Some giallo horror-thrillers are razor-edged essays in nerve-jangling terror. Others adopt the form as a cloak for existential musings on the human condition. And some say nuts to all that and aim for sleaze, sleaze, sleaze! Welcome to Play Motel, “the place to be” as the hideous Euro-cheese theme song assures us, where urbane degenerate Rinaldo Cortesi (Enzo Fisichella) rents a room for a rendezvous with voluptuous porn princess Loredana (Marina Frajese). She dons a nun’s habit while he dresses like Satan (!) for some S&M foreplay before they get down and dirty.
Unfortunately, the next morning a stack of incriminating photos land on Cortesi’s desk along with a blackmailing threat. His wife Luisa (Patrizia Behn) gets wind of his adultery and subsequent predicament, but can’t complain since she is sleeping with her husband’s lawyer. She alerts Police Inspector De Santis (Anthony Steffen) who trails Loredana to a porn publishing outfit called “Shamrock Editions.” Shortly thereafter the wanton woman is killed in her car by a mysterious maniac with black leather gloves. With De Santis seemingly stumped, Luisa checks into Play Motel spying more seedy shenanigans before being abruptly bumped off by the same murderer. The killer dumps her corpse in car belonging to struggling actor Roberto Vinci (Ray Lovelock) and his girlfriend Patrizia (Anna Maria Rizzoli). Hoping to score some publicity, the actors agree to go undercover to learn the sordid truth behind Play Motel.
By 1979 the giallo genre was on the wane, but producer Armando Novello likely figured hardcore pornography never went out of style and besides he had played the same trick with the equally seamy Slaughter Hotel (1971). One imagines top-billed Ray Lovelock and aging spaghetti western idol Anthony Steffen were less than happy about seeing their straight scenes interspersed with graphic scenes of masturbation and oral sex featuring haggard hardcore queens Marina Frajese and Patrizia Webley. Sexy Anna Maria Rizzoli also strips off for a lengthy photo-shoot at the Shamrock Editions office, on the flimsy pretext of searching their premises for a vital clue. Naturally most of the action occurs at the titular motel to which, as Roberto and Patrizia discover, wealthy perverts are being lured for illicit thrills then blackmailed by porn publisher Max Liguori (Marino Masé) and his creepy, phallically-named photographer Willie (Mario Cutini), who can’t catch a break with any of the wanton women.
The mystery itself is solidly constructed, but writer-director Mario Gariazzo - a hack of all trades including the sci-fi thriller Eyes Behind the Stars (1978) and the UFO themed sex comedy Very Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind (1979) - keeps cutting back to that same motel room where different couples indulge in kinky sex games that are more silly than titillating. Liguori himself seduces a millionaire’s wife (Patrizia Webley) whom he ties naked to the bed then probes with a golden salamander for some reason, and an elderly lawyer sprays naked hooker Anna (Antonella Antinori) with champagne then shoves the bottle up her bottom, in wince-inducing close-up. There are satirical undertones but the targets are obvious and the action is crass. At least the final fifteen minutes are modestly suspenseful, although poor Patrizia puts up with some unpalatable physical abuse before Inspector De Santis (who seems weirdly eager to send amateur sleuths to do his job for him) smugly intones: “See? With a little patience you catch the fish.”