Oddities: Hotel Cecil

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For 19 days, guests of LA’s Hotel Cecil showered in, brushed their teeth with, and drank corpse water.  Prompted by complaints of low pressure and weird-tasting water, maintenance man Santiago Lopez went to the Cecil’s rooftop through an employees-only alarmed door to inspect the water tank.  Its hatch was open.  Inside was the decomposing naked body of Elisa Lam.
Her death was ruled accidental.  There are only four ways to reach the roof of the hotel: three fire escapes and the one locked and alarmed rooftop door.  She then would have had to climb up a ladder alongside the water tank and open the 20lb hatch.  No clothes were found on the roof or in the tank, so sometime along this journey Elisa must have stripped before accidentally entering the water tank and drowning.
Elisa was a 21-year-old Chinese-Canadian tourist who had traveled alone from Vancouver to Los Angeles.  She was taking Lamictal and Seroquel to manage her bipolar disorder and had been described as a lively, friendly girl.  At the time, the seedy Hotel Cecil was trying to shake its century-long haunted reputation and was marketing itself as  a “boutique hostel,” perfect for young travelers like Elisa.  She had been bunking with strangers, but after three days of complaints from her roommates she was moved into a private room.
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Her toxicology report indicates that she was taking her meds as prescribed and had no alcohol or drugs in her system.  That report is hard to believe once you’ve seen the hotel’s elevator security footage of Elisa taken on the day of her disappearance.  In the four-minute video, Elisa enters the elevator and immediately presses every button.  She peeks into the hall and then hides herself in the far corner.  She waits for a bit, but the doors don’t close.  Then Elisa hops out of the elevator, does a box-step in the hallway, and carefully steps back in.  She presses all the buttons again.  After getting out a second time, she makes a series of gestures, stiffly extending her fingers and waving her arms around.  She walks away.  The doors close.  The video’s youtube comments are full of amateur detectives and theories of demons, ghosts, the fourth dimension, and bad acid.
The Cecil has had a colorful 100-year history.  Serial killers Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger both lived there.  Some say it’s the last place the Black Dahlia was seen alive.  At least nine people have committed suicide by jumping out onto Main Street below.  It’s also been the site of stranglings, rapes, suicides by overdose, and even the occasional infanticide.  When Elisa was still missing, one couple staying at Hotel Cecil reported the water from their sink coming out black and tasting bad, which they assumed was “normal for LA” (Angelino faucet water isn’t great, but not quiiiite corpse sludge).  Somewhere along the way, some wise soul suggested a total rebranding.
If you’re ever in LA, there’s this great hotel called Stay On Main.
-Rachel Hsu

Oddities: The Capuchin Crypt

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When in Rome, check out these bones.
On the swanky Via Veneto, hidden between classy hotels and overpriced restaurants, you can find the small church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Deep within the church there is an ossuary, five small rooms stuffed with 4,000 skeletons. The collection began in 1631, when the Capuchin order moved here from their old monastery and brought 300 cartloads of dead friars with them. Each room of the crypt is packed with Jerusalem soil and marked with crosses. The first cartloads of corpses spent a few decades decaying underground before the small crypt began overcrowding. In order to provide burial space for newly dead friars and local destitute Romans, the oldest remains were exhumed and their bones were displayed on the walls around each cramped burial plot. So the cycle began: as each friar died, the eldest skeleton was removed from the soil and found itself spread across five rooms, its skull stacked in a geometric pile, its fingers joining beautiful chandeliers, its femurs forming ghoulish furniture.
The Capuchin friars are an ascetic order that splintered off of Franciscan friars in 1520. Like many religious groups, they have a strong belief in a life after death. Their unorthodox approach to displaying skeletal remains is supposedly not intended to be morbid but rather a visually stunning memento mori, a reminder of the necessity of death in order to reach the afterlife.
The rooms are practically named: the Crypt of the Resurrection is the first, where the bones frame a tableau of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus. Stacked tailbones, pelvises, and skulls form two dense columns crowned with an arch of skulls. This arched shape is reflected in the side walls, where two niches cradle complete mummified remains clothed in their traditional brown robes (cappuccinos are named for this color!). The ceiling, also echoing this arched form, is covered in vertebrae that is bizarrely reminiscent of fancy crown molding.
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The Crypt of the Skulls features a tripartite arcade made of (you guessed it!) hundreds of skulls. This chamber features five desiccated corpses, again dressed and posed naturalistically. Unlike the last chamber, this crypt is filled wall to wall with bones and contains no paintings or other traditional art. The Crypt of the Pelvises is similarly arranged, but with pelvic bones stacked to the ceiling.
The Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones is a celebration of the Capuchin order and the most luxuriously decorated chamber thus far. Corpses stand in six niches on the side walls to observe the central spectacle: crossed mummified arms with a shieldshaped frame made out of vertebrae. The symbol of a sleeved arm crossed with a bare arm, both hands bearing the stigmata of the crucifixion, is characteristic of the Franciscan and Capuchin orders, symbolizing willingness for sacrifice and dedication to the poor. The vertebrae look almost like a decorative string of pearls framing the motif. If you can tear your eyes away from those arms (congratulations), the rest of the room is staring at you. Neat rows of skulls form a pointed arch above the Capuchin “logo,” all facing outwards.
Finally, there’s the Crypt of the Three Skeletons. It contains the expected mummified and robed friars amidst thousands of bones, including three small children’s skeletons sitting on a bench of pelvises. Hanging from the ceiling is the angel of death, a complete skeleton holding a scythe in one hand and a scale in the other. On a plaque under the three children, there’s an inscription translated into five languages:
“What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be.”
-Rachel Hsu

Review: The Church




I had no idea I had Shudder on tv until a few days ago so I looked at the selection and found a title with a picture of a literal pile of naked muddy bodies that formed a face of a demon. I thought, cool and put on Dario Argento’s production of The Church. It begins with Teutonic knights in the twelve century on a holy crusade who massacre an entire village of people because they showed signs of the devil on their feet. They throw them in a mass grave and decide to build a church over it. That whole time it looked like a scene out of Monty Python’s Holy Grail. So they decided to bring in the dead. Ha. Sorry.
The plot moves forward to present day (1989 then) where the Bishop is holding mass while the Sacristan works the collection plate and his teenage daughter Lotte (played by Asia Argento) distracts herself with make up. Nearby, Lisa, the church restoration expert, meets the new librarian Evan who’s late and overall shitty employee on his first day. Evan, played by Tomas Arana (who is the most “that guy” you can get in Hollywood, he's played supporting roles in everything) becomes completely consumed by a piece of ancient writing Lisa finds that describes the history of the church as well as it's architect who is buried in the church. He learns about the Teutonic Knights, the religious holy war mass murderers, or as I like to call them, the knights of the Holy FAIL.
Evan decides to go to the basement of the church and finds an opening where a large cross was laid down after burying the dead. He opens it up and is immediately attacked by several of the dead which unleashes them into the church to roam around and kill anyone and everyone. And what good luck, a group of kids on a school field trip to the church witness their teacher being impaled by a possessed sacristan. If I could give out awards for best impalement it would be for the poor bishop who has gone mad with the hauntings and accidentally falls to his death on a conveniently placed spear. 
The story climaxes to a whole lot of killing. As per movie rules, many of them are spoiled characters who had it coming! Demons do not do well with people complaining and shitty attitudes. Then there is the unforgettable demonic ritual with Lisa and her one time lover Evan who has now turned into a demon. They uh, consummate in front of all the dead and/or possessed and hundreds of lit candles. It makes for a great ending and honeymoon theme idea. 
This movie was an unofficial sequel to Demons 1 and 2 but director Michele Soavi convinced his mentor, Dario Argento, that it was a good enough story as a stand alone. The gore and horror is spectacular (Evan holding his beating heart over his head is one) but sometimes my mind wandered and had to rewind a few times. But if you wanna see a biker chick’s face splattered on the front of a subway train because of this demon infested church, then this is the one for you.
-Carolina Hidalgo






First of all, let’s just get it out of the way and say this movie has a fantastic title but misleading title. It is set in a mall but even though there’s no chopping involved, it does have plenty of stabbing, lasering and exploding head weaponry.
The Killbots (which was the original title of the movie) do in fact kill even though in the first scene Dr. Stan Simon, the engineer, says otherwise. “They neutralize.” Yes, the mall from Fast Times of Ridgemont High is in dire need of weaponized robots. They are actually pretty cool even though you could tape a Swiss Army knife and a Speak N Spell to a roomba with the same results. Maybe they could also shampoo the carpets after decapitating a Hot Topic sales associate (I was one over ten years ago so I can say that).  
The movie begins with a Robocop style conference with someone inevitably saying, “Absolutely nothing can go wrong.” And this is where the fun it really begins, which doesn’t discount the cool Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov Eating Raoul cameo that comes before.
So the main story follows eight old as fuck teenagers who decide to have a party at a furniture store in the middle of the mall. The eight twenty somethings are Linda and Greg, the married couple, the other horny couple Suzie and Rick, the horniest couple Leslie and Mike, and the innocent and nerdy Alison and Ferdy who are actually also horny.
Once they’re inside the mall, that’s when the inevitable conflict begins.The killbots are standing by to be sent out on patrol for would-be burglars by the mall’s Nedry when a single thunderbolt hits the building which somehow reaches the killbots. This is, of course, an evil thunderbolt, reprogramming the ‘bots to kill anybody and everybody on command. Bad night for a mall-orgy.
Despite this being an obviously terrible movie, the kills are amazing. The best death of all has got to be Leslie’s when a robolaser explodes her head, consequently ruining her hair.  Her boyfriend Mike attempts to dispel them with a  “Klactu Barata Niktu” but all he gets is a roboknife to the throat for his troubles. The gang realize that their orgy probably isn’t going to happen so it's up to the rest of the surviving forty year olds to try to stop them.
They do come up with an ingenious plan but honestly, why didn't they just disable the elevators and escalators? These robots can't climb stairs! Damn these prototypes! Of course it's up to the leading men to say “We’ve got company,” and “Let's send these fuckers a Rambogram!”
“Chopping Mall” was produced by Julie Corman, with the uncredited help of her husband, Roger Corman, and directed by Jim Wynorski who has the funniest IMDb page. He’s got over 100 directing credits including such classics as The Bare Wench Project 1, 2 and 3, Alabama Jones and the Busty Crusade, The Witches of Breastwick 1 and 2 and The Hills Have Thighs among many, many more. Anyway, I totally recommend watching this movie before you decide to join a sex party at a little mall of horrors.
-Carolina Hidalgo

Review: Motel Hell




I picked this movie not because of it’s obvious influence to TCM 2’s famous chili cook-off plot. And not because it stars veteran actor Rory Calhoun, who did hard time for stealing cars, married twice, and had affairs with hundreds of women.
Rather, it was the first movie I thought of. First time I saw it I had picked it out of my copy of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (a fantastic resource) for a movie night at home. It didn’t disappoint me then and seeing it again has made me an even bigger fan.
Motel Hell is set in a, you guessed it, motel, which according to the neon sign is called Motel Hello, the O of which flickers on and off ominously. The owners are Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and Ida (Nancy Parsons), a brother and sister duo who sell their smoked meat fritters to locals and visitors alike.
They pride themselves on smoking a variety of meats for their roadside fritters because as they say, “Meat’s meat and a man’s gotta eat,” which has to be one of the most adorable horror movie catchphrases out there.
The story begins with the beautiful and young Terry, who falls off her boyfriend’s motorcycle near Motel Hello in the same crash that kills Bo, the said boyfriend. Vincent finds her and takes her in and has his sister fix up some healing herbs with dandelions or something. I honestly don’t know but who cares because within a couple hours Terry’s fully recovered!
Vincent and Ida’s much younger brother Bruce, who also happens to be the Sheriff, drops by the motel and checks out the hot new blond in town. Terry (played by Nina Axelrod who later went on to be a casting director for such illustrious films as Critters 3 and 4, respectively) displays her fine acting abilities fighting what appears to be a nasty migraine. But she’s still ok!
OK, very promising act one! Now, at this point I was wondering when does this horror movie turn into camp horror, and I got my answer at 33 minutes and 40 seconds when the rockin’ band Ivan and the Terribles, high as fuck, flip their presumably psychedelic van over and are dragged to the secret garden where they are “planted” up to their necks while enduring injections, hypnosis, and the ever-so-fun severing of their vocal cords so they can only gurgle during this whole DIY zombification. Not really sure if “zombification” is the right word here as this sequence has more in common with a syphilitic fever dream than a zombie movie.
In the meantime, Terry gets comfy in the motel and quickly falls in love with the decades older Vincent, completely ignoring the younger brother’s aggressive advances and the sister’s intent to kill her. But hey, who’s to judge an impressionable young girl with a head injury.
About an hour into the film we’re graced with the presence of famed radio DJ, Wolfman Jack, who plays the reverend (he was a man of the cloth in real life too) that plans on performing the wedding ceremony for Vincent and Terry.
Everything would have worked out beautifully if it weren’t for that meddling sheriff who finally figures out his brother and sister are killing people to use as meat to sell in their fritters to unsuspecting customers. What a dick!
The movie escalates to, seriously, a climatic double-chainsaw fight scene between Vincent and Bruce. This scene seems like the stunt fight coordinator went to lunch and told them to not touch anything until he got back and they just went ahead and filmed it anyway. Add a pig’s head that Vincent wears as a mask/helmet and you got camp gold stew.
This is the point in the review where I want to spoil the REAL finale, but I won’t. I promise! I highly recommend watching this movie because A. It’s fun gore, B. Cliff from Cheers is in it, and C. Rory Calhoun delivers his lines perfectly.
Check out Motel Hell, write a Yelp review, tell everyone! It’ll be worth it.
-Carolina Hidalgo