At the Sunset Motel in the early nineteen-sixties, a couple drive up in their car to check in, but things do not seem too sunny in their marriage as they bicker constantly. She is Bridey (Sherilyn Fenn), married to Chester (Whip Hubley) who is a toy salesman in this region of the United States to attend a conference at Disney World, but he is completely paranoid about the possibility of nuclear war, and the sound of the Air Force performing manoeuvres overhead every so often is jangling his nerves. As he rents two separate rooms, the manager (Paul Bartel) is less than impressed, but thanks to his voyeuristic ways he will find far more to be offended by...
Desire and Hell at Sunset Motel was an independent effort starring Fenn just at the stage she won her fame as one of the ensemble cast of Twin Peaks, making her one of the focal points of a show that was jammed with female pulchritude. As Audrey Horne, she tied Agent Dale Cooper in knots just as assuredly as she tied a cherry stem with her tongue, and was all set to become a breakout star with her own Audrey series when Twin Peaks was cancelled. Alas, that never happened, and creator David Lynch opted to use the ideas for Mulholland Drive about a decade later, with Fenn nowhere to be seen; meanwhile, she had forged a career in other indies.
Many rented this little item on video thanks to her presence, as they did other titles like Two Moon Junction and Meridian, which had the benefit of the actress in a state of undress to take away the feeling she was squandering her talent in unworthy efforts, but Desire and Hell had no such scenes, though the camera lingered over her when she dressed in a leopard print bikini. What it did have was a confounding plotline that was barely sorted out by the big reveal at the end, and indeed even after watching the way it was wrapped up you could still be forgiven for being left confused what with all the jumps in storyline (and logic, for that matter) that had played out beforehand.
You might have thought the self-conscious weirdness was an homage to Lynch given the time this was made, but that may have not been the case, as what happened here did not quite slot into any kind of frame that made the Lynchian "tributes" seem blatant. It was the sole directorial effort by one Alien Castle, of whom very little is known, though presumably they used a pseudonym to craft this, which could have been intended as a calling card to Hollywood to show what they were capable of but might well have backfired when what they were capable of was confounding and irritating the viewer. For long stretches it was purely Fenn who kept you watching, at the height of her classic movie star beauty, but when even Bridey didn't know what was happening to herself, how were we supposed to?
The plot, for what it was worth, seemed to be a tribute to film noir along the lines of Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice, with Fenn as a Barbara Stanwyck or Lana Turner femme fatale. As Bridey is definitely not on good terms with Chester, we can suspect she is planning his downfall, but the opposite may be true as he recruits a beatnik nicknamed Deadpan (David Hewlett) to spy on her and potentially bump her off; she is already having an affair with Auggie (David Johansen), or she plays mini golf with him at any rate. All very, well... all very cliched, but then things take a curious turn as events grew murky, with Bridey continually passing out or waking up to find what happened before had been a dream (what do English teachers always tell you about avoiding that device in creative writing?!), and Chester may have been murdered anyway. Some termed this a comedy, though there was precious little to laugh about. It was strange, however, and that may be enough to keep the Sherilyn fans captivated. Music by Castle and Doug Walter.