980) is one bizarre piece of filmmaking. The production quality here is eerily reminiscent of 1979's Phantasm. The opening credits are piped in neon and set to a strange, haunting score.

The plot is simple. Farmer Vincent makes the best smoked meats within a 100-mile radius. He doesn't distribute nationally because that focused sales territory allows him to keep the food quality high and the prices reasonable. Farmer Vincent believes in quality, you see? The man is a visionary--an altruistic businessman withholding his gift from the world in the interests of his artistic integrity.

Actually, he lives with his deranged sister Ida and plants the travelers that he captures in a garden, where he feeds them through funnels before slaughtering them, smoking them, and adding them to the recipes he creates to make Farmer Vincent's Smoked Meats.

After all, it takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent's fritters!

Rory Calhoun is unreal. This, the performance he gives here is worth watching this campy frightfest unto itself. That saccharine grin. Those glazed eyes. Those hands tucked just so into the overalls. All of it adds up to one unsettling viewing experience.

Throw in the crazy-as-hell marriage plot and the psycho tubing incident and you have an exercise here in the uncanny. Campy uncanny, but uncanny nonetheless.

Here is a clip of Farmer Vincent's garden:

High art this clearly ain't, but it's entirely compelling all the same. This is available on Prime video if you are a subscriber, and it's a fun, kooky, strange 100 minutes of vintage horror.

Give it a watch, friends. As ol' Grannie was fond of saying: Meat is meat, and a man's gotta eat!


Win a Free Copy of In the Walls and Other Stories

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In the Walls and Other Stories by Daniel Powell

In the Walls and Other Stories

by Daniel Powell

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The Walking Dead: "Here's Not Here"

I was fully engrossed in last night's ninety-minute episode of The Walking Dead. The show's producers and writers have done a particularly admirable job over these last two seasons of juggling a few sub-plots within an epic non-linear storyline. These sub-plots have added depth and humanity to what is, admittedly, one of the most brutal shows in television history.

Lennie James (Morgan) and John Carroll Lynch (Eastman) had fantastic chemistry in this episode of rich re-awakening. Morgan's story seems to be ramping up in the television series--a welcome return to some of the humanistic pathos that might be lost if Glenn is, in fact, dead. The simple utterance of his children's names late in the episode--his almost grudging mumble of "Kenny and Dwayne" in the clear zone--was gut-wrenching; it really speaks to the series' innate ability to take the simplest moments and make them utterly profound.

Eastman is a fantastic character. The embedded narrative concerning the loss of his family was harrowing and heart-breaking, and the close-up on his funeral marker served as a stylish reinforcement of this episode's central epiphany: It's about people. Without people, there's nothing. 

I liked it a lot. It's my favorite episode of the season, and the best I've seen in a long while. I've seen it savaged on the Internet this morning, and I disagree that this one didn't need ninety minutes. In fact, there was no wasted time here--no narrative navel-gazing. I think Morgan's influence on the arc of this series is going to be vital, and I feel that the show's producers did the audience a great service in slowing things down, going back to "then," and showing a man's transformation in the face of that brutal environment.

I'm sad that Eastman was only in the show for a single episode, but my--what an episode it was!


The Oregon Ducks

Much has been said and written about the demise of the Oregon Ducks. Let me be clear: It's all a bunch of crap. 

Oregon is in fine shape, regardless of the whining and bluster that has crept into so many message boards and chat rooms. The team lost a generational talent in Marcus Mariota, and a number of quarterbacks transferred out of the program in the last few years as they grew impatient with the lack of playing time. 

Jeff Lockie, Mariota's understudy, stuck it out and has tried his hand at running Oregon's high-octane blur offense, but he just doesn't have a very strong arm and he's a little phlegmatic as a runner. He's been a fine, sedulous Oregon Duck (already has his degree) and I'm glad to have him on the team, but he's just not a very good quarterback at this level. 

Royce Freeman and Taj Griffin are stud tailbacks, but when the QB can't keep secondaries honest, it's awfully hard to make yards in the run game. Things will improve for the offense as Vernon Adams, Jr. (pictured), returns to action. He might suit up as the Ducks go for their eleventh win in a row in the series with Washington on Saturday night.

The secondary is young and needs seasoning. Teams like WSU and Cal are tossing the potato around the yard on the Ducks, and we need to elevate the play there.

But, as I said, the sky isn't falling. Look, Oregon has been ranked in the AP top 25 for six years! Six years! We just fell out of it for the first time since 2009 when Utah blew our doors off two weeks ago.

I am a lifelong Duck, and it's funny watching all of these bandwagon fans piss and moan about the team. Honestly, some of these weirdos were five years old when Joey Harrington was taking the Ducks to the #1 spot in the polls. 

Since 2010, Oregon has the country's highest winning percentage. We're recruiting with the best of them, and our facilities are among the finest in the country. I support Coach Helfrich and, while I think Don Pellum needs to make some schematic changes (and blitz more), I'm happy with the team.

Suffering through the lean times makes success just that much sweeter. The Ducks will be fine, and when Travis Jonsen takes the reins next year, you'll see a different outcome on the gridiron.


The Visit (2015)

The Visit (2015) Poster The Visit is a fine return to form for M. Night Shyamalan. As writer and director, Shyamalan had free reign to return to some of the hallmarks that made his early work so spectacular: keen writing and coaching up some fine performances. 

On the latter, this cast simply nailed it. Olivia DeJonge is a revelation as a wiser-than-her years filmmaker bent on producing a documentary that will give her tormented mother a measure of peace. DeJonge plays the role with panache and confidence, and one late interview she conducts with her brother will stir any hardened soul. 

Ed Oxenbould plays her little brother, Tyler. A germophobic hip-hop artist, Tyler operates as an important plot catalyst and, in typical Shyamalan fashion, drops some important narrative hints along the way that figure heavily in the film's final act. Oxenbould and DeJonge feel authentic; they share a chemistry on the screen that compels the audience toward belief in their genuine caring for each other.

Deanna Dunagan (Nana) and Peter McRobbie (Pop Pop) are pitch-perfect as a pair of aging, borderline senile antagonists. This is their first meeting with their grandchildren, and things aren't going so well--especially when the sun goes down.

The film is bizarre. That game of hide-and-seek in the crawlspace is harrowing, right up until you see Nana's exposed rear end as she unknowingly heads upstairs after scaring the wits out of the kids. Her oblivious nonchalance in the face of something that is so clearly wrong is disquieting, and the audience that I watched it with blurted laughter--not out of humor, but out of discomfort.

And that's just it. It's a very uncomfortable film. The vomiting, the incontinence, and the strange speech patterns all point to dementia. But something else is happening here and, in true Shyamalan form, the director has a secret in store for us in those final terrifying scenes.

This is the best horror film that I've seen since The Conjuring. I give it an 'A' mark and I highly recommend that you see it in the theater. Go look at it during one of those early matinees when all of the folks that like to talk to the film are doing other things. It's a smart film that requires careful attention, and I'm glad to see one of my favorite artists back on top of his gift!


A Little Writing Music...

It's a gray and rainy day here in Florida. Funny how the weather and the work combine sometimes to dictate the kind of music one should write to. I often listen to country music or rock when I'm writing, but today feels like some more subdued tunes are in order. Paul Cardall's "Redeemer" is one of my favorites...


Stephen King's "1922"

1922 is one of the better examples of the novella that I can point to in terms of form and content. Stephen King seems naturally at home in his ability to create stories at that length. The Mist, The Library Police, Apt Pupil, The Sundog--of course, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. These are fantastic yarns that come alive in about 120-140 pages. King is able to fill his characters out with lively backgrounds while keeping the tension and the action finely tuned. 

If there is a consistent criticism of King's novels, it's that he focuses too closely in some passages. I would never call the man verbose, but there is an awful lot of detail in some of his books.

But a lot of that excess is stripped away in his novellas. 1922 is a lean, mean, terrifying read. It tells the story of Wilfred James in a King staple--the epistolary confession. Wilf has a great voice and a beautiful relationship with his son, Hank. In fact, the story is as much Hank's as it is Wilf's. King's introduction of the Sweetheart Bandits is its own narrative, and I give the author a ton of credit for capturing the history of the dust bowl and the Great Depression in living color here.

You can find the story in Full Dark No Stars. It's a return to the dark, dark stuff of King's early '90s production. Highly recommended for an afternoon read...