RETURN TO HORROR HOTEL *** USA 2019 Dir: Ricky Hess, Brandon Thaxton. 83 mins
Ricky Hess’ HORROR HOTEL, an independent horror series first shown on Hulu, has formed the basis of HORROR HOTEL: THE MOVIE and this follow up comprising four stories centred around the Bates Motel-esque $12-a-night seedy hotel. As with all horror anthologies, the quality varies wildly between episodes but there’s something pleasantly old fashioned about its stories of vain and narcissistic EC Comics-style protagonists meeting deservedly grim fates. “Sleep Tight” has a comically pumped-up, small-dicked bodybuilder (R.C. Sayyah) inadvertently creating a swarm of over-sized bed bugs after they feast on his steroid-rich flesh and blood. A bitter alcoholic, two kids and a pair of drug dealers distributing “bed bug powder” as the latest high figure in a slick, gruesome episode resembling a decent episode of HBO’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT. “Guillotine” plays like one of that series’ duller, bloodless efforts. Knowingly named, unpleasant wannabe-beauty pageant winner Doreen Grey (Stephanie Stevens) trades her car for a legendary Marie Antoinette guillotine charm, which can make even dowdy dullards like her friend (Ann Marie Gideon Knezevich) beautiful. The anticlimactic outcome is telegraphed, and it’s a little bland. The stand-out isn’t horror at all: “No Time for Love” has the pleasant feel of THE TWILIGHT ZONE at its most whimsical. Book shop worker Katrina Rarick (appealing) delivers a book to long-missing, ageless U.S. Navy sailor Davy Jones (Jason Gaglione), unseen since his submarine sunk in the 60’s. He is lured out of his strange temporal limbo by her presence, and the rapid passage / resumption of time is inventively captured with nice detail (note the rapidly ageing sofa). Effective ageing FX and a charismatic, elegiac performance by Gaglione add further charm. “Houdini’s Hand” has spirited work from Montrel Miller and Tony Folden as a pair of small time thieves who steal the eponymous hand from a notorious one-armed criminal but become terrorised by ominous calls of “I want my hand back”. Stumpy Nixon (Mike Bend) is a fabulous character name and the disembodied hand itself – known to open any safe in the world – offers a satisfying call back to Amicus anthologies, but the execution is a little weak, never fulfilling the engaging premise.
Review by Steven West