Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Census Flashback: High Altitude Terror

On our Fright Flashback/Census Bloodbath crossover, every week this summer we'll be exploring an 80's slasher film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to the weekend's upcoming blockbuster.

In anticipation of Skyscraper, which is about The Rock jumping around a tall building with robot legs (?), I'll be reviewing Mountaintop Motel Massacre, another film about the terrible things that can happen to you when you're high up in the air.

Year: 1983
Director: Jim McCullough Sr.
Cast: Bill Thurman, Anna Chappell, Will Mitchell
Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

It probably says something about how deep into this project I am that one of the big titles I had yet to tackle was Mountaintop Motel Massacre. And yet this is a title I've been looking forward to for a long time, and yes I do mean title. Because not a single thing about this movie is good other than what it's called, and when will I freaking learn, you guys?

This is what slasher marketing does to me every time.

I'm about to hit you with a plot synopsis that could actually be spooky and effective if it was in the hands of someone who had heard of the word "atmosphere." So, a group of unrelated strangers show up at the Mountaintop Motel in Arkansas one stormy night, not realizing that the proprietor Evelyn (Anna Chappell) is a former mental patient who just snapped and murdered her own daughter Lorie (Jill King).

Of course she goes around killing them, and that's pretty much the whole plot, so let's Meet the Meat real quick. There's the drunkard Reverend Bill McWilley (Bill Thurman of Innocent Prey), who is by far the most well-rounded character in the movie, which should tell you something; newly married couple Vernon (Gregg Brazzel, who actually went on to have a substantial career as a stunt coordinator on projects as varied as Road Trip, Texas Chainsaw 3D, and Movie 43) and Mary (Marian Jones); token black handyman Crenshaw (Major Brock); and hitchhiking cousins Tanya (Virginia Loridians) and Prissy (Amy Hill, who is also credited with the costumes, so you know this movie had a budget), who are picked up under false pretenses by the lecherous businessman Al (Will Mitchell).

This would be a great setup if they could afford a light!

As a person who loves both good and bad movies, the greatest sin a film can commit is being boring. And Mountaintop Motel Massacre is boring as hell, so boring that it leached all the energy out of me to the point that I couldn't get out of my miserable pile on the couch to set it at 1.5x speed and get through it that much quicker (a blessed trick I have employed on certain of the worst of these flicks). 

The bulk of the plot involves these ill-defined characters constantly wandering from one cabin to another identical cabin, having a brief conversation, then going back to the original cabin. All of this scintillating nonsense (that, come to think of it, probably just used the same cabin set over and over and over again) is constantly intercut with Evelyn doing something nefarious in the tunnels beneath the motel, but it's usually too dark to see and very rarely involves actually murdering someone. Mostly it just involves putting cockroaches or rats in someone's room, because Yelp didn't exist yet so you could just do something like that.

And when she does finally get down to the murder business, it involves a lot of cutaways and smears of ketchup blood on body parts that don't quite match the action of the scene. If being boring is the greatest sin of any movie, having boring kills is Original Sin for the slasher, a mistake so bad it goes on to negatively affect every single other element in the film.

She puts the "Eve" in "Evelyn."

And, as always, it's not like I'm promoting exploitation necessarily, but this is a slasher movie with multiple sex scenes that doesn't even have the decency to show nudity. That's the last gasp of potential interest in a movie like this, and they don't even have the balls to use the cheapest special effects in Hollywood: boobs and butts. Mountaintop Motel Massacre provides not a single reason to justify its existence, not even the relatively unusual fact that it has a female killer.

I was hoping from the poster that Evelyn would turn out to be a grande dame of crazed bloodletting like Betsy Palmer from Friday the 13th or Susan Tyrrell from Night Warning, but Chappell underplays every single line of dialogue she's given, and the blocking that has her wander around uselessly in the dark isn't doing her any favors. 

Add in the truly uncomfortable Me Too-ing of Al and the cousins, and you've got a recipe for a truly unpleasant, unbearable film. Mountaintop Motel Massacre escapes being the worst of these Census Bloodbath entries on the merits of actually having the structure of a movie (I'm looking at you, The Outing), but it's a dreadful effort that I'd only recommend to people who self-flagellate and have misplaced their cat o' nine tails.

Killer: Evelyn (Anna Chappell)
Final Girl: Tanya (Virginia Loridans), through no fault of her own
Sign of the Times: In order to find a place to stay for the night, Al uses his car phone (!) to call his secretary and ask her to check the hotel guide (!!).
Best Kill: Evelyn's death was too complicated to actually even tell what was happening, but at least there was a special effect, so... great job?
Scariest Moment: Evelyn stares at the onlookers at her daughter's funeral and imagines their voices all saying she's crazy.
Weirdest Moment: When Crenshaw sees Evelyn peeking through a trapdoor, he calmly grabs a nail and hammers the door shut without a second thought, then moves on with his life.
Champion Dialogue: "Where in the name of God's angels did rats come from?"
Body Count: 8
  1. Lorie's Rabbit is decapitated with a scythe.
  2. Lorie is slashed with a scythe.
  3. Prissy is scythed in the face.
  4. Reverend Bill is scythed in the chest.
  5. Mary is scythed and stabbed.
  6. Vernon is scythed in the neck.
  7. Crenshaw is scythed offscreen. 
  8. Evelyn gets impaled in the throat with some falling wood.
TL;DR: Mountaintop Motel Massacre is much too boring for the title it has.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1070

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