The Top 10 Scariest Hotels in Fiction and Film . . .
And The Lessons They Teach Us
10) Hotel Dolphin – 1408: Mike Enslin writes book-length top ten lists of haunted places. He goes to the worst of the worst of haunted hotels where the manager (played by Samuel L. Jackson in the film) tells him to stay the hell out. Enslin checks in anyway and learns that whatever lives in Room 1408 enjoys driving guests to suicide. Further proof that when Samuel L. Jackson tells you not to do something, you should listen.
Lesson . . . Being a writer is incredibly hard work.
9) House of Usher – The Fall of the House of Usher: When the name of your house is capitalized, it’s got enough rooms to be a hotel. Our narrator is cheering his buddy through a bunch of psychosomatic ailments that aren’t helped any when Roderick Usher’s sister dies. They put her in a vault, a storm brews, and then they do a fun interactive reading of a scary story, complete with sound effects provided by the sister, who is not dead and understandably not wild about her new accommodations.
Lesson . . . Check for a pulse. Wait a while. Check again. Put a mirror up in front of her mouth and see if it fogs. Get creative and think of three or four more ways to verify that she’s really dead. Then bury her. Securely.
10) Lady Haloran’s Irish Castle – Dementia 13: The only daughter in a wealthy family drowned years ago, and her mother still faints annually at her grave. Her brothers carry the weight of her death with them everywhere, one of them much too literally.
Lesson . . . Therapy can be very helpful when a sibling dies. Wax crafts, not so much.
7) Hoyt Summer Home – Kristen and James argue after a friend’s wedding reception. They think that’s going to be their big conflict for the evening. They’re about to have make-up sex at the summerhouse when three whack jobs in masks show up, seemingly determined to frighten them to death. This is made significantly easier by the house’s remoteness and the couple’s inveterate inability to keep their cell phones charged.
Lesson . . . The country is nice. Having neighbors who can hear you scream is nicer.
6) Belasco House – Hell House: Four people decide to see if a place nicknamed Hell House lives up to the hype. It does. Sorry, that was a spoiler.
Lesson . . . Don’t stay in a place nicknamed Hell House.
5) Camp Crystal Lake – Friday the 13th: What is a summer camp but a buggy, unpleasant hotel for children? In these movies, the comparison is even more apt, since the camp counselors treat the grounds like a hotel that rents by the hour. And when they do, Jason shows up, machete ready, because randy camp counselors are the reason he drowned as a child. Why is he here if he drowned as a child? It’s best not to ask such questions.
Lesson . . . Stay a virgin.
4) Hill House – The Haunting of Hill House: Dr. Montague wants to research ghosts, so he gets a former shut-in with more neuroses than you can shake a stick at and lets her loose in a sprawling mansion notorious for the frequency with which its inhabitants kill themselves. As strategies go, it’s super-effective.
Lesson . . . Self-absorption can be deadly if you’re inclined to think that even paranormal activity is all about you.
3) Manderley – Rebecca: The new Mrs. de Winter marries her dream man, who takes her to her dream home, except his dead wife – who was everybody’s dream girl – is a constant, terrifying presence everywhere she turns. She feels like a failure because Rebecca was great at running a high-class English manor. She’s assuaged later when she discovers she’s way ahead for never having slept with her cousin.
Lesson . . . Party planning, dinner choosing, and flower arranging are not the most important talents. Haunting the crap out of the husband who murdered you totally is.
2) The Overlook – The Shining: Jack, a frustrated playwright who has struggled with substance abuse, takes his wife and young son to a secluded hotel where they’ll spend the winter separated from civilization by thirty-seven million metric tons of snow. What could go wrong? First, the hotel’s haunted. Second, Jack’s son, Danny, is jet fuel for poltergeists. Third, the hedge animals are sentient. I could keep naming problems, but I’m on a word count here.
Lesson . . . Alcoholism will not only destroy your family but will make you a more convenient puppet for evil.
1) Bates Motel – Psycho: Norman’s the king of customer service, despite all the taxidermy specimens in the lobby. He checks you in with a smile. He assembles you a dinner of ham sandwiches and milk. Then it all goes south. There are peepholes in the walls, missing shower curtains in the bathrooms, and an old lady upstairs who badly needs to moisturize. The ultimate in substandard overnights. Do Not Disturb.
Lesson . . . Keep an eye on people who stuff dead things for fun.
Gina Wohlsdorf is the author of the debut thriller Security: A Novel (Algonquin Books). She lives in Colorado.