The Haunted Hotel
The Haunted Hotel is an awesome anthology of eight tales of ghostly encounters through the decades, manifesting amid the ruins of a once grand English hotel.
The Haunted Hotel
Today’s film is the 2021 Independent British horror film The Haunted Hotel presented by FILM Suffolk. The film contains Octet of horror stories set in Ipswich, Suffolk England, Shot, filmed and directed by many different and talented Independent film makers. For the purposes of this review I will break each story down individually as it is only fair to give each set of the cast and crew their due credit.
The first story in the film is Watching written by Daphne Fox and Directed by Jean Hogg, Watching tells the story Charles Dickens (played by Reece Ritchie) struggling to find inspiration for his new book while staying at the Great White Horse Hotel. The tension in the opening moments of the story is palpable while Dickens recites a litany, almost a prayer as his coat hanging on the door is frightening him as if it was possessed by a spirit.
Ritchie’s performance is nothing short of stellar as he truly sells the fear and mania at the dark room and the unassuming coat. If you are familiar with Dickens’ Pickwick Papers you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise as mister Pickwick (played by Richard Bates) avails himself to Dicken’s after a blood curdling scream is heard. What follows almost breaks the tone and tension from earlier as Mister Pickwick tells his story of getting lost and appearing in a woman’s room in his night clothing much to the amusement of Dickens. His good humor is cut short however as the aggrieved woman than shows up searching for the “rascal” who dared barge in on her. This is where things once again take a swing toward the Horror as the aforementioned coat comes into play, I won’t spoil it as it is subtle but it was masterfully done.
The writing in the story was so far beyond the standard fair you normally get in Independent films that I was truly shocked that this was Daphne Fox’s first writing credit for a feature film. The characters were believable and the dialog was articulate and masterfully handled. This is of course helped by the fact the actors were up to the challenge and never felt forced or wooden.
All of this is of course is due to the outstanding work of director Jean Hogg.
Jean Hogg is a prolific director who is no stranger to short films and it certainly shows in Watching. The use of lighting, colors and sound truly gave the segment an eerie feel and the claustrophobic camera work on the bed and the drapes really brings a sense of menace to the shots despite never once showing something gory or even frightening. The implied terror from the wonderful writing and stellar directing made the first short of The Haunted Hotel truly memorable and set the tone for what was to come.
2. 40 Years
The second segment of the film is called 40 Years written by Thomas Winward and directed by Joshua Carver. 40 Years tells the story of Tim (played by Hugh Fraser), an old World War II vet who every year on his anniversary books the same room of the hotel where he and his wife Julie (played by Judith Sharp) had first stayed in when they were married. Tim comes off as a sweet and dashing old man whom hotel clerk David (played by Peter Barfield) has obviously served on many occasions and considers his ritual charming even commenting on the fact that he didn’t bring flowers this year to which Tim replied it was getting stale. Julie and Tim then reminisce about how the hotel had changed over the decades and laugh about the horrible wallpaper before Julie asks Tim to dance with her despite the fact he uses a cane. This is where things briefly turn dark as Tim vehemently tells her he will not dance before things return to calm. Room service then arrives with their dinners and the server finds it odd that two meals are being served in the room but does not pursue the issue further. As they eat their meal Julie asks if they truly did right by their children over the years as she can only remember brief snippets of their lives together before telling Tim they shouldn’t come back to the hotel anymore and asking for one last dance in their old room.
Once again the writing in 40 Years like Watching before it was absolutely flawless. While over the years I have seen many films and I got the big reveal of the story right away it absolutely did not detract from it whatsoever. It was handled with finesse and grace that even some big Hollywood writers seem to fail on this days. The story was melancholy and beautifully told that it really pulled me in. Sometimes in films you simply do not relate to the characters either through bad acting or writing but this simply is not the case in 40 Years. You truly empathize with Tim and Julie in the short time you get to seem them on screen and this is due in no small part to the outstanding performances of Hugh Fraser and Judith Sharp.
The mash up of flashbacks and modern times in some films can be jarring when handled poorly but director Joshua Carver handled it flawlessly. Each short flash of the past with his browner tint and old time music really gave you a feel for the 1940s. Each shot was carefully crafted to read into your expectations while subtly giving you a sense that something was off in what you were seeing. The use of the downward tilted camera and the sad, soft music really set the tone of this segment and in my opinion made it the best of all of the eight outstanding stories in the film.
3. The Contraption
The third segment is The Contraption written by Robbie Sunderland and directed by Amy L. Feeley. The Contraption takes us back to the 1920’s and tells the story of young Flapper Francesca Happer – Rishorn (played by Angeline Hunt), a member of a paranormal hunting club, one of who’s founder was Charles Dickens himself, as she returns to the hotel that Dickens had visited the century prior to investigate the constant paranormal activity that the guests had been mentioning since the hotel opened. She is a very eccentric inventor who had made a spirit finding machine and forced the porter to carry it to her room while the manager Willy Urlowe (Played by Roderick Smith) begs her to reconsider as a haunted hotel will hardly attract guests, though he does admit to a grisly murder that had happened in the past. What ensues is a cheeky little comedy as the erstwhile machine seemingly fails to spot ghosts and Arthur the porter(played by Patrick Marlowe) shows up at the room instead. Things take a dark turn shortly there after and it seems the rumors of hauntings are true.
I have to admit that after the first two wonderful stories in the film The Contraption was a jarring change of pace. It is a cheeky upbeat take on the ghost story of the hotel that took some getting use to. While the writing of Robbie Sunderland is perfectly spot on the over the top performance of the leading lady Angeline Hunt detracted slightly from the solid plot of the short. Compared to the performances of Roderick Smith and Patrick Marlowe it simply just came off as far to campy for my tastes. The script itself was cleverly written however and shows real skill in storytelling. If however it was intentional to have her well over the top then the director certainly hit the nail on the head.
The rest of the directorial skill shown by Amy Feeley however was absolutely spot on. The fast pace camera work, the upbeat playful music and quick flashback scenes were all expertly handled. In most films I dislike the use of the “plot twist” as this gimmick rarely works for me however the big shock in this story is handled well by both the writer and the director and organically comes to fruition in a pleasant surprise ending that is slightly undercut by the campy overtones of the segment.
4. The Writer
The fourth segment is The Writer written by Amy L. Feeley and directed by Joshua Dickinson. The Writer returns to the previous darker tone of the earlier segments as Writer Peter Fearless(played by Geir Madland) comes to the hotel to escape his big city life after his nervous breakdown and try once more to return to writing his stock and trade, ghost stories. The young desk clerk Laura (played by Sophie Scannell) provides the background in a phone call to her friend as she is obviously a fan of Fearless since she was seen reading one of his books. Fearless is a nervous wreck as he demands the quietest room and wants to be left alone while he works. Things quickly start to unravel for the writer as he refuses to take his anti-psychotic tablets and he begins to hear scratches and howls as he works on his new novel. When he confronts Laura about the annoying dog in the next room he is told in no uncertain terms that dogs are not allowed at the hotel and he quickly assumes his pills are not working, unsurprising as he seems to resent taking them. Things quickly become very dark as the Fearless calls his publicist and agent telling him about the new book and a dark form of black dog starts to haunt his fevered mind.
The Writer to me really stands out as a perfect example of exceptional script writing as the story it tells is a common one in the horror genre but never once feels stale or overused. The classic troubled writer troupe has been done before (The Window I am looking at you) but in this case you can never tell for sure if Fearless is truly being hunted by a demonic beast or if it is all a figment of his fevered dreams after his breakdown. Since the Hotel itself has been confirmed to be haunted the use of this uncertainty keeps the story fresh and the perfect performance by Geir Madland truly sells it.
Director Joshua Dickinson really shows is talent in this short segment with his clever use of frantic music, heartbeats and close up shots of the main star. Normally overextended close ups detract from a horror film in my opinion and can really take you out of the story however this is not the case in The Writer. Each close up is used to emphasize the feeling the director is trying to portray and you can almost feel the same anxiety that the protagonist is feeling and you never get a feeling of relief even at the end of the segment. The Writer is dark and uses intelligent writing instead of jump scares or gore to bring a truly disturbing story, this is how horror should be done.
5. Room 27b
The fifth segment is Room 27b written by Victoria Manthorpe and directed by Adam Collier. Room 27b tells the story of young supposed newlyweds Eddie (played by Andrew Hollingworth) and Betsy (played by Molly Scurrell) as they come to the hotel to consummate their infatuation. While The Landlord (Rob Jarvis) is skeptical of their nuptials he gives them directions to their room 27a, however the couple while love stuck take a wrong turn and head down the wrong corridor and end up in Room 27b, this is where things start to go very dark. Eddie is very excited to “seal the deal” with Betsy and at first she is willing but then lights start to flicker and electricity being crackling while an old time radio is what sounds like broadcasts from the Blitz during WW2. The mood is quickly soured as Betsy gets frightened and Eddie angry goes off to tell the Landlord they need a new room. While he is gone however ash starts to float down from the ceiling and the room begins to shake while Betsy panics. The story further darkens as Eddie returns having seemingly spoken to the Landlady (Alice Osmanski) to get them situated and demands Betsy offer herself to him as they planned since he had spent his entire salary on the ring and the room. Betsy refuses as she if far to scared and Eddie tried to take matters into his own hands but thankfully thwarted by the arrival of the Landlady who extracts Betsy from the room. The ending of the segment is bittersweet but shows the Hotel is more than just murder and horror and I will leave it at that to not give away the pay off.
Victoria Manthorpe really shows her writing talent in this wonderfully crafted horror story as it tells it’s tale without giving away its pay off unlike some other stories in the genre. Each of the characters are very fleshed out for a short story and you can really feel for the troubles of Betsy and her innocent naivety as well as the smarmy and unsavory quality of Eddie. This is of course helped by the heartfelt performances by Hollingworth and Scurrell who bring such passion and life to their characters you truly feel invested in what they are going through. While his appearance is brief the emotion Rob Jarvis puts into his role as the Landlord should also be lauded and proves that even if you are given a bit part you should really put your soul into it.
Like it has been common throughout the film the directing talent is once again flawless. Adam Collier uses the limited special effects budget to get the most out of his actors and sets as he can. The lightening effects and the ash are both executed in a very believable way that almost reminds me of big budget films like Silent Hill. Each camera angle and flickering light really brings to life the atmosphere that the writer was trying to tell and sucks you into the story further in a very satisfying way. This is only Adam Collier’s second time in the director’s chair and I truly hope to see more from him as this was a master class on how to do short stories right.
The sixth segment is Housekeeping written by Joshua Dickinson and directed by Deveril. Housekeeping departs from the previous segments as it does not focus on guests arriving and dealing their own personal darkness but instead focuses on the staff of the legendary hotel. Newly hired maid Maisy ( played by Rocio Rodriguez-Inniss) is going through what seems to be a solemn ritual of hiring by Hotel manager Jenny (played by Agnes Lillis) who manages to not only talk down to her but give her a name tag with the name Daisy on it instead of her own. While this isn’t malicious it seems to does annoy the bright eyed and friendly Maisy. Her annoyance is short lived though as Tom (played by writer Joshua Dickinson) explains that Jenny always treats everyone as if she were a Victorian era governess and expects them to act as servants. The two seem to quickly hit it off and Jenny tells them to have all of the rooms on the floor cleaned before opening time. Tom and Maisy quickly split the work between them and Maisy heads into the first room with enthusiasm that is dashed rather harshly at the very sorry state of the room. It seems whoever had been the occupant last left it in a frightful state of disarray bordering on vandalism. Maisy attacks the room with passion and cleans it to perfection even making a decorative swan out of the towels left on the bed, however when Tom returns and opens the door to inspect Maisy’s work the room has returned to it’s original state. Baffled Maisy returns to the task of cleaning the room but every time she finishes and closes the door the room resets itself though with subtle differences.
Generally when Indy film writers write themselves a character into the plot of their stories it can get very cringe as they take away from the other talent in the film by ham fisting their role to be the star, Joshua Dickinson however does not do this. His smaller role of Tom is sweet and endearing and serves as a perfect vehicle to show the trials and tribulations of Maisy. All three of the characters created by Dickinson are real people analogs that almost every viewer can related to. The story itself is dark and twisted that will leave you fully satisfied as a fan of the genre. It is crisp writing that I have actual come to expect in each of the segments of this fantastic film. The dark ending is fitting and actually surprising with subtle details that director Deveril truly brings to life.
Like with nearly every other story in this film the directing is spot on. The use of time-lapse showing the repeated cleaning of the room, the use of different height camera angles all serve to weave a compelling horror story and really draws you in to the story. It absolutely surprised me that this was Deveril’s first directing credit as it masterfully handled and really put my mind to the film 1408 (also haunted room) and not in a cliched way. Like Adam Collier in the previous segment I hope Deveril directs more films in the future as this was also perfect directing and casting.
7. Ghost of a Chance
The seventh segment is Ghost of a Chance written by Paul Saxton and directed by Jane Gull. Ghost of a Chance once again changes the formula from the previous segments with it’s humorous telling from the Ghost’s point of view. In the 1970s the old Hotel has become something of a paranormal sideshow attraction and Bob the ghost(played by Miles Jovian) is auditioning for a role as a haunting with the now manager Ms. Jones (played by Mel Winning). Bob however it turns out is a very poor ghost indeed and fails to scare the most recent occupant of the hotel forcing Ms. Jones to threaten to send him off to upper management if he doesn’t get his act together. What follows is a series of epic failures as Bob tries to impress his boss by various costume changes and even a little traumatizing of children but to no avail. Ms. Jones tries to encourage Bob to find his true ghostly fright but in the end is forced to admit that haunting is no easy thing.
While in the earlier segment of The Contraption the humor took away from the story, here after all of the dark and depressing stories leading up to it Ghost of a Chance was a refreshing breather from the oppression of the last several segments. Writer Paul Saxton’s use of kooky off the wall humor brings this segment a Beetlejuice feel that not only seems to fit with the seventies vibe of the setting but really brings the Hotel out of it spiral of death and horror. You can almost get a feeling that the story of the hotel was coming to an end when the ghosts themselves started failing to scare the occupants and even the staff was in on the joke. The acting in this segment by both Jovian and Winning really matches the tone and unlike in The Contraption the over the top acting doesn’t take away from the setting at all.
Director Jane Gull makes full use of the limited special effects and the campy humor by actually having the characters “push” things off the table while onlookers just roll their eyes not believing that they were really witnessing apparitions. She deletion of the characters from the scene to make them “disappear” was nearly as comical as and absolutely done on purpose to show just how silly the situation was. The use of a changing screen so that Bob could toss his costumes around as he tried to find something fitting for his haunting was hilarious and over the top and just made me feel good. I am generally not a huge fan of comedy in films but this was just top notch. As with all of the other segments in this wonderful film the camera work, sound and over all technical skill was flawless.
8. Devil Inside
The eighth and final segment is Devil Inside written by Stephen Henning and directed by Toby Roberts. The Devil Inside completes the journey of the Legendary Great White Horse Hotel now in ruins in the modern day and being used by the last of the Deptford Eight an aging gang of criminals lead by George (played by Paul Moriarty) and seconded in command by Mickey (played by John McKenna) as they have taken down their last score assisted by young computer hacker Hobbit (played by Kyle Malen). As the old men celebrate their final score George who is having serious health issues starts to notice his old friends disappearing one after another. George already volatile starts to get violent as Hobbit brings up one of his old partners who he had murdered years before for stealing from him. As Hobbit continues to taunt the aging gang leader more and more of his gang fade from view and the others act like they have never head of them before, further causing George’s paranoia and temper to flare up. This continues until George finally snaps and shows Hobbit why his is not to be trifled with, though it does not end as he expects.
The very first thing that came to mind when I watched this final segment of The Haunted Hotel was that Stephen Henning has to be a fan of the Hatton Garden heist of 2015 when a group of retirees pulled off the largest jewelry heist in British history. The parallels of that real life event and the actions of the Deptford Eight is clearly obvious but does nothing to take away the outstanding story of Devil Inside. What starts out as a glorious last hurrah quickly takes a dark left turn as the viewer as well as the character of George is left wondering what is real and what is the effects of his age and stress of the heist he had just pulled off. Each of the characters are played to perfection by the cast and the real standout for me was Paul Moriarty. His rage as well as his near importance in expressing it due to his character’s heart condition was simply put masterful. It is a credit to the wonderful script that Henning gave to this long time British Television and film star that he was able to excel as he generally does in his films.
The directing of Toby Roberts puts the final cherry on top of this masterful film as he uses every technique for making a derelict building one of the characters of the plot. The use of darkness, sounds of water leaking from ruined pipes and ripped ceiling tiles and the creek of the aged floorboards simply add to the ambiance of this closing chapter of the story. Roberts uses is experience to deliver a polished story and creepy and believable end to the haunting tale of The Great White Horse Hotel.
In conclusion The Haunted Hotel is by far one of the very best Independent films I have ever watched. Each story is written and directed to perfection and the quality of the production of each segment is what Indy films truly should aspire to. If you are a fan of horror films, British comedy or just appreciate well written and shot films I do not hesitate to recommend this film to you. If you are a Indy film director follow this one’s lead and you will have a gem on your hands.