Tobe Hooper's horror has an absurdist edge always on the verge of spilling over into chaotic farce -- remember Grampa Sawyer sucking blood from Marilyn Burns' sliced finger in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Not for nothing is Carolyn "Morticia Addams" Jones, under old-age pancake, dropped into his maligned follow-up, which, besides a record number of alternate titles (Death Motel, Horror Hotel, Legend of the Bayou and Starlight Slaughter, just to give an idea), provides the missing link between Hooper's pulverizing indie debut and his later, Spielbergized Hollywood entry with Poltergeist. The plot, penned by Chainsaw's Kim Henkel, sails similar grounds of backwater depravity, with mangy, limping mutterer Neville Brand lording over a way-off motel, skewering the poor saps who stop by and feeding the remains to the king-sized 'gator he keeps in his swampy poach. Torsos are devoured, but hopped-up strangeness is the main dish -- Mel Ferrer gets a scythe through the throat, randy hillbilly Robert Englund keeps on sodomizin' the gals, while William Finley outdoes his sputtering for De Palma as a squirmy paterfamilias. (All end up reptile chow.) Burns is on board for another round of grueling torment, but Hooper's focus remains on Brand's gonzo lunk, like Leatherface a monster whelped by a dying order, humming to himself in his room, American flag next to a swastika on the wall. If the marshy gorefest gathers more hysteria than intensity next to the director's previous Vietnam-era nightmare, it still maintains the feel of down-home furies leaking out into the open, a horror that, even heightened by glowing lighting and walls of mist right out of a Minnelli set-piece, remains all the more slashing for springing from within, the Other uncloaked as Us. With Crystin Sinclaire, Stuart Whitman, and Roberta Collins.
--- Fernando F. Croce