If there’s one thing HBO’s new anthology series Room 104 gets, it’s that hotel rooms, no matter how luxurious and expensive, are inherently disturbing. The show, which follows 12 different story lines taking place in the same room over varying time periods, is poised to celebrate that creeping dread that a whole host of things (unnatural and otherwise) have happened in those communal spaces.
Who knows exactly why hotels carry such a chilling, sinister aura? Maybe it’s the muddled history — so many people coming through, so many stories, so many chances you might end up in a room where a murder took place decades earlier. Maybe the staff appears too friendly, too removed, too polite not to be unhinged members of secret cults or suffering from some kind of dissociative identity disorder. Or maybe the rooms themselves seem supernatural, capable of transporting you to a different reality or forcing you to confront your deepest fears and desires.
Hotels are weird. That’s just an accepted fact. Luckily, film has given us a blueprint for the kind of establishments we should actively avoid when looking to book a room. If any of these hair-raising happenings pop up during your hotel stay, check out immediately before you check out immediately or bring home a deep emotional scar as a souvenir.
It goes without saying that before you decide to book a stay at a hotel, or, more importantly, take up a position at said lodging, you should do your research. If Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) had been able to Trip Advisor the Overlook Hotel before agreeing to be its winter caretaker, he might’ve read reports about creepy identical twin ghost children who want someone to “play with them forever.” If long, maze-like hallways and a history of familial carnage appear in the top comments in the Yelp review of the hotel you’re looking at, just keep pedaling your trike-y in another direction.
Questionable Hotel Policies
It’s customary that, when you check into your hotel, you’re given a list of hotel policies. Hotels, after all, are a by-product of a civilized society and a civilized society must have rules. Since most of us are rational, accommodating people, we don’t blink an eye when we’re told about turn-down service, breakfast cutoffs, and the need for shoes and shirts at all time — pants are usually optional. But if you’re planning to stay at a hotel like the one in The Lobster, you might want to pay closer attention to those rules. Sure, the guests usually don’t have the choice to check out, but hearing that the establishment has an anti-masturbation policy and will burn your fingers in a toaster if you violate said policy might prompt you to just jump out an open window at your earliest convenience.
If you’re on the lam after stealing money from your boss, it’s often unavoidable that you’ll be staying a night or two in an off-the-highway motel. Beggars thieves can’t be choosers, so if that motel comes complete with a strange, stuttering innkeeper who constantly munches on candy corn, has a taxidermy hobby, and likes to overshare about his insane mother a la Psycho, maybe you’ll decide having dinner with the weirdo is still better than spending a night behind bars. That decision will be wrong, though. That decision will end with you being stabbed to death in a shower by a man who has mummified his dead mother and likes to don her dresses while attacking his victims. Don’t make that decision.
The Motel Hello sounds like a cozy, welcoming country inn. They probably serve warm pancakes dripping in syrup for breakfast and have an apple orchard out back for the kids to play in. The proprietor is an old farmer and his wife who insist on being called Ma and Pa and regale you with stories of the “old days” before bed. But take away just one letter and that idyllic fantasy changes. If the hotel you’re staying at instead boasts the same fluorescent sign with the “O” ominously flickering, like in the ’80s horror flick Motel Hell, chances are the backyard is planted with guests who are waiting to be harvested for human jerky. Words matter people. Pay attention to them.
Any Kind Of Convention
Look, holding a convention is a way for hotels to make a little extra cash. We get that. But as a guest, the last thing you want to stumble onto is a sea of people wrecking the buffet, draining the bar, sullying the pool, and trying to make small talk with you that is wholly designed to circle back to what they do and why they’re not getting enough credit for it. As you can see in Cedar Rapids, bored worker bees like to go wild in the confines of a convention hotel. So if you find yourself standing shoulder on an elevator in the midst of an insurance company’s infidelity free for all, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
In Barton Fink, John Turturro plays a reluctant Hollywood scriptwriter plagued by writer’s block and a cheery fellow tenant who turns out to be a serial killer. Obviously, there’s no way to know for sure if your hotel neighbor’s homicidally deranged or not, but Barton overlooked plenty of signs before discovering the truth. The incessant whine of mosquitoes, a dangerous rise in temperature, and wallpaper that starts peeling whenever said guest is around are usually clues that something might be amiss. And if a relative stranger asks you to watch a large, indistinct package for a few days while he travels the country on an “errand,” screw being polite, just call the cops!
Bland artwork is a pretty common sight at any chain hotel or roadside lodging. Pictures of nature, happy families, and animals are meant to lure us into a state of unassuming calm. That painting of an ocean sunset should make you forget that housekeeping probably hasn’t washed the sheets you’re sleeping in, and usually, it works. But if the photos in your hotel in any way resemble a pagan festival celebrated by natives on a remote island who have a thing for virgin sacrifice, don’t try to figure out the “deeper meaning” behind the art – it’ll get you killed. It’s a hard lesson to learn, just watch The Wicker Man, but if the hotel you’re staying at is mysteriously missing a photograph of last year’s “harvest,” just book the next boat out of there.