A milestone production from Mario Gariazzo, notorious for his tasteless sexploitation epics such as The Sexorcist /LOssessa. Assembling here one of the worlds finest trash film collectives and eschewing all correct agendas, the director punctuates his fleshy tapestry with incredibly sleazy imagery involving Marina Hedmann/Frajese and Patrizia Di Rossi/Webley, the sluttiest actresses in Italian cinema. At the garishly lit Play Motel, these two warhorses and other bleached blondes are first seen being secretly photographed while having kinky sex. As the film serves also as a giallo, they are later stabbed to death by an assassin dressed in black. Conveying a sense of mad comedy, this inexhaustible supply of indignities and leopard skin underwear should be sought out at all costs.
Horror and sex are two aspects of filmmaking that seem to go together hand in hand. The Italian horror sub-genre Gialli is the perfect marriage of the two where horrific bloody violence is joined to depictions of frank sexuality. While some horror films feature the two in a sort of dance around the essence of morality, Gialli movies seem to side step morals in order to depict a possible world where there weren't any inhibitions holding people to their good graces. 1979's 'Play Motel' is the kind of Gialli movie that tries to have its cake and eat it too. By one degree, it attempts to delve into the world of horror but on the other end of things seems entirely too preoccupied with becoming a sexual exploitation movie to generate any kind of real suspense.
Before the era of the internet and well-to-do men could rely on the supposed anonymity of an online account to set them up with a partner for an affair, there were places like the Play Motel. As men and women of various backgrounds and sexual proclivities meet, they're allowed to enjoy a place that affords them a level of anonymity they wouldn't find within the confines of their day to day lives. At least so they think. For an important businessmen Rinaldo Contesi (Enzo Fisichella) a man who goes by the name "Four Leaf Clover" and who also has a penchant for dressing up like the devil, he is being blackmailed by someone who photographed his latest visit to Play Motel.
While Rinaldo attempts to sort out who could possibly be blackmailing him, Roberto Vinci (Ray Lovelock) and his beautiful wife Patriza (Anna Maria Rizzoli) are looking to spice up their love life a little bit by doing some roleplaying. Posing as complete strangers, the pair enjoy their romantic interludes and everything seems to be just fine - that is until they discover the body of a strangled woman who was a guest at the Play Motel in the trunk of their car! After a quick call to the police, the body has disappeared. While the police believe their story, Roberto and Patriza can't leave things well enough alone. They're determined to solve the mystery, even if it could potentially lead to their deaths.
As much of a horror fan as I am, Gialli pictures just aren't my thing. They're an odd genre that seems to have a tough time justifying their existence beyond being an excuse to see a man and a woman in various stages of undress. Now to be fair, there are a couple of decent and entertaining entries out there, 'The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus,' 'Baron Blood' or the goofy but still entertaining 'Bloody Pit of Terror' come to mind, but 'Play Motel' is more interested in the nudity than it is in telling a compelling story. Even the typical "murder mystery" aspects that accompany many of these sort of films is short changed here. The "plot" of the film seems to have been tossed in at random because someone must have realized that if their movie was just naked people they wouldn't really have much of a movie.
The plot of 'Play Motel' really is about as thin as a piece of paper. The blackmail angle, the murder mystery, all of these elements aren't there to push the story forward but instead used as a means to ensure that someone at some point of time doesn't have their clothes on. At a slim 93 minutes, 'Play Motel' becomes fairly tedious by about the 25-minute mark. All of the characters have been introduced and it feels like they've already covered all of the necessary ground of two acts by that point leaving you with a 60 minute final act that isn't thrilling or exciting, it's just silly.
After recently watching something like 'The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus' I was hoping for something in that creepy Jess Franco style. 'Play Motel' doesn't even come close to realizing that sort of potential. The setup certainly is there, but I guess the filmmakers must have thought they had a bare breast quota to fill because they really didn't care about the story with this one. Unless you're a massive fan of the genre, I can't really say there is much to this one worth seeing. There are better entries in the Gialli genre of Italian horror cinema to enjoy before even considering this one.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Play Motel' arrives on Blu-ray from Raro Video and is pressed onto a BD25 disc. Housed in a standard case and slip cover with insert booklet, the disc opens to an animated main menu.
The packaging for 'Play Motel' states that it's undergone a new HD transfer and has been digitally restored. Evidently this movie must have looked pretty bad because I found this 1080p 1.67:1 transfer to be overly soft with crushed black levels. In fact, most of the time this film has the look of something that was shot on early area VTRs rather than having been shot on 35mm. Every now and again some scenes show a nice film-like quality to them that is actually quite splendid, but those moments are few and far between. About the only thing I can really give this transfer credit for is the impressive range of color. While flesh tones can pop into the pinks every now and again, bright reds, blues, and subtler earth tones have a nice richness to them. If I was grading on color alone 'Play Motel' would be straight aces - but taking all of the factors into account, I can't help but say this transfer is underwhelming. Not exactly terrible, but nothing that would blow your hair back either.
Sporting a rich and resonate "Italian-sounding" LPCM 2.0 stereo mix, 'Play Motel' earns a few extra bonus points. Like most films of the era of Italian cinema, the audio track has a very "dubbed" and "canned" tonal quality to it. While this can be annoying to some, it actually fits the film well enough. The movie I believe was always intended to have a sort of playful goofiness to it and the music selections back up that assertion. That said, the mix is overall very strong as dialogue is easily heard, sound effects have their presence, and the music has plenty of pop to it. Levels are also very good so you don't have to worry about monitoring your volume levels. For a film that is nearly 40 years old, the audio is free of any hiss or age related issues.
Cut Scenes: (SD 7:11) This is a selection of footage that was cut from the main release. A lot of it featuring the body doubles the cast were unaware that had been hired to add a bit more explicit content. The roughness of these scenes makes you appreciate the restoration work that wen into the main feature.
Midia's Touch: (SD 18:41) This featurette offers interviews from the producers and cast about their experience making the film. It's informative for how brief it is - it actually feels like it was part of a longer chunk of material.
Gialli films are a bit of an acquired taste. If you can get past some of the more lurid aspects, they either prove to be a thrilling horror feature or at the very least, a good bit of goofy fun. 'Play Motel' doesn't really fall into either category as it seems to have taken a note from 'Caligula' and decided to preoccupy itself with the more salacious aspects of the genre than coming up with an interesting story or compelling characters. After viewing the extra features, one can see where the restoration efforts for the image quality went, but the results still aren't all that incredible for Blu-ray. The audio mix has a nice lively playfulness to it, but the extras are lacking. Since this disc will most likely appeal to a select few, I'm calling it as one for the fans.