Movie Review: "Return to Horror Hotel" (2019)
I sure do love an anthology of horror stories. There’s something about the format that just sings to my black little soul. I suppose that has something to do with the incredibly early influence of Stephen King and George A. Romero’s Creepshow and Creepshow 2. I couldn’t have been more than 7 years old when I first saw them, and that fishhook has stayed firmly embedded in my mind to this day (thanks, Aunt Linda!!)
The sequel to 2016’s Horror Hotel, Return to Horror Hotel is a blend of gross-out horror, comedy, light exploitation, and high-minded concept. The setting remains the same from the first- a fleabag hotel (more of a true motel, really) in the middle of a dead-end town. The owner is a fat, chicken-gobbling bastard. The rooms are decorated in gore, floral print, and mold. It’s the kind of place no one in their right mind would stay, but that’s okay- these aren’t the kind of people you’re going to be overly concerned for.
The first segment, “Sleep Tight”, concerns two unfortunate children in the care of their trashy Aunt. In another room, a steroid freak who bottles his own sweat spends his time staring at his physique. In yet another room, two junkies are selling drugs to the local populace made from the powdered essence of what plagues all these assorted guests- bed bugs. The idea is that bed bugs secrete a toxin that keeps you asleep, and if you smoke it, you’ll get really high (not the craziest idea in drug history by any stretch). The young boy here does a solid and believable job as the protective big brother, and everyone else is suitably over the top and despicable. “Sleep Tight” boasts the largest cast and most divergent storylines, milking the setting for what it’s worth.
The next segment, “Guillotine”, follows a vain beauty pageant contestant who meets a shady fence by the name of Al Sharko at the ubiquitous hotel. She’s trading a car for a charm that supposedly came from Marilyn Monroe and many other famous folks. It’s a piece of the guillotine used to behead Marie Antoinette. It does indeed bestow glittering beauty upon the wearer, but can she and her friend agree on ownership? It’s a concept that has a solid premise but falls a little flat in the execution, the weakest of the bunch (but still a solid B+ for effort).
The third segment, “No Time for Love”, introduces you to a young woman who delivers books. She’s intrigued by a buyer her boss sends her to that tips well and is never seen. She believes she can get that elusive look and has a plan. She gets a lot more than she bargained for when she falls hard (literally and emotionally) for the man in the room and his heartbreaking story. The premise of the story and its execution is first rate and feels almost out of place in an anthology that clearly leans to the side of camp. I’d love to see this idea polished up with the talent and budget to truly elevate it.
The final segment, “Houdini’s Hand”, tells the story of a petty criminal and his “hired muscle” who’ve stolen the mummified hand of Harry Houdini from the notorious Stumpy Nixon, the one-handed burglar. Houdini’s Hand is Stumpy’s good luck charm that allows him to get into all manner of locked locales, and it’s worth its weight in gold. What’s more- Stumpy wants it back! “Houdini’s Hand” caps off the proceedings with a good deal of heartfelt camp and better than expected comedic timing. The cast play their roles ridiculously, but it’s so much damn fun that you can’t hold the amateurishness against them. It’s playful, fun, and a bit nasty.
Return to Horror Hotel suffers from some issues (the lack of a true wraparound story, budgetary limitations, and the like), but heart and a sense of campiness aren’t lacking at all. With echoes of Tales From the Crypt and a hint of Monsters, it’s clear that (writer) Al Hess and (directors) Ricky Hess and Brandon Thaxton have done their homework and upped their game. Return to Horror Hotel doesn’t take itself too seriously while still chewing your face off, the definition of a “grab your beer and some buddies” kind of flick that surprises with some intelligent thought behind its cheesy veneer.
3.0 out of 5.0 stars