At the garish Play Motel, wayward women are secretly photographed while having kinky sex. But what begins as a sexy romp soon turns into a murder mystery as the guests are stabbed to death by a black-clad assassin. (From Raro’s official synopsis)
Mario Gariazzo’s Play Motel (1979) was made in response to the popular [I]giallo[/I] thrillers that the Italian film industry pumped out throughout the 1970s. It arrived towards the end of the cycle, when intricate (sometimes absurd) plotting and flashy film techniques were increasingly replaced by graphic violence and lurid sex. Gariazzo’s takes the latter development to its extreme here and loses most of the genre’s more enduring tropes in favour of more nudity and gyrating, sub-hardcore intercourse. So, while technically an entry in the [I]giallo[/I] canon, [I]Play Motel[/I] plays more like a sexploitation spoof of the conventions – albeit one that is too wrapped up in awkward, patently un-sexy sex scenes to be funny. Gariazzo’s compositions are stiff and his pacing is glacial, but his swinging porno-chic motifs (including a probably inaccurate behind-the-scenes look at how they made those Italian pornographic photo comics) are certainly entertaining in parts and he pulls off at least one frightening, black-gloved murder. The script, also by Gariazzo (he both wrote and directed the movie under the pseudonym Roy Garrett), fits the mould with its ridiculous convolutions and nonsense climax, though he doesn’t do his established cast (including previously good actors like Ray Lovelock and Mario Cutini) with painfully expositional dialogue.
Good or bad, Gariazzo is in his element here. His career as a director (and often a writer) began with spaghetti westerns, like God Will Forgive My Pistol (Italian: Dio perdoni la mia pistola, 1969) and Acquasanta Joe (1971), but quickly changed gears into sexual-charged subject matter, including erotic horror (The Sexorcist [Italian: L'ossessa; aka: Enter the Devil and The Eerie Midnight Horror Show, 1974]), Porky’s-inspired raunchy comedies (Very Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind [Italian: Incontri molto... ravvicinati del quarto tipo, 1978]), and even a boob-filled cannibal cash-in called White Slave (Italian: Schiave bianche - Violenza in Amazzonia; aka: Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story, 1985). Not surprisingly, it was produced by Armando Novelli, the man behind a number of Fernando Di Leo’s similar trash classics, including Caliber 9 (Italian: Milano calibro 9, 1972), The Italian Connection (Italian: La mala ordina, 1972), and, most pertinent here, Slaughter Hotel (Italian: La Bestia Uccide a Sangue Freddo; aka: Asylum Erotica, 1971), which achieved similar levels of sexual sleaze in the less permissive earlier parts of the 1970s.
There was, apparently, a DVD release of Play Motel in Italy and possibly Norway, but, by most accounts, those were VHS quality at best. Raro lists this US digital/worldwide Blu-ray debut as being transferred from the original 35mm negative and, despite some very obvious quality issues, I believe them. Without verification, I assume that Raro gets their scans directly from Italy, like Blue Underground, Scream Factory, and other boutique exploitation labels. These scans are often plagued by telecine/digital noise and weak details, which each label either ignores, or attempts to ‘fix’ the problem by using the digital tools at their disposal. In the case of this 1.67:1, 1080p transfer, it appears that Raro is employing DNR enhancements to clear up the noise, yet it creates a different set of issues, like waxy details and a general lack of texture. Raro treats most of their prestigious titles beautifully, but tends to DNR-up many of their ‘cult’ or ‘trash’ releases. As in just about every case, the upgrade over (horribly fuzzy) DVD is still substantial, but the overall result is disappointing. In addition to the DNR, edges show signs of compression and the footage itself has issues with pulsing (probably unavoidable outside of a complete rescan). The good news is that the contrast levels and colour qualities are quite dynamic. Black levels are deep without completely absorbing the smaller details and element separation is plenty tight, despite the lack of finer texture.
Both the original mono Italian and English dubs are presented here in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 sound. The audio quality is completely different between the two tracks, despite the sound effects, the pop music title theme (it plays over almost every sex/strip scene), and Ubaldo Continiello’s score (which consists of maybe two motifs) matching between them. In most cases, the English dub comes out on top, because it more tightly separates the various elements, allowing music and effects to be relatively loud without overwhelming the dialogue. The Italian dub is mashed up and flattened, which is especially problematic for the music. The English version also has an advantage in terms of performance, in that the English-speaking actors are outrageously miscast, heavily accented (mostly New Yawk or cock-a-ney English), and generally indifferent in terms of performance. It adds an extra level of unintentional comedy to the experience. A few scenes were not dubbed into English and remain Italian on both tracks.
The Midas Touch (18:40, SD) – An interview with producer Armando Novelli and actors Franco Garofalo, Monika Zanchi, and Ray Lovelock. It includes stills from Gariazzo’s other movies and is hosted by Nocurno Video’s Davide Pulici for release with Raro’s original Italian disc.
Deleted scenes (7:10, SD) – Play Motel was released in both a standard version and a harder porn version for foreign market releases. Here are all of those X-rated scenes in VHS quality.
The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray’s image quality.