Monday, February 24, 2020

“Join Me...Old Crow, Finest Sausage.” - Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1983) - Film #173

One of the finest rural slasher films of the 1980s is Jim McCullough, Sr.'s Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1983), the story of released mental patient Evelyn Chambers and her challenges operating the titular inn, not to mention the maze of tunnels situated underneath.

Some of your universe's critics are not as enamored of this film as they should be. For example, reviewer Nightman85 writes, "This movie lacks in every possible way. The story is a rather boring one, especially considering that there is no mystery or suspense to be had! The cast is utterly horrible, even to me who can sometimes tolerate a hammy performance. There isn't any style to the direction of this movie, no decent score, nothing in the way of talent at all!" Reviewer brunzer writes, "The story is sluggish and boring, the acting is hammy, and there isn't much killing and hardly any blood or gore." And reviewer jeppegrunberger writes hyperbolically, "it might very well be the worst of it's kind... it really might."

Let us take a trip to the wild mountains of Louisiana to see the true horror that is Mountaintop Motel Massacre...

The film begins quite informatively with a black and white photo of an elderly woman next to some information about her: “Arkansas State Mental Hospital - Chambers, Evelyn - Admitted: July 13, 1978 - Released: January 24, 1981.” Then the real Ms. Chambers appears, shooing away birds from a vegetable patch guarded by an ineffectual but creepy scarecrow with a head made of chrome.

When Ms. Chambers sees a guinea pig in her garden, she yells for her daughter Lorie to come and get her “critter.” When Lorie (who is busy tying yarn around the throat of a rabbit) does not appear from inside their house, Ms. Chambers raises her sickle and chops the poor rodent to pieces.

Inside the spooky basement of her little motel, Ms. Chambers’ young daughter Lorie talks to a photo of her late father, explaining to him that her mother needs to go back to the mental hospital because of the way she is acting. Evelyn Chambers climbs down the ladder into the basement and hears Lorie—who sits at a shrine surrounded by lit candles, and who may belong in the mental hospital at least as much as her mother—whisper, “I summon thee, spirits of beyond.”

Evelyn grows angry, using the sickle to slash at everything, including, unfortunately, Lorie. She picks up the girl’s body and carries it to the living room upstairs (somehow managing to carry it up the ladder, though this astonishing feat is accomplished offscreen). An ambulance and police car arrive at the motel, but the paramedics are unable to revive Lorie, even with defibrillators, which I understand are usually quite effective in addressing bloody sickle wounds.

The sheriff says, “I’m sorry, Evelyn. How’d it happen?”

Evelyn replies, “There was an accident in the garden. I don’t quite remember.”

The sheriff also questions Reverend Bill McWilley, a guest at the motel who began giving Lorie last rites before the paramedics arrived. The reverend tells the sheriff he didn’t see the “accident.” The sheriff leaves, having taken no notice of the blood dripping from Lorie’s mouth. And also the sickle wounds.

After the perhaps surprisingly well attended funeral, during which Evelyn hears the thoughts of the mourners accusing her of murdering Lorie, the sheriff walks up to the motel, looks through the window and sees candles still burning in an empty room, then drives away.

An elderly man, fear in his eyes, enters the office to ask about a vacancy at the motel. Evelyn gives him the key to cabin 2; he drives from the office to the cabin, a distance of one hundred feet or so, and parks in front of the cabin, where Reverend McWilley notices him. “Howdy.” He adds, “Just so spooky around here, I just wanted to come out and see who was here. For a while, I thought I was the only one brave enough to stay at this place.”

“Or broke enough,” the man says before introducing himself as Melvin Crenshaw.

As Melvin checks out the cabin, he asks Reverend McWilley if there is a cafe nearby. The reverend replies, “Forget about it.” He offers Melvin dinner: a bottle of liquor and a can of sausage.

The filmmakers realize a mountaintop motel massacre would be an uneventful massacre indeed without victims, so they introduce some new characters in addition to Melvin: young honeymooners driving a pickup truck who, for whatever reason, decide to spend their wedding night at Evelyn’s motel. Driving down the road to the motel, they almost hit a white dog, but the groom spins the wheel and avoids the creature. “I ought to be a stunt man,” the groom says about his driving abilities. When they reach the motel, the bride looks crestfallen. The groom says, “What did you expect, a Holiday Inn? You know I can’t afford that.”

Two twentysomething female cousins are also introduced as they drive a red VW Beetle through the forest. Apropos of nothing, one of them says, “We’re going to be the only people in the family to ever make something of ourselves.”

As would any good innkeeper, Evelyn sneaks through the underground tunnel that links all the motel cabins, depositing a sack of snakes in the honeymooners’ room.

Reverend McWilley and his new friend Melvin drink together. When Melvin asks about reconciling the reverend’s apparent alcoholism with his sermons, the reverend says defensively, “I don’t drink forever. It’s a long, slow process. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.”

Melvin rejoins, “No. I drunk up in a night.”

As if the current number of guests/victims were not enough, the filmmakers introduce an advertising executive named Al driving along the highway who speaks to his secretary on his fancy car phone. His secretary tells him about Mountaintop Motel up ahead. In a complex plot turn, Al picks up the young cousins, Tanya and Prissy, whose red Beetle broke down, forcing them to stand in the rainstorm for a long time in their now-transparent white t-shirts. Al tells the young women that he works for Columbia Records as a talent scout, which impresses the naive Tanya more than the pragmatic Prissy. Instead of driving them to a garage, Al takes them to the motel.

In the honeymooners’ cabin, the groom is bit on the cheek by a snake.

To make matters worse, just after Al drives up to the motel, a bolt of lightning hits a tree, knocking it down over the road and blocking the exit.

Once at the motel, Al climbs out of the car, putting his raincoat on after he is outside for some reason, and rents a room. At the same time, the bride runs up to Al in the rain. “Hey, I need some help! My husband’s been snakebitten!”

Al says he will call a doctor on his car phone. Instead of doing so immediately, he gets into his car and drives the cousins to their cabin, explaining that the girl’s husband was snakebitten.

In another surprising scene, Evelyn releases two rats into Reverend McWilley’s room, possibly because she overheard him talking about drinking alcohol earlier. When the reverend discovers the rats, he picks up a shoe and tries to hit them. When they are subdued, he drinks some more.

In one of the film’s creepiest scenes, Evelyn picks up a naked baby doll and places it inside the family cockroach tank.

Then she leaves a bag of cockroaches in Melvin’s room, where they climb all over him as he sleeps. He wakes up and says stoically, “Them damn roaches. They out to call this a roach motel.”

In another scene that could be even creepier, Al sits shirtless on his motel bed while Tanya and Prissy sing him “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

After causing mischief with annoying animals, Evelyn stands in the motel office with her sickle, listening to the voice of her dead child Lorie telling her she needs to kill all the guests because they know she’s crazy and they will send her back to the mental hospital.

Evelyn takes the advice seriously, sneaking into the bathroom to find Prissy and murder her with one slice of the sickle.

All the guests/victims band together immediately, which does not help the Reverend McWilley, who finds himself with Evelyn’s sickle in his chest.

Melvin, a journeyman carpenter, proves to be resourceful when he sees a trapdoor under the floor moving: Producing a hammer and nails, he nails the linoleum down, preventing the murderous Evelyn from reaching him. He tells Al and Tanya that he found out how the murderer is getting around—and he and Al nail the trapdoor in their cabin’s bathroom shut as well. He also voices his belief that Evelyn is the murderer.

Perhaps rudely, Al and Melvin search the motel and find Evelyn’s bedroom, complete with pink walls and shelves full of dolls and cages for her creepy animals. Al takes a crowbar from Evelyn’s bed (fortuitously, nobody speculates why Evelyn would need a crowbar in bed). They believe Evelyn is trapped in the tunnels. For unknown reasons, Al suggests they go down and find Evelyn. “We’ve got to get to her before she gets to us.”

“And get my ass killed by some old, crazy white woman?” Melvin objects, probably rationally. But he follows Al anyway.

Al and Melvin move from cabin to cabin, nailing all the trapdoors shut, but they fail to see that Evelyn is inside the honeymooners’ cabin already. She sickles the bride in the mouth, in the film’s most gruesome and technically accomplished shot.

Then she attacks the snakebitten groom, slashing his throat and then running away from Al and Melvin, who were alerted by the screams from the cabin. Despite the fact they left only seconds before Evelyn’s attack, it takes them a while to return to the cabin…too long to save the tragically sickled honeymooners.

Al and Melvin climb down into the tunnels (for unknown reasons, they use different trapdoors in different cabins). In the terrifying cat-and-mouse chase in the tunnels, Evelyn sneaks up on Melvin, cuts off his hand with the sickle, then slashes his throat.

Meanwhile, Tanya runs outside into the rain, where she meets the sheriff. “She’s killing everybody!” Tanya whines.

“Is it Evelyn?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” she whines.

“Where is she killing everyone?” he asks, an eminently sensible question for a police officer to ask.

“In there.” She points vaguely to the motel cabins.

The sheriff finds the trapdoor in the bathroom and climbs down into the tunnels. For unknown reasons, he whispers, “Evelyn…If you can hear me, come out.” Eventually, he finds the room full of dolls, animals, and candles, where the murder victims sit in comfortable poses. Though the murder spree started only minutes ago, the bodies are already decaying.

After several minutes of wandering through the tunnels, the sheriff finds a squirming, severed blue hand on the ground. When he bends to pick it up, Evelyn attacks him with her sickle. She misses and her sickle buries itself in a wooden beam. The sheriff subdues her and goes for the sickle, which causes a quick chain reaction in which a beam swings down from the ceiling, impaling Evelyn ironically on her own sickle (somehow).

The sheriff returns to Tanya. “They’re all dead,” he says. “Come on, I’ll take you to my car.”

They are startled by the reappearance of the besweatered Al, who enters from outside, though he is completely dry. As the sun rises, the sheriff drives away with Al and Tanya.

In a bizarre coda, however, we watch as the deceased daughter Lorri shambles through the woods, and then, as the sheriff’s car drives away, the motel’s Vacancy sign buzzes to life.

My research into your universe's quirks reveals several conclusive characteristics of Mountaintop Motel Massacre that prove it is from another universe, such as my own Universe-Prime. First, the characters in the film use the term "snakebitten" a lot, which I have reason to believe has never been uttered in your universe ("bitten by a snake" being the actual phrase). Second, the mountaintop motel in the film is set in Louisiana, which in your universe has few if any mountains (in fact, the highest summit in the state is 535 feet above sea level, nearly the height of New Orleans's tallest buildings). Third, the motel garden in the film is guarded by a chrome scarecrow--popular in most universes, but curiously unknown in your universe. For these reasons, I can conclusively state that Mr. McCullough's film is not native to your lowly universe.