Sunday, November 22, 2015

WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Play Motel


You know when you’re in poor company with a giallo when it’s basically a blue movie with a hint of murder mystery thrown in. You know you’re in poor company when it stars Ray Lovelock (ever seen ‘Oasis of Fear’, ‘Almost Human’ or ‘The Seventh Woman’? I have, and I’d rather put in several hours of unpaid overtime at work than watch them again). You know you’re in poor company when it’s directed by Mario Gariazzo (the anti-talent behind porno ‘Exorcist’ knock off ‘L’ossessa’ and lame cannibal snore-fest ‘Amazonia: the Catherine Miles Story’).

And you know you’re in poor company when a movie configured to incorporate the maximum possible nudity utterly fails to generate any eroticism. Let’s be honest, in the bottom-of-the-barrel sub-genre that is the giallo-sex-film, ‘Strip Nude for Your Killer’ and ‘The Sister of Ursula’ are better works of cinema.

With all of that in mind, are you ready to check into the Play Motel? If so, let’s spend a few words considering the title. As far as I can tell, that’s the only moniker the film goes by, which makes in quite rare in the annals of Italian exploitation cinema, where even something as auteurish (and more or less mainstream) as Argento’s ‘Profondo Rosso’ – literally translated as ‘Deep Red’ for the English-speaking markets – was also variously known as ‘The Hatchet Murders’ and ‘The Shiver of Agony’, and Mario Bava’s ‘A Bay of Blood’ has more aliases than a master criminal. But no, ‘Play Motel’ doesn’t even allow me to indulge this review with an Italian title like ‘Fotografie compromettenti in strano motel’ which at least sounds elegant even though it patently isn’t.

No, ‘Play Motel’ smirks at me like the seedy receptionist (Mario Novelli) who hands the room key to the succession of wealthy gentlemen who use the facility for assignations with call girls. Smirks at me knowing that every time I reference the film’s title in this review, I’ll wince inwardly as I type the nine letters that make up ‘Play Motel’.

Seriously, I’d have more respect for this film if it were called ‘The Fuck Pad Murders’.


But things are as they are, and this is the Winter of Discontent. Dubious and depraved works of exploitation are the season’s raison d’etre and for better or for worse (actually, for worse; definitely for worse) ‘Play Motel’ was where this evening’s viewing led me. So let’s collect our key from the smirking receptionist, down a shot of J&B at the bar, trundle along to our seedy room and hope that it had a deep clean after the previous tenant departed. Now, let’s slip into something more sleazy and survey the, ahem, delights on offer.

‘Play Motel’ tells the fairly simple story of a blackmail scam in which the aforementioned wealthy gentlemen (and, in one remarkably unoriginal twist, the wife of a well-connected individual) are lured to said establishment under the promise of all kinds of hanky-panky, only to receive some glossies in the post a few days later and a demand for ready cash. The movie starts with glacial businessman Rinaldo Cortesi (Enzo Fisichella) meeting model/call girl Loredana (Marina Hedman) for some kinky role play. Upon receipt of the compromising photos, he seeks advice of his lawyer. This eminently professional gentleman advises him to cough up the readies. Unbeknownst to Cortesi, however, his wife Luisa (Patrizia Behn) stumbles upon the pictures and does what Cortesi has been warned not to: go to the police.

Enter Inspector Toselli (Vittorio Ripamonti), who sets out to track down Loredana. Recognising her likeness in an adult magazine (“this publication was in the files relating to porn,” says the lackey who retrieves said literature from the evidence room, miraculously keeping a straight face as he delivers this deathless line), Toselli tracks Loredana to the photographer, Willy (Mario Cutini), who works for said magazine.


Any reasonably competent armchair sleuth should be able to fit the pieces together, and indeed Gariazzi (writing as well as directing, and doing both with precious little competency) pretty much plays his hand about half way in, saving just one twist for the finale. What does work, however, is the amount of false starts that occupy the first third of the 90 minute running time. Cortesi seems like the protagonist for the first few minutes: an early scene where his lawyer and his wife are shown having an affair seems to set up a tangled web of personal and professional relationships, but before any of them can unravel, the baton of the narrative passes suddenly to Luisa. Her initial consultation with Toselli not resulting in much urgency on the good detective’s part, she starts snooping. But this development is swiftly curtailed and ‘Play Motel’ settles for quarter of an hour or so into a boilerplate procedural with Toselli taking the reins. Only at around the half hour mark does aspiring actor Roberto Vinci (Lovelock) enter the proceedings, vivacious girlfriend Patrizia (Anna Maria Rizzoli) in tow.

And even though Lovelock gets main billing, Vinci goes on to do a remarkable amount of fuck all for most of the next hour. Caught up in proceedings when a corpse is dumped in his car boot, Vinci is recruited by Toselli when the latter realises that Willy and the publishers of the wank mag will recognise him from previous busts when he was heading up the vice squad. Evidently there must have been budget cuts in the Italian police force at the time and the first to go were the undercover officers, but still the casualness – nay, the indifference – with which a seasoned detective happily drags in a civilian off the street and pretty much pins upon him the onus of the entire investigation is a big ask in terms of suspension-of-disbelief. That Vinci is reluctant is perfectly understandable. That Patrizia rushes headlong into the investigation, putting herself in harms way with a toss of the hair and a flash of the pearly whites, can have no rationalisation other than the requirement in these kind of films for attractive women to sashay around in perilous scenarios looking sexy as all hell.

Only this is where my enthusiasm for trash movies and tendency to exaggerated threaten to overwhelm the review. For while Rizzoli is certainly attractive, there is nothing sexy about ‘Play Motel’. This is a film where there’s a nude scene every five minutes or so, where a sequence involving Patrizia posing topless for Willy in order to gain access to his studio seems to run longer than ‘Satantango’ played at half-speed. Where even the occasional jolting hardcore insert only serves to reinforce how grubby and free of frisson the whole thing is.

It left me feeling that I might just have to check in at the ‘Slaughter Hotel’ just for a taste of sophistication. Dear God, the ‘Slaughter Hotel’!

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