Play Motel review
Play Motel is an odd duck in the Italian film genre, coming at a time when the giallo had mostly played out its welcome. Mario Gariazzo’s film is partially an attempt to revitalize that style, but it’s also more of a straight crime caper with erotic scenes thrown in both to emphasize the voyeurism of the movie’s theme and to – more likely – titillate the viewer. Mixing these different but often overlapping genres results in a film that has an intriguing premise, one that does manage to surprise the audience with a cohesive blackmail plot involving female models, a porn company, and a couple venturing into amateur detective territory. And while Play Motel is primarily interested in sexualizing and eroticizing its standard murder mystery, it also succeeds in telling a story where casual sexual encounters become damaging and dangerous.
Gariazzo’s most vital choice is eschewing the usual protagonist introductions in the opening of the film. Play Motel begins with Rinaldo Cortesi bringing a woman to the Play Motel for a taboo sexual encounter involving devil/nun role-play, and it introduces the viewer not only to the more explicit erotics of the film but also to the blackmail and murder that occurs at the motel. Cortesi is delivered photos of himself in compromising positions with the woman, told to pay up or his secret will be exposed, and it eventually leads to his wife’s (Patricia Behn) murder. It’s simply the opening play in the film’s crime caper, and despite centering on Cortesi, Play Motel does not pin him down as the character we follow.
Instead, Gariazzo shifts to a couple – Roberto (Ray Lovelock) and Patrizia (Anna Maria Rizzoli) – who spend an hour at the Play Motel and then find Cortesi’s wife dead in their trunk. Roped into the murders and interested in uncovering the truth (as well as putting Roberto’s name in the papers), the duo go undercover to investigate the motel’s connections to Max Liguori’s (Marino Mase) porn studio and the seedy interests of his photographer Willy (Mario Cutini).
Play Motel‘s setup is relatively simple – it’s a mystery about blackmail first and foremost, and the giallo-influenced killings are secondary after people get too close to the truth. Gariazzo, by this point, had strong experience in both horror and crime drama, and Play Motel melds both of those together. In truth, the film has a lot less suspense than its giallo gimmicks might suggest; there are only a couple of murders tinged with that style’s influence, with a gloved killer garroting his victims, but Play Motel handles this well and switches to more conventional mystery when necessary.
Despite the lovely ladies shedding their clothes every few minutes, Lovelock and Rizzoli are the real attractions. Their enthusiasm for going undercover is palpable, and Rizzoli in particular steals many of the scenes with her beauty. It’s important to note that their amateur qualities lead to an investigation that is often messy and confusing, and that’s how Play Motel overcomes its simplistic setup; by clouding the motives and identities of the criminals, the film is able to twist the plot.
It also allows Gariazzo to insert quite a few pornographic scenes, as it turns out. Play Motel is supposed to be an erotic thriller, and the emphasis is more on the eroticism than the thrills. There are numerous sequences shot at the Play Motel that are elongated for the sole purpose of showing softcore (and sometimes hardcore) porn, and that’s often to the detriment of the films strong mystery story. One thing that Play Motel is missing is equality between the sex and the violence; there’s so much more of the former than the latter that the film often feels bogged down by titillation, if that’s actually possible. (It’s even more prevalent in the hardcore cut of the film, which features a few inserted porn scenes with actor doubles.) These scenes will also try the viewer’s patience listening to the film’s catchy theme music, a ’70s rock anthem about stopping on down to the Play Motel that recurs anytime someone decides to have a tawdy encounter.
But Gariazzo brings everything to a satisfying conclusion, one that puts both Patrizia and Roberto in danger long enough to make things tense. Play Motel has a good twist of an ending, although its killer is mostly telegraphed from the beginning. Its connotations, though, are intriguing, drawing parallels to excessive wealth, its corruption, and the debauchery of those that can buy whatever they want. While Play Motel will most likely disappoint those looking for a conventional giallo, the enmeshing of various Italian niche genres is surprisingly successful (at least in the standard, less-pornographic cut).
Click next for the Blu-Ray review.