From Fawlty Towers to Psycho, hotel horrors have long provided a rich seam of material for big screen and small. HBO’s The White Lotus, which returns to Sky Atlantic tonight for its second series, swept the board at last month’s Emmys, with ten wins in the limited series category for its sharp social satire set at an upmarket holiday resort.
Visiting the establishments you’ve seen on screen isn’t always a good move. I was excited to check in to Rome’s Grand Hotel Plaza, which has been used as a location for movies including L’innocente (1976), Gangs of New York (2002), Ocean’s Twelve (2004), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017). But I soon discovered why my suite was so heavily discounted. Just after falling into a deep sleep, I was awakened by incessant hammering, instructions being yelled through megaphones and floodlights shining through the drapes and (akin to Close Encounters) under the door. The rooms next to mine (and outside the windows) were being used to film a booze commercial.
But from the safety of your sofa, the worse the hotel, the better the viewing. Whether it’s ghosts, criminals or just the other guests, horrors abound in these ten hotels on film – no reservation needed.
Writer Stephen King was cheesed off that director Stanley Kubrick didn’t include his novel’s moving maze topiary – so much so that he instigated a 1997 mini-series which restored the creatures. Of course, no one remembers that show, but Kubrick’s movie is acknowledged as classic of the horror genre, full of disturbing images and a ripe turn from Jack Nicholson as unhinged hotel caretaker Jack Torrance. The isolated Colorado Rockies Overlook Hotel might as well have a neon sign and loud hailers bellowing: ‘HAUNTED!’ But the establishment’s obvious creepiness doesn’t deter Torrance from bringing abused wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and psychic son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to join him for an off-season rollercoaster ride of murder, mayhem and terrifying apparitions. The Shining was followed by the not-half-bad sequel Doctor Sleep in 2019.
Mikael Håfström’s (The Rite) adaptation of another Stephen King novel is an effective chiller that throws the viewer more than a few curveballs. Cynical travelogue writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack) faces his greatest challenge when staying in the notorious Room 1408 in Manhattan’s Dolphin Hotel while researching his book, Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Hotel Rooms. It’s a classic case of ‘Don’t say I didn’t warn you’ as Enslin ignores manager Gerald Olin’s (Samuel L. Jackson) entreaties not to enter the cursed chamber. Similar territory was covered by M.R. James in his short story ‘Number 13’.
Screenwriter Drew Goddard (The Martian) followed up his debut picture Cabin in the Woods (2011) with this 1969-set neo-noir about the nefarious events taking place at the El Royale, a formerly popular hotel that straddles the California-Nevada border (akin to Frank Sinatra’s Cal Neva lodge). Having lost its gambling licence, the El Royale is largely empty, making it a convenient nexus point in this convoluted tale of stashed loot, FBI snooping and a Charles Manson-style cult leader. All of which sound a good deal more interesting that the picture itself, which despite a great cast (including Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, and an over-acting Chris Hemsworth) never quite manages to take off. Always a bad omen when the set design is more interesting than the dramatic action.
Another Drew (this time Drew Pearce), another screenwriter-turned-director and another strong cast in a titular hotel/hospital, which like John Wick’s Continental has a criminal-only clientele. The year: 2028; the place: Los Angeles. Riots caused by chronic water shortages mean that manager/surgeon Jean ‘the nurse’ Thomas (Jodie Foster) is super-busy. One particularly bloody evening sees her long-standing rules of ‘no weapons’, ‘no non-members’ and ‘no killing of other guests’ no longer apply to the Hotel Artemis. As with El Royale, it’s an interesting premise, but the picture becomes bogged down in talky exposition, wasting the talents of Foster and fellow cast members Jeff Goldblum, Sofia Boutella, Sterling K. Brown, Charlie Day, Dave Bautista and Zachary Quinto. Director/writer Pearce received his break creating and writing the ITV2 superhero spoof No Heroics (2008), going on to work on Iron Man 3 (2013) and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019).
Sofia Coppola’s (Lost in Translation) Somewhere can be seen as either a noodling self-indulgent ode to the existential trials of Hollywood stars or an affecting portrait of a life in crisis, depending on the mood of the viewer. Recently divorced big-name actor Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) spends his days drinking, pill-popping and fornicating in famed Los Angeles hostelry Chateau Marmont, before eventually deciding to reconnect with his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) and reassess his life. Which, truth be told, doesn’t sound totally cruddy.
Everyone’s nightmare must be to find their exotic foreign family holiday interrupted by a violent revolution. Well, in this Pierce Brosnan/Owen Wilson thriller that’s what happens to Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson), wife Annie (Lake Bell) and young daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare). Brosnan steps in as (guess what?) a British government operative who aids the family in their escape, although he reveals the insurgency was a result of attempts by the UK and allies to control the country by taking over its intentionally bankrupted infrastructure. For more disastrous starts to holidays abroad, also watch American Assassin (2017) and The Impossible (2012).
The ubiquitous Olivia Colman stars with the equally busy Colin Farrell in Yorgos Lanthimos’s (The Favourite) decidedly odd black comedy. Manager Colman oversees a hotel where singletons are allowed 45 days to find romantic partners or face being turned into animals. Residents/captives are allowed their choice of animal – Farrell’s mopey David chooses to be a lobster if he can’t hook up in the allotted period. (Bit of a daft choice in my opinion – why not a panther or killer whale?)
The title makes this sound more akin to a Carry On fixture than a serious piece about the titular character (played by Glenn Close resembling a smarter Wilfred ‘Steptoe’ Brambell), a woman whose tragic early life has meant that she has spent her adult years in male guise, largely as the butler at Dublin’s upscale Morrison Hotel. Close’s performance was highly praised, and the movie works as a serviceable weepie, with some witty moments.
Ti West (X) wastes an intriguing idea in this undercooked and predictable story about Connecticut’s real-life Yankee Pedlar Inn, a New England hotel with a storied history of supposedly supernatural events. Skeleton staff (and paranormal buffs) Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are managing the mostly vacated Pedlar’s final week before closing. Off screen, the Inn itself has been closed since 2014.
The Damned’s (1969) Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling reunite in another Nazi-themed drama with Liliana Cavani’s (Ripley’s Game) twisted story of the sado-masochistic relationship between an ex-Nazi concentration camp officer (Bogarde) and his former inmate (Rampling). Max (Bogarde) is skulking as the night porter at a Viennese hotel when he has a chance encounter with victim/lover Lucia (Rampling). The movie is very much an acquired taste, risible in parts, and with an obvious desire to shock – but The Night Porter has its fans, despite an inherent silliness. Not a picture for date night – or family viewing, obviously.
If you’ve still got a hankering for hotel movies you may want to take in Plaza Suite (1971), California Suite (1978), Four Rooms (1995), Mystery Train (1989), Psycho (1960), Hotel Rwanda (2004), Guest House Paradiso (1999), Vacancy (2007) and Identity (2003). On TV, consider Fawlty Towers (naturellement, as John Cleese’s proprietor Basil would say), The Halcyon, Room 104, Magic City, The Duchess of Duke Street, The Night Manager, Hotel Babylon and BritBox's little-seen drama Hotel Portofino.