Seriously. Why do I watch films like The Innkeepers?
Maybe it’s the same principle as eating a hot chilli. You can’t exactly say you’re enjoying it halfway through. And you sweat a lot. But there’s a sense of achievement when the plate’s clean.
The thing is, I’m an easy target when it comes to ghost stories. I’m the markiest of all marks – the realist / atheist / humanist who blanches to the root when they see the shadow of a dressing gown back of the door.
I’m not saying The Innkeepers was the best spooky film I’ve seen (I’m making a distinction between horror and ghost films, although actually they’re on a sliding-violin scale of shiverity). I thought The Babadook was scarier, probably because there was a feeling the whole thing could have been a psychotic episode. Under the Shadow for the same reason (those two films being good companion pieces – or bad companion pieces, depending if you like the genre or not). TI was more like a mash-up of Clerks and The Conjuring. But this is just bravado of course. I was horrified most of the way through, and when it finished I thought that’s it, I’m not watching another ghost story. Until the next one.
So as a way of marking the event, I thought I’d run through a few points that occurred to me about The Innkeepers, and all the other films like it – more for me than anyone else, to get it clear in my head. Because if I ever found myself in a similar situation, or maybe a hyper-real dream where this sort of thing was going on, I’d instinctively know what to do and when to run (short answer: It’s never too soon to start running.)
- Don’t go down the basement.
- If ever you’re standing outside an old hotel that’s full of character and charming period detail, and you hear a chuntering soundtrack ease in, and then glissando violins – that’s probably a sign to go AirBnB.
- Working night shifts is bad for your mental health. Don’t be persuaded that it’ll give you plenty of time to work on ‘projects’ – especially if that project has anything to do with contacting the dead.
- If a retired actress checks in to your hotel, and twenty minutes later gets out a crystal pendulum and says she’s given up acting and moved into spiritualism, thank her politely for all those movies you liked her in and then GO BACK TO THE FRONT DESK.
- I’m serious about the basement.
- If an old man of few words appears at the front desk and asks to be put in room 323, even though you politely explain that the hotel is in the process of shutting down, that this is its last weekend of trading, and so all the rooms on the third floor are now closed, and the old man insists – really, be very firm on the matter. Say it’s a health & safety issue (which, BTW, it turns out it totally is), offer him a very nice room on the second, and if he still insists, give him the number of a motel on the edge of town run by the Bates family. He’ll fit right in there.
- If there’s a camera pointed at a rocking chair, and the lighting is moody, grainy, indigo &c, and the camera slowly moves in… that’s probably a good time to close your eyes and hum High on a hill there’s a lonely goatherd or something.
- Side note to point 8. Squinting doesn’t make it any less horrible. You have to shut your eyes the whole way. And sing louder.
- Okay. Let’s talk about the basement.
Basements are and always will be places of terror. It’s just the way it is. Conservatories are hot. Kitchens are busy. Bedrooms are more or less soporific. But basements are reserved for scenes of relentless domestic horror (the fact that some become ‘man caves’ only proves the point). You could design a basement to flood with light the moment you open the door. A disco ball and music start up. You could have a rule no-one is allowed down the basement in parties smaller than twenty, each party to be accompanied by a priest with a semi-automatic crucifix (and not just any priest – it has to be a priest with real-world experience of these things, someone who’s also a fully qualified counsellor, a black belt in Aikido, with a gnarly sense of humour, and crucially, a priest prepared to sacrifice themselves so you can make it back up the goddamn stairs). You could have all that and it’d STILL be the worst room in the house. Especially if there’s a boiler and lots of old junk. (BTW – never keep old junk in the basement. Just burn it or give it away. I mean seriously. It spooks the place up).
But if there is a basement, and you feel obliged to go down into it, THREE TIMES (even though a spiritualist with a crystal has SPECIFICALLY TOLD YOU NOT TO), don’t be surprised the lights don’t work, and the door slams behind you, and the old guy’s there, and you fall down the stairs, and end up running and stumbling through loads of old basement junk (see what I mean about the junk?), and so on – well, what can I say?
- The takeaway from all this: DO NOT GO DOWN THE BASEMENT.