Desire & Hell At Sunset Motel (1992) was made at the height of the Neo-Noir craze that swept independent and straight-to-video productions in the late eighties and early nineties. Of those films, Desire & Hell At Sunset Motel is pretty average. Only a few of the films made in this vein at that time have enjoyed any sort of longevity.
The plot of Desire & Hell At Sunset Motel is a knock-off of James M. Cain. The film twists and turns around double-cross after double-cross as a married couple (Sherilyn Fenn and Whip Hubley) manipulate the people around them until they’ve killed one blackmailer and framed one psychopath beatnik. As complex as the plot is it is never mysterious or even hard to follow; the plot just seems to unfold according to a rubric familiar to anyone who has seen a crime film from the forties.
Aesthetically not much about Desire & Hell At Sunset Motel really resembles Film Noir. There are a few shots that employ venetian blinds, but for the most part compositions are pretty unincredible. The kind of shadow play that made Red Rock West (1993), a superior film of this ilk, so visually compelling is entirely absent here. The shadows in Desire & Hell At Sunset Motel never really achieve the dreadful kind of darkness associated with the genre.
The one thing that works in Desire & Hell At Sunset Motel is Sherilyn Fenn. Fenn was born to play the femme fatale and after her work on Twin Peaks she had no trouble getting those roles. Fenn brings an earnestness to a part that’s terribly scripted; spending half the time reiterating the historical period and the other half of the time speaking in the most bizarre B-movie cliches. It is Fenn who makes this film watchable and is probably the only reason why anyone ever bothered to see this movie.
Desire & Hell At Sunset Motel was directed by Alien Castle. This film is Castle’s sole credit as a director and second as a screenwriter. Watching Desire & Hell At Sunset Motel one can’t help but feel that Castle’s primary influence here is the film Ghost Of Dragstrip Hollow (1959) rather than anything having to do with Film Noir. Unfortunately Ghost Of Dragstrip Hollow is a far more watchable flick than Desire & Hell At Sunset Motel.