Thursday, 30 January 2014

Strange Hotels


I've been thinking for a while about why so many horror stories seem to be set in hotels or hotel rooms. Some of these stories, of course, are just using a hotel as a version of the haunted house, which I'm not really talking about here. Rather, I'm talking about such stories of shifting identity as Nicholas Royle's The Reunion, Hannah Kate's Great Rates, Central Location, Ramsey Campbell's Double Room... and even parts of The Shining. (And I’d be lying if I said I wasn't also thinking about my own The Other Room, and to a lesser extent The Time Of Their Lives from Falling Over.) Each of these stories seems to share a number of similar ideas and tropes: there are seemingly multiple version of the same character, overlapping timelines, and hotels with layouts that don’t make sense. (They’re all excellent, too.) But why are hotels such fertile settings for twisted weird tales like these, when staying away from home is normally considered a luxury?
 You’re Outside Of Your Comfort Zone: firstly, of course, when you stay at a hotel you’re in an environment outside of the one you know best. And within that environment you might be doing some fairly intimate things like sleeping or shitting or... well, you get the picture. All somewhere where the dimensions of the room aren't as you are used to, where the duvet feels heavier atop you than you’d like, and the pictures and mirrors aren't in the places you’d choose. (Of course, in the Other Room there are no mirrors at all.) And the sight outside their window isn't even your home town.
 
You’re Alone: in a few of these stories you’re not a part of a family or couples, but a lone business-person or someone else who has a reason to stay in a hotel on their own. (For a fiction convention, maybe...) There’s the boredom of sitting in your room watching TV alone, drinking alone and eating alone, despite the fact there might be others watching you do so, who seem equally alone. Which brings us to:
You’re Not Alone: there's the staff of course, and the other guests. Strange faces at the breakfast table; disturbing sounds through the adjoining wall. People you have to stand too close to in the lift. They could be anyone. But then also:
You Could Be Anyone: and this I think is the key to a lot of it. Staying alone, in a city you've never been to before and don’t plan to return to, you can be anyone. Or at least, that’s the fantasy. Slip off your wedding ring (or slip a different one on…),  drink more than you normally would, say things you’d never normally say to people you would normally not dare speak to. Somehow it all seems more permissible than at other times, it seems like there is less consequence to the things you do…
But in that, these stories seem to tell you, you are horribly wrong.
I’d be interested to hear about any other hotel-horror stories you can think of in the comments. Surely there’s a themed  anthology or two along these lines as well?

11 comments:

Charlene said...

Room 1408 by Stephen King. Excellent hotel room story. :)

James Everington said...

Thanks! Keep 'em coming...

S.P. Miskowski said...

The Royle story and "1408" are excellent. I also like Lynda E. Rucker's "No More A-Roving," "Hospice" by Robert Aickman, and Ramsey Campbell's "The Entertainment." Those are set in a hospice, a hostel, and a boarding house.

James Everington said...

Of course, how could I forget the Aickman one!

S.P. Miskowski said...

Good post. You've got me thinking, now. And I'm going to buy Hannah Kate's anthology. Thanks.

Gary Dalkin said...

Terry Lamsley's "The Break" is excellent.

Anthony Watson said...

Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem is very strange but very good.

MRCosby said...

Interesting post James. Hotels can certainly be creepy. I agree with the suggestions so far, but I might add a couple more by Aickman; the down-at heel establishment run by Mrs Royd where Miss Rokeby stays in 'The Visiting Star': and at the conclusion of 'Laura', where Andrew is led to the windowless hotel room. A brief post about 'Laura' here: http://strangerdesigns.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/my-top-five-favourite-tales-of-terror.html

Iain Rowan said...

More Aickman - he loved his weird hotels - Into The Wood.

MRCosby said...

Ah yes, Into the Wood! Great story, weird hotel. I'd also add How He Left the Hotel, by Louisa Baldwin (PM Stanley Baldwin's mother, and Rudyard Kipling's aunt).

Tony Rabig said...

Several M.R. James stories, if memory serves. And can't recall right now if E. F. Benson's "Caterpillars" was set in a large boarding house. (Read the Benson when I was 12, and thought it was one of the creepiest freakin' things I'd ever read, and it's still way up there on the list, so you'd think I'd remember. Ah, senility...)