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).
Raro Video has sourced this Blu-Ray of Play Motel from the original 35mm cut, and despite some obvious flaws in that older video source, the film looks fairly good. There are some noticeable textures in the video, but that’s pretty much inevitable due to the age; the restoration manages to pull a lot of color out of the film’s cinematography, especially the bright reds for which Italian cinema is known (still, I’m hardly an expert on video quality, so if that’s something you’re looking for, it’s best to refer to another publication). Audio also sounds good, albeit with some scratchy portions. Raro Video offers either the original Italian soundtrack of the English with added Italian scenes – some of these had been cut, and they are obviously of poorer quality for this reason.
The extras are slight, but there is an 18 minute featurette from Nocturno Video called “The Midas Touch” that focuses on the production company Midia Cinematografica, responsible for Play Motel, Madness, and a couple other alien/UFO films in the ’70s. It’s an interesting watch with a few different interviews, including one with Ray Lovelock where he denounces the addition of hardcore pornographic scenes after the entirety of Play Motel was shot.
Also included are the cut pornographic scenes – 7 minutes in total – which Raro Video has chosen to exclude from the feature itself. I believe this to be the right choice based on the intentions of most of the people involved in the making of the film, but it’s nice to have those seven minutes of blue film on here for completion’s sake.
An essay leaflet is also included, which gives a bit more depth to Play Motel‘s production while touching on many of the points outlined in “The Midas Touch.” Overall, this is worth a look for those wanting an erotic crime drama with giallo-esque moments.