Director: Tobe Hooper
Year of release: 1976/1977
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 91 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "You check in alive but check out dead", "Meet the maniac and his friend" and "He's out there and he's got murder on his mind".
Also known as: Murder/Blood on the Bayou, Slaughter Hotel, Deathtrap, Starlight Slaughter and Brutes and Savages.
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Troubled runaway Clara who is working in a brothel has a scary encounter with one of its rougher patrons, the angry and brash redneck Buck. She kicks up a fuss but the madam of the brothel sides with Buck who is a longtime customer. Kicked out of the brothel as a result of the altercation Clara seeks shelter at the local Starlight Hotel which is run by the disturbed Judd. Though crazy, Judd seems to be something of an animal lover with his pride and joy being a large crocodile which he keeps in a pool behind the hotel. Judd isn't above letting his pet feed on any guests who may rub him the wrong way, Clara included. As events unfold Clara's estranged farther together with her sister arrive in town to search for her and together with some other unfortunates , the aforementioned Buck and a family of three they all end up at the Starlight Hotel. Here they all full foul of Judd and his deadly pet.
Good points: The cast of characters I would say is the best thing about this as we have a number of memorable ones who just about hold things together. The main ones that stick out are Buck played by a young Robert Englund and Judd (Neville Brand) both of whom play their characters to an absolute T coming across as both being quite insane, particularly in Judd's case. Old Judd has a habit of constantly muttering to himself much of which is quite entertaining. Both of these characters are very well acted. There are also some strong supporting characters I enjoyed watching in particular the Sheriff Martin, Clara's father Harvey and the brothel madam Miss Hattie. This last character seems to be buried under a cake of odd grey looking makeup,so much so that I actually thought it was a man in drag at first. She is a really entertaining character though who left me wanting more. Marilyn Burns of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is also on board playing an odd woman herself and the inclusion of the little girl Angie adds a bit of extra tension seeing that she spends much of her screentime isolated and under threat. All in all the actors do a fine job with what is very limited material.
I like the addition of the crocodile and how it is involved in the kills. Special effects wise the croc does look very ropey but that can be forgiven given the films age. This film of course predates the slasher hey day so the template hadn't been established at this point but despite it not being a straight forward slasher in the sense that we have come to know now it is nice to see an animal play such a key role in a slasher style film as this is something we very seldom see even to this day.
There is a decent amount of blood in this so it isn't as tame as some of the other proto slashers out there. Though there isn't a huge amount of it on display there is certainly more than in other similar high profile older films such as Hooper's own Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Tourist Trap etc.
Not sure if I should count this a a positive as much of the music/sound effects I didn't like but there is some country music serving as the soundtrack at various points throughout the film and this I did enjoy.
Bad Points: The main area in which the film fell apart for me was the script or story which was sadly lacking. Though the cast of characters was good as I said and the actors did their best they were given precious little to work with as there was hardly any proper narrative/script to sink your teeth into. Essentially it was just some maniac in a hotel bumps off his guests and feeds them to his crocodile with some borrowed bits from Psycho tacked on to try and add a little depth. The lack of any real storytelling rendered the whole thing a bit boring for me as apart obviously where characters were on the run from Judd there wasn't much going on or any drama to keep you hooked.
As I touched on above I liked the country music but the flip side to this was that in other places the background music really grated on me and I found it to be annoying and hard to listen to. These places were described on occasion by the subtitles as a "Cacophony of sound" and to me it sounded horrible and was really irritating. It reminded me a lot in fact of the music towards the end of one of Hooper's other films The Funhouse. I have read praise for the music in that one though so if you enjoyed what you heard with that perhaps you will like some of the similar music here.
The Marilyn Burns character Faye and her husband Roy are very odd and share a puzzling and downright bizarre segment together in their room at one point. I don't know quite what the filmmakers were trying to achieve with this but it didn't come across well and for me was a waste of time. Faye seemed to have some sort of weird stain or paint smeared on her face near the start as well which wasn't explained.
I didn't like the way the film looked either in places, chiefly when they made the picture look predominantly red which took me out of what I was watching and was too distracting. From the extras I learned they were going for a nightmarish, surreal unsettling vibe with the entire film shot inside so a lot of viewers may like this unique approach and see the visual style of the film to be a positive. For me though I didn't care for it as I prefer something more realistic.
The film was also missing any kind of mask or mystery as to who the killer was. With this being such an early film many wouldn't consider it a slasher, perhaps more of a horror exploitation flick so it is perhaps unfair to judge it in this area regarding the killer and the actor did do a fine job as I said but I do enjoy a good mask or mystery and these elements were definitely lacking here.
Verdict: Going in I had a feeling I wasn't going to like this one too much and that intuition proved to be correct. I think the lack of effort put into the story hurt it the most as it didn't hold my interest very well in places. I was annoyed as well by some smaller things such as the visual presentation and music. It wasn't all bad as there were some fun characters on display and it was nice to see a crocodile in the mix as well but ultimately I found it all a bit boring.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Clara: Hacked at with pitchfork and thrown into pool for crocodile.
2) Roy: Sustains stomach wound from scythe and is then pulled into water by crocodile.
3) Harvey: Struck in the throat with scythe, finished off by the crocodile dragging him away.
4) Buck: Knocked into the pool by Judd and then eaten by the crocodile.
5) Judd: Pushed into crocodiles path by Faye and then eaten by the animal.