Home Video Hovel: Slaughter Hotel, by Craig Schroeder
I never know how to feel about the exploitation films of the 60s and 70s. By their very nature they are meant to appeal only to my most animalistic instincts; instincts that don’t require a cinematically sophisticated mind to comprehend. They’re movies that recognize the human mind as little more than a reptilian, call-and-response organ, stimulated only by its most primal urges. And these films often work precisely because they’re so earnestly primal. There’s no pretense. Human like sex. Human like blood. Give to human.
Slaughter Hotel—also known by a parade of alternate titles, including Cold Blooded Beasts and Asylum Erotica–is precisely this kind of pulp film, one that takes direct aim at the audience’s hindbrain. The 1971 Giallo film from Italian filmmaker Fernando Di Leo, is a potent blend of surrealist sexuality and gothic violence. The titular hotel is actually a clinic for mentally unstable women, whose problems range from depression to nymphomania to homicidal rage to. The clinic (which is, conveniently enough, decorated floor to ceiling with practical medieval weaponry) is preyed upon by a masked killer. Meanwhile, all of the women get naked and the inept clinic staff (including notorious crazy person Klaus Kinski, who is uncharacteristically subdued) wander around aimlessly. The plot itself is disposable and entirely beside the point, as Slaughter Hotel is nothing more than an existential horror flick that tests the boundaries between narrative film and soft core porn.
It seems silly to complain about the objectification of women in a film whose reason for existence is to objectify women. There isn’t a female character who doesn’t appear naked. The camera has a fondness for nude women sleeping. A “medical” massage devolves into several silent minutes of two different women rubbing a third woman’s ass. But while the nudity in Slaughter Hotel is gratuitously cringe-worthy, it isn’t pretentious. While some films in the B-Movie/Exploitation/Grindhouse/Horror stratosphere (I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House on the Left, for example) operate under the cynical disguise of female empowerment only to see its female characters subjugated to horrific degrees, Slaughter Hotel does not. It isn’t smart enough for pretense. Di Leo likes naked women so there are naked women in his movie. End of story. Though you may shudder when Lenny crushes the mouse in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, you understand it’s partly your fault for thinking he wouldn’t; Slaughter Hotel generates similar feelings of conflicted disappointment in its treatment of female characters.
Despite being laughably misogynistic, the horror elements in the film works quite well. It’s a pleasant blend of gothic bizarreness, surreal violence and tried-and-true horror tropes. By stealing themes from Agatha Christie and aesthetics from Dario Argento–two facts that writer and director Fernando Di Leo eagerly and joyfully cops to in the DVD extras–Slaughter Hotel is ripe with atmospheric terror. The clinic itself is a boxy, monolithic castle that looms large in the frame. The inside is somber and dank. Despite being a film pieced together almost entirely from stolen motifs and borrowed themes, Di Leo manages to set an ominous and frightful mood. The killer himself, a masked man who wears a cape and lurks in shadows, is a terrifying presence and Di Leo is great at capturing the terror of a masked intruder. The score drops out as the killer stalks and comes thundering back in moments of terror. The camera prods where it doesn’t belong moments before the killer strikes. Slaughter Hotel, between bouts of crippling ineptitude, stumbles into interesting filmmaking; it’s like a chimp got set loose in a junkyard and somehow assembled a working automobile.
I don’t know if I can, in good faith, recommend Slaughter Hotel. It’s incredibly silly, terribly misogynistic and painfully pedestrian. But it’s also gleefully ridiculous. And while existing in a genre that can be mean-spirited and hateful, Slaughter Hotel isn’t. It’s an earnest failure. And thus: an accidental success.