12 Cabins 12 Vacancies: The Haunted Hotel In Cinema

12 Cabins 12 Vacancies: The Haunted Hotel In Cinema


I’m sure by now, most are familiar with
the idea that, in the uncanny words of Emily Dickinson ‘One need not be a chamber to
be haunted’ – that a person can be haunted without the need for a ghost, even if we’re
given the suggestion of one. A person can be haunted by their own experiences,
their own thoughts, their past and even when the danger should have past, its influence can remain. And while this image of the ‘haunted house’
can often act as a spatial double for the mind, and the idea of the familiar rendered
unfamiliar, of not quite being at home with yourself, what about when we move away
from the personal towards the haunting of collective space, a space in between public
and private. In cinema, these hauntings seem to manifest
differently, and in a way that more directly parallels Dickinson’s poem. Here we are not terrorised by ghosts, even
if they may be present in one way or another, but rather, so it would seem, by the building
itself and who we might become inside it. These buildings are old, isolated, empty where
we expect crowds of people or perhaps where there once were – but these spaces aren’t
haunted by the ghostly figures we might associate with the word, even if this image might still
present itself. In fact I’d say it’s not that the building
is haunted but that we’re haunted by the building itself, and there are few buildings
more menacing than The Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’, particularly as
it appears in Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation it’s impossible labyrinth-like
structure seemingly watching, even pursuing. And while the idea of ghosts is certainly
conjured, the visions that dwell here seem to exist between physical and metaphysical
space, traces of past events that might linger in the present. [audio: The Shining] “When something happens it can leave a trace of itself behind.” “Say, like, if someone burns toast.” “Well, maybe things that happen leave other
kinds of traces behind.” “I think a lot of things happened right here in this particular hotel, and not all of them is good.” And what better place to explore such an ephemeral
conception of haunting than a hotel, a place that is itself defined by a kind of
ephemeral existence, where people pass through, a space that we occupy, that we live in, but
only briefly. This idea of the ephemeral is then frequently
paired with that of duality – doubles, mirrors, reflections that create a trace of the present.
One that, like the visions projected by The Overlook, is reliant on and responsive
to the observer. But the mirror also functions in a more uncanny
manner, being, as Foucault describes: And so, through this double, like a ghost,
we are both here and somewhere else, physical and projected, the self and the other. It is this other that is often portrayed as
the true self, the reflection revealing what the physical body is able to hide. It’s in this space that identity can begin
to break down. The film ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ takes
place in a similarly serpentine hotel, and uses mirrors to simultaneously fracture identity
and physical space, drawing a connection between the characters’ consciousness and the hotel’s
infrastructure. Here intangible space breaks free of the mirror,
and the conversation continues as past, present, reality and memory merge together: The shifting architecture of the vast hotel
provides a visual echo of the characters’ confused and competing memories – where
one says they’ve met before and the other denies it. And just as we can’t be sure of space and
time, we can’t be sure of which character to believe, and it seems, neither can they,
and without being able to trust our own memory, our identity increasingly fractures
until we become unavoidably lost. The hotel provides the perfect parameters
for this fracturing, not only in its capacity for expansive hallways, but also its position
between public and private. In addition to yet another prevalent use of
mirrors and its own type of haunting, Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ makes both a clear
distinction between these public and private spaces – the private, shadowed house that
looms over the public and, now, notorious, Bates Motel – and complicates this distinction
with its voyeuristic themes and cinematography, and it’s only a matter of time before
the dark, undisclosed ‘private’ space violently collides with the ‘public’. Unlike ‘The Shining’, the
‘ghosts’ here are not fleeting visions but rather hide in plain sight. Images of taxidermy, a grotesque kind of
resurrection and preservation, where the dead won’t stay dead. [audio: Psycho] “I won’t have you bringing
strange young girls in for supper!” “My mother there?” “But she’s harmless.” “She’s as harmless as one of those stuffed
birds.” But here the past is shown to be anything
but harmless. Despite moving ever further from it, the past
still has a hold on the present. It influences our actions, our surroundings,
and there are visual reminders all around us. So, if this past lingers in the present through
the physical space it shares, then this gives rise to another fear – a fear cultivated
in the wake of merging dichotomies, past-present, public-private, self-other, – that as we
become a part of this space, it is now a part of us. [audio: Session 9] “already an itty bitty piece of
this shit may have gotten into your lungs, man. “It incubates in your lungs, and tissue begins
to grow around it like a… like a pearl.” “Like a timebomb.” The 2001 horror film ‘Session 9’ isn’t
set in a hotel, but the abandoned psychiatric hospital entered by a small asbestos removal
team is certainly comparable to the grand exteriors of The Overlook or the hotel in
Marienbad – and it’s the most overt in its suggestion that these sprawling corridors
and rows of empty rooms reflect how we too might not be so singular. [audio: Session 9]
“Billy, where does the princess live? “In the tongue … because she’s always talking,
sir.” These taped sessions of a patient with dissociative
identity disorder, with three alters, provide an explicit parallel to the fractured identity
we see in the characters of these films, a fracturing that somehow seems almost inevitable
in the shadow of such vast, oppressive, foreboding architecture. [audio: Session 9]
“And where do you live, Billy? “I live in the eyes.” “Because I see everything, sir.” There’s a fear that we could be consumed
by this space and its history that we could lose our hold on our own identity
in the way that the unnamed characters in ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ never really get a hold
of theirs – even credited at the end as only A, X, and M. Early in Session 9, a character jokes about how the only side effect of a lobotomy is
a black eye, easily treated with sunglasses but the reality reveals the violence of
that which at first might seem invisible engraving the effect of trauma onto the surface. The haunted house is the classic model for
the familiar rendered unfamiliar but the act of occupying a space in between public
and private is trying to force to unfamiliar to be familiar – trying to claim a space
as our own, a claim that’s far more tenuous, a space that’s far more outside our
control. {audio: Session 9]
“Hello, doc.” “Simon?” And this fear of empty spaces that seem as though they should be occupied, really arises
from the sense that these spaces are not empty at all, for, as film critic Kathleen Murphy
puts it, ‘these empty spaces are heavy with old air’. Traces of the past linger here as they do
in us. The past will not stay dead and this ghostly force threatens to appear on
the surface at any moment and take over not as a ghost, but as something inside us, inside everyone. [audio: Session 9]
“And where do you live, Simon?” “I live in the weak and the wounded, doc.” Hey everyone, thanks for watching. This one was a bit different
as I usually just focus on one film, but this was a lot of fun to do and probably about time I, you know, mix things up a bit as I’ve been doing this for nearly a year now. So let me know what you thought and I hope I’ll see you next time.

30 thoughts on “12 Cabins 12 Vacancies: The Haunted Hotel In Cinema

  1. I just found your channel through your NitWs video, and I'm glad I did! Your work is fantastic and intensely under appreciated, you should be getting 100k on every video, at least. Thanks for posting!

  2. All of your videos are unbelievably well created. Well writen, great visuals, great pacing, everything! This is one is no different. I hate to see that you're videos are not getting as much attention as they should, but it will come eventually. Just keep at it! Amazing stuff, and PLEASE keep up the good work!

  3. Session 9, yay!

    Great video, Grace. I'm excited to see what the new year will bring us, in terms of video content from you.

  4. I've watched this a couple times, and I can't tell if I am understanding you correctly.

    I've not seen Last Year at Mairenbad, but I'm fairly familiar with the others. Are you suggesting a connection between the fractured identities that occur, and the settings these films take place in? Meaning one begat the other? Or are you implying that the films are different because they use the settings combined with the fractured personalities to relay the sense of being haunted?

    My take on the three I have seen was that the setting was also a character in the films, as much as the actors, but I've never seen the Bates Motel as being haunted by Norman, for instance. It just seemed to be a convenient catalyst for his voyeuristic behavior, as Norman is more haunted by his mother than anything. The Shining implies an evil place that exists here, but also out of time. Session 9's plot revolved more around how humans deal with the extremes of stress, and how Gordon becomes influenced, it's suggested, by the same entity that possessed Mary after losing his grip on sanity when his life becomes cluttered with too many common stressors…like a new child, a dangerous job, and the need for money to survive.

    The only connective tissue I see between these films is that they all rely on a place that is intrinsic to the unfolding narrative and the disassociation that each of the characters experience as they move through their stories. Is that what you are getting at here? That the "ghost" that haunts these places and people only appears once their enter into these spaces? Your references to mirrors makes me wonder if you are also suggesting that the places begin to reflect the disconnect these characters have with themselves and reality..?

    And it's late. Happy New Year! Thanks for the thought food.

  5. could you release the transcript for this video? Your insights are always really great but I have a hard time absorbing all of the information leading to the larger point.

  6. i've just discovered your channel and watched every video today while i should have been doing homework! i love video essays but you might have the strongest voice and some of the most unique tastes i've ever come across. i love love love your content and the films you chose to analyze are just fascinating, including this set. i cannot wait to see more, and discovering you right now when you have just 3k subscribers really makes me feel like i'm getting my foot in the door. 

    hope all is well! and thank you for these wonderful videos 🙂

  7. Your videos are so dope, it's shocking to me that you have so few subscribers but I'm sure those numbers will grow, video essays seem like they're really hard to get right but your editing is super smooth and impressive, and the points you argue and works you tackle are all super interesting and refreshing. Thanks for the quality content!!!

  8. Only just discovered your video essays (the prospect of more videos to watch over lunch about Lynch, House of Leaves, and Night in the Woods is a very good one) and I'm happy I have. I was going to bring up 'The Innkeepers' (even before I noticed that footage from it was used in the essay): that's a film I feel has been overlooked by many, but that I love as a kind of "warm" inversion of The Shining — the space of the lonesome hotel offering somewhere to attempt to hide from inner anxieties, as opposed to a space where they violently fester and mutate.

  9. Once again… Excellent work! Joining the chorus of praise and appreciation. Your analysis of these films is really impressive.

  10. I'm ecstatic over the fact I found this channel, thank you so much for it!

    To you and anyone lost in the comments: I strongly recommend watching Hotel (2004), if you can find it. It takes the horror of the hotel as a collective, unknowable place of many others down to some of its abstracts and creates a very weird, subtle, gentle horror out of it.

  11. Your editing is practically godlike, your writing is interesting, Horror is my favorite genre (so I’m glad a lot of your videos are based on horror), and you get bonus points since The Shining is my favorite movie of all time 😉

  12. The part about people's perception of hoteles being temporary (and that this temporary nature is typically unusual) helped me realize something; with the recent popularization of streaming, reaction videos, and so forth, I've been wondering why we all enjoy seeing others experiencing things, and this perspective you shared about most people's discomfort with temporary residency gave me an idea that may help answer that. First, let me give some context, I've moved all my life, as far back as I can remember my family has moved, even as a solo working adult I moved frequently, and even now as a married woman I've continued moving and introduced my husband to the experience of not just moving, but doing so often. The idea of being in one place for a lifetime is completely foreign to me and I struggle to imagine in its entirety what that must be like. That said, I never was able to experience that uneasy perspective you described with relation to a hotel being unusual, so there's something valuable for me to gain in seeing what you (or any other person other than myself, who can pull from experiences different than my own) as a lense to see creative works through which will allow me to experience it from within someone else's shoes. Since we cannot know what we don't experience, we try and fail at fully rendering an extrapolation of what it might be like to have someone else's prior experiences as a frame, as our own construction of such a frame is inherently incomplete. Perhaps something appealing about seeing others' interpretation of experiences is that it gives a complete, unflawed frame to view through, so that something we may have missed can come into view. My own lack of viewing residency as permanent resulted in a frame which obscured the underlying theme of this movie from my view, so it never had anything which tied it all together; however, having now seen through your own frame, I can now see that essential component that was instructed from my view, and have a newfound appreciation for this creative piece of cinema. Thank you so much, not only for helping me make sense of The Shining, but also for helping me to better understand the appeal of examining the experiences of another person through said person's own frame of reference.

  13. Regarding the Shining: After thinking this over again and again I'm just going to say it: I think Stephen King – and I like him as an author – just has shit taste in movies.

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