Horror Ten Spot: Scariest Horror Hotels!
So, you guys and ghouls check into A&E's "Bates Motel" this past Monday? Did you enjoy your stay? I personally can't yet tell if the show will work as a whole, but we all know Vera Farmiga is a hell of an actress, and if anyone can keep us interested, it's surely her. But much like Hitch's forerunning slasher masterpiece on which the new series is based, PSYCHO of course, the titular "motel" plays just as much of a vital role as the human beings do. The place isn't just a setting, it's an actual character, an important one. And that got us to thinking, as it always does, about some of the scariest...scummiest...seediest, all around foulest hotels and motels found in horror movies. Be they simple settings or more elaborate central characters in the film, no matter, let's revisit some of the all time best horror hotels. No early checkouts!
It's right in the title though is it not...mothaf*cking MOTEL HELL! The grisly 1980 horror-comedy remains one of the pillars of roadside terror, and while I may slightly enjoy the unheralded 1986 flick MOUNTAINTOP MOTEL MASSACRE a tad bit more (stream that shite on Netflix), MOTEL HELL cannot go unmentioned. You already know what amenities are offered: Farmer Vincent will scoop you up, bury you alive in his lovely motel garden, and if you're lucky, he'll turn you into one of his food-stand fritters. Quite the host! The flick comes from the somewhat underrated Kevin Connor, whose first feature was the Amicus horror anthology BEYOND THE GRAVE. MOTEL HELL is probably Connor's second best flick, largely due to the balance of gruesome violence and irreverent black humor.
Nope, not the cheeky Howard Stern flick from the 90s, the PRIVATE PARTS I wholeheartedly urge you to fondle is Paul Bartel's 1972 horror satire. And I urge you to do so ASAP! While uneven, the grimy L.A. skid-row hotel...and all its gnarly skin-crawling exploits...are too good to merely pass by. See, the flick follows a female Ohioan who goes out west to stay with an eccentric band of L.A. innkeepers, only to become embroiled in a taut web of murder mystery, deeply perverted debauchery (blow-up dolls), and other foul head-scratching oddities. Shite gets bizarre! As with good exploitation slime, the flick doesn't rely on well known actors or stars, it instead creates a mood and atmosphere, a tone of the utterly insane...all of which come together to form a memorably wicked experience.
One of the cool things about Nimrod Antal's VACANCY is how it used modern motel technology to create a suspenseful thriller. Hidden surveillance cameras play a large role in the flick, as they basically function to capture human death on film at the Pinewood Motel...serving as a real life snuff joint. Obviously, Kate Beckinsale as the damsel in distress lends instant sympathy (not to mention eye candy), and while my man Frank Whaley's initial appearance is a bit too fishy to forget about come conclusion time, the movie is a fun and original enough spin on the isolated motel subgenre to cast some love at. Again, I found the final reveal of the bad guy a bit predictable, but so what, the single-location thriller is brisk enough to remain entertaining throughout (only 85 minutes long).
Probably not the best Stephen King adaptation, but certainly not the worst...I've always enjoyed many things about the haunted hotel yarn 1408. First off, I'm a lifelong Cusack fan, and getting to see him basically do a one-room, one-man show...running the full gamut of human emotion...is always a fun watch. Throw in a spine-tingling twist finale, the ominous presence of Sam Jackson, and the lavish quarters of the Dolphin Hotel itself...1408 deserves rank among the horror-hotel pantheon. Part of the reason is also the character Cusack plays. Remember, he's an author who specializes in paranormal experiences. So when he agrees to stay in the notorious room 1408, he's already expecting horrible things to happen...things he's already used to experiencing. That adds a complex dimension to what he encounters in the room, and ultimately how he handles it.
Just when you thought hostels were a sensibly affordable alternative to ritzy hotels, Eli Roth put that thought to eternal sleep with his 2005 trap and torture ditty HOSTEL. Of course, Roth sequelized the premise two years later with reversed-gender leads. But the thing about that first flick was the element of surprise behind the reason for such a horrifying place existing to begin with. Only in that late expository scene do we come to understand that these elaborately gruesome tortures are sick psycho-fantasies played out by rich, thrill-seeking businessmen. That reveal is almost as disarming as the visuals that come before it, including such repulsive living quarters that surely decreased Slovakia's tourism rate. Straight heinous!
The sublimely unnerving Klaus Kinski double dips on this here list...dude's clearly the master of running habitats for troubled young women. In the excellent 1986 sleaze-fest CRAWLSPACE, Kinski plays the demented son of a Nazi surgeon, who oversees a rundown apartment complex for a range of such gals. Thing is, the lucky lasses don't realize Kinski has festooned the place with deadly booby traps, hidden peep rooms and secret air-duct passages that he slithers through all day to disgustingly peek through. And if the girls get out of line...Kinski deads their fine asses at once! This movie f*cking rules, not only for inspiring the entire SAW conceit (trap and torture with elaborate devices), but for the slightly offbeat tone and hilarious dark humor stitched throughout. Kinski plays the straight man for comedy like no other!
Akin to an X-rated picture, the 1971 Italian sleaze-fest known as SLAUGHTER HOTEL, starring the great Klaus Kinski, has everything you'd ever want in a seedy-hotel-set exploitation doozy. Aside from Kinski skulking around in the night, perving out on random female tenants, the flick features awesome death sequences, interracial lesbian shower scenes, up-close full-frontal masturbatory vag shots, and if that isn't enough, a masked killer anchoring a murder whodunit. F*ck, I love this movie...thank you Fernando Di Leo! Even better, to murk things up, the titular hotel is actually a psychiatric clinic for deeply disturbed rich bitches, which I suppose is to blame for the unabashed hedonism and violent debauchery most of the inmates indulge in. Oh how I wish such hotels existed!
I can't echo it loud enough...I love, love, love everything about Tobe Hooper's EATEN ALIVE. The filthy look of it, the off kilter tone, the deplorable characters, and of course the setting...the misnamed Starlight Hotel...for there's nothing dreamy about the place at all...it's pure nightmarish hell! I mean, when the flick opens up with a pre-Freddy Bob Englund trying to wheedle a hooker into letting him pump her in the dump...in the grimiest motel you've ever seen no less...you know you're in for a fun ride! This is backwoods horror at its finest, where if you step on the wrong toes, you'll be sliced to death with a giant scythe and fed to a hungry gator that lives in a swamp-puddle beside the house. Yeah, no joke. But it's still funny. Go figure. Interestingly enough, the alternate title for EATEN ALIVE is SLAUGHTER HOTEL.
King + Kubrick = The Overlook Hotel...perhaps the most daunting and ghastly horror hotels of all. Sheesh. On sheer vastness and production value alone...the extravagant lighting schemes, labyrinthine corridors, the reflective surfaces, myriad mirrors...THE SHINING aptly subverts horror convention and gives us a fright flick, one of the scariest of all time, that never takes place in the dark. At least, not until the finale, but even then it takes place during a nighttime whiteout...in a lit hedge maze. The genius of Kubrick! Then of course there's the hallway where the sinister twin girls reside, not to mention room 237 where the old hag scares the shite out of Jack Torrance. On and on...the sumptuous Gold Room, the blood-red lavatory, the giant kitchen and storeroom, the regal lobby, Ullman's eerie office...all spectacular set-pieces from one of the all time greats!
You already knew what awaited us in the top spot. The Bates Motel is the mother-load...or better yet, the sadistic son of all horror hotels! Without this one, perhaps the preceding establishments would never exist. So a debt of gratitude we owe to Hitchcock for changing the game in 1960, not just giving us a modern day slasher template, but for also incorporating the motel setting as the backdrop. Think of the jarring taxidermy room, with all those stuffed birds (a foreshadow to Hitch's next film?), or the infamous shower scene with Bernard Herman's searing strings. Think of the main house atop the hill, the winding staircase, where we see Norman silhouetted in drag. Or that surreal inside shot of Arbogast falling down the stairs after Norman blades him across the face. All of these sequences, all legendary film lore, take place in the famed Bates Motel. Horror history, yo!