February 19, 2014

Movie Review: Mountaintop Motel Massacre

While looking for a grimy little horror movie to watch, I stumbled across Mountaintop Motel Massacre. It was released in 1986 after apparently sitting on a shelf for three years. Considering all of the horror being released during this period and the surprisingly decent film that it is, it is surprising that it sat around like that. I wonder what caused its delay? My suspicion is that whoever owned it had financial issues and got bought out. I guess it doesn't really matter, the movie is here and it is pretty entertaining. It is hardly the best example of its genre, but then again, it kind of blends a couple of sub-genres together into a concoction that is not really either.

The movie was originally titled Mountaintop Motel, but when it was getting readied for release it had Massacre added on. I am sure it was for purely marketing purposes, the word is rather attractive to someone looking for a little bit of horror. At the same time, it is an appropriate addition that does nothing but add to the allure. To be certain, this is not a great movie, but it is an entertaining one that is steeped in the era and cannot be removed from it. So, perhaps some of my enjoyment is based on nostalgia for the era rather than the film's merits... Nah. This mash of Psycho atmosphere and backwoods Friday the 13th-esque slasher works.

Mountaintop Motel Massacre opens with the information that Evelyn Chambers (Anna Chappell) spent three years in a mental hospital for an unknown ailment. She is now home, acting as proprietor of the Mountaintop Motel where she is also the caretaker fo her daughter Lori. This is where things get a little interesting in the early going. It is pretty clear right away that Evelyn is still a little to the unbalanced side, but Lori is a little off as well. The father is not around, apparently deceased and perhaps the reason Evelyn was in the loony bin. Lori is interested in the occult and has candles and all sorts of paraphernalia with which she is trying to speak to her father over concerns for her mother.

Of course, this early interest shifts gears as Evelyn catches Lori and does not approve, swinging her scythe at all of the candles and dolls. She inadvertently strikes her daughter, leading to an interesting moment of near sympathy for Evelyn as the EMTs attempt to save the little girl. This is fleeting as you remember she just covered up her culpability.

What follows is a slow burn as Evelyn gets even more eccentric, but it also allows time for a variety of guests to arrive and populate the rundown bungalows. An alcoholic minister, a friendly old carpenter, a honeymooning couple, and a record company executive with a couple of young ladies. Just as this goes down, a storm conveniently hits, virtually isolating them.

With all the players in place, Evelyn lets loose and goes a little bonkers. It becomes a standard who will survive type of scenario. It is fun watching Evelyn do her thing, initially tormenting them with a variety of vermin before going flat out psycho on them. She even has a nice method of moving around the bungalows. You see, there are tunnels connecting them, with trapdoors in each room. It is something used later in Nimrod Antal's Vacancy, I wonder if this was the inspiration?

This is no great film, but it is entertaining and the writer/director team of Jim McCullough Jr. and Jim McCullough, Sr., do a pretty good job of blending slasher elements with more atmospheric horror. Yes, there is a lot of room for improvement and plenty of missed opportunities, but it still manages o hold interest throughout. I would have liked more occult elements, perhaps a glimpse into Evelyn's past, but as is, it manages to include some eerie settings, some great use of tunnels, and a nice alternative to the usual knife bladed weapons.

Mountaintop Motel Massacre may be ultimately a mixed bag and not terribly fast paced, but it could have been much worse. There are plenty of worse titles you could waste your time with and I think this has enough to offer to be worthy of keeping around.


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