Mountaintop Motel Massacre

Part Tourist Trap, part Psycho, Mountaintop Motel Massacre lacks the charm of the former and the direction of latter.

We’re in small-town Louisiana at some roadside dumpy motel (the kind that “steal your towels” according to the late, great Rodney Dangerfield).

Our antagonist, Evelyn, is released from a looney-bin and returns to her place of business. When she finds her daughter practicing witchcraft in the basement of their nearby house (this involves having a rabbit and a goat as dining companions for some as yet unperformed ritual) Evelyn the sicko sickles her to death.

Bayou cops quickly descend, but as quickly as they turn up, they bail, satisfied by Evelyn’s explanation that her daughter died in a bizarre gardening accident (a la one of the numerous early-demise mishaps suffered by Spinal Tap’s various time-keepers). Slipping and falling on a sharp gardening implement doesn’t seem worthy of a coroner report, but what do we know? We’re not carrying a badge.

Evelyn is soon back in business Norman Bates-style (actually, this one is a bit similar to the unheralded, but more than competent Psycho sequel). And gruesome Procrustean innkeepers need victims, right? And what better way to ensure there’s a steady stream than one of the hoariest cliches in all of movie-making: the downed tree blocking the road! (sure, pedants may quibble that the road being washed out by a flash flood is close competition).

Either way, a disparate patron demographic show up to the motel in question with no way to leave, and thunder-claps aplenty. The cast of characters includes: an old black carpenter, a drunk preacher who resembles a bloated William Conrad (Cannon/Gunsmoke), a Memphis ad-man/con-man, a couple of White Trash honeymooners, and two wanna-be country warblers in tight jeans whose bug broke down.

Evelyn begins to take them out, Ten Little Indians style, hiding in a crawlspace and using various creepy-crawlers from around the premises, snakes, rats, roaches (the latter at least thematically on-point for a motel) to torment her tenants. There’s also a bizarre subplot about two of the girls auditioning for the ad-man, who later admits he’s not really a Columbia Records exec and that it was part of a ruse to get one (or both) of the girls in the sack. Unfortunately, we’re witness to the girls’ singing a few frames in, and let’s just say they couldn’t carry a tune even in zero-gravity.

Plodding and idiotic, Mountaintop Motel Massacre nonetheless features 10 minutes of solid atmosphere and it should be said a pretty whiz-bang soundtrack. But what about the other 80 minutes?

Trusty viewers/readers, lead-foot it to a Motel 6 instead, where at least they’ll leave a light on for you (much of this one is shrouded in murky darkness).

** (out of 5)

[Listen to our discussion of Mountaintop Motel Massacre on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]

April Fool’s Day

Confinement adds a bit of an intrigue to a slasher, whether it’s the high gate in Hell Night or the dreamscape of A Nightmare on Elm Street. April Fool’s Day smartly employs an island to get more mileage out of its Ten Little Indians conceit.

[Check out our accompanying April Fool’s Day podcast]

A group of college seniors gathers at a dock for a spring break getaway. And compared with other films of this ilk, these folks are positively restrained when it comes to all the good vices. Instead, they talk about their futures (this was back when college students had a future. Today, the average student loan borrower has US $37,172 in student loan debt, 20k higher than a decade and a half ago). Unsolicited advice: pick a trade and stick to it.

They mug for the camcorder and banter about utility curves and Paradise Lost (to the extent that that’s even possible) before sailing over the island, accessible only by ferry and complete with its own sprawling mansion (the family home of Kennedy-esque WASP elite Muffy St. John, the host of the shindig).

As the group settles down to supper, they experience a slew of April Fool’s-related pranking that includes falling doorknobs and spray faucets.

When one goes missing, the joking ceases. And they have to contact cops on the mainland, post haste.

Fred Walton directs (he who gave us the sporadically fun if overly procedural, When a Stranger Calls) and he’s in full command of his craft here, as there are some legitimate little scares. But the real star is writer Danilo Bach (Beverly Hills Cop) who gives April Fool’s Day whip-smart dialogue, almost too good than it deserves (an outlier for the slasher boom, that’s for sure, which was sputtering to its end around the late 80s)

Like Sleepaway Camp, this one will be mostly remembered for its top-notch denouement, a dynamite pretzel-worthy twist.

***1/2 (out of 5)