Horror Hotel (1960) and the proxemics of haunting

In discussing dreams, it has been noted that the nightmare largely consists of a startle effect caused by dreams moving from the acceptable middle range of distance from the mind’s eye, to up close. The same is true in waking life, people moving in too close, their hands coming in too close, is one the essentials horrors. It occurs to me that space constructed by architecture can also result in proxemic violations. I learned this well when moving into my current apartment: for a time, I set up my desk, as would be expected, in the outer room, the main room. But I never could get comfortable there, it was too close to the front door, and too close to whatever traffic occurred just outside of it, and in the parking lot. So I relocated to the backroom, restoring the distance between my setup and the door that I had had in my previous apartment, and all my fears went away. Therefore, another source of terror, just beyond violations of personal space, are violations of the proxemics of the built space. Any such violation, any such oddity, or eccentricity, can be the source horror.

I felt that this idea was worked out nicely in the movie, City of the Dead, or Horror Hotel (1960). In the prologue to the movie, we see Elizabeth Selwyn burned at the stake, in the town square of a 17th century town

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And then, after Nan Goldwin checks in to the Raven’s Inn, she sees a sign behind
the desk

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That means that the hotel came to cover up a place that was formerly at the center of the town square, or at least the site of witch burnings. This is a haunted proxemics, being the spot of. As it is worked out here, the place where the pyre was set, has become, in time the front desk of the hotel

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In this regard, the front desk is, proxemically, a memorial, but also a reenactment. This coincidence in space gives an added dimension of meaning to the lamp, burning bright at that hour

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It also gives added meaning to the fire in the fireplace, a vestige of sorts.

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In any case, oddly, the rest of the hotel is booked up, but there is a room available, just off the lobby. In this, the movie indulges in its most egregious violation of proxemics. In most hotel rooms, one would want to back with all the other rooms, off of a hallway, far from the central gathering areas. One would never want a room off of a lobby, it would be too noisy. If the bathroom was not adjunct to the room, then going to the bathroom would involve some rather embarrassing walks through the lobby (It is because of a violation of proxemics that I remember some of the curious hotels I stayed in when a traveler in Frommerland: including showering in a closet just off a hallway in a hotel in Coburg, Germany—an oddity I have never got over). Normally, such a violation of space would make one uncomfortable. But it is also possible, if one is seeking some special meaning, that such a violation would be interpreted as “neat” and “cozy.” That is, things are packed together more closely, and, because of that, there is an odd feeling of overlap that lends to the present a kind of quaint or historical quality. Since Nan is involved in studying books, and witchcraft. The fact that she is right next to the lobby might be of interest to her. In any case, she has other proxemics worries. As she lies in bed, she hears chanting. It seems to be coming from under the floor. The proprietor assures her that under the floor there is only earth, but she hears the hollowness

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In essence, what this does is place Ann, in her robe, directly above the site of a modern reenacting sacrifice. That makes all of her bed and the floor the kindling on which she will be burned. She has not only come to the spot of the burning, but she has stepped into the reenactment of it. The only problem one might have with the movie is that Ann is not the brightest bulb in the package. She reads a book to the revived witch, about how witches cast their spell, and then does not put two and two together. She reads that book, too, on her bed, looked over by the green man, the witch’s god.

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At one point, the proprietor tells her that there is dancing in the lobby, and she might wish to join. The dancing is, of course, a spell, to get her out of her room. It is a proxemics relationship she might know: typical of college dormitory rooms, for example. There, there is a door, and there is often, on the other side of that door, partying.

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Then the instant she opens the door, they all vanish: indicating it was a spell, designed to get her out. It is also possible that the spell was cast in order to drown out the chanting she heard, so it is a cover. But it does cast the proxemics in a more positive light: it is the kind of distance that might excite her, and make her want to get out and party. And, indeed, that is what she does. She has been studying in her robe, but then we see her strip. This scene has never made sense to me. She is underdressed in this whole regalia of fancy lingerie in the style of the can can, garter belts and all. It just doesn’t make sense, that a college girl would be wearing all this underneath

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We even get to be sexually aroused by her, spying on her dressing, as she lifts a leg, and drops a breast. What does it mean? It again signals that, on the spot of sacrifice, over the chanting, in a room, now, marked by the witches, she is being prepared for, she is falling under the spell of, witches, and will be the sacrificial lamb. This is her getting herself up, unconsciously, in her fanciest things, a requirement for sacrifice. And maybe she thought that she might score at the dance, but then it is gone when she opens the door

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It is also possible that Candlemas is figured out thus, she is a human candle, and
then too as a variant of Februarata, the hot days, an erotic ancient festival
of release

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And there is only that lobby

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All in all, then, her room is a domesticated, furniturized version of the site of the burning, the pyre (the bed), the fire (the lamps), the chants (under the floor), the spells (her reading), the stripping (her underdressing). It’s quite odd: to have fallen upon the target spot of a proxemic relation to the past. There is a bird in her drawer, just as she read

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And a sprig on the door, she is to be the one.

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And then the window gives up a handle on the curtain pull, it is the key to the
opening in the floor (not unlike the latch in The Little Girl who Lived Down the Lane, so these ways of getting into cellars must have made their owners uncomfortable over the years, to generate a negative lore).

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(by the way, it ought to be noted, though tangentially, that just as the space she stays in is a glass onion recreation of the burning place, so she is a recreation of the burned witch, her blonde hair is a torch, her breasts are flashlights, her body, her eyes are lights, she is all a searching thing, perhaps in her intensity and light, blinding her to her immolation in the thing she seeks. In any case, the sacrifice now occurs. This happens in the caves, not unlike in Witchcraft. Earlier, in the antique shop, where a girl has moved to help her grandfather, she sees painting of the scene which happened right outside that window

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(I would like to think that the art director thought through this well enough to make the image of the burned witch in the picture look like the girl looking at it here, but I am not so sure

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(still, in presenting us, in effect, with an art direction study, which became the set, returned to serve as a work of art, in the movie, is an odd sort of infinite regress that symbolizes, as staircases do, the twisted inevitability of looking into this sort of thing).

(I also think this is an example of that subgenre I call witch art, or conjure art: used by Ed Warren, for example, to conjure ghosts. That is, it is art, but it is magic too: here, it is held in the antique shop, not for sale, but to symbolize the raison d’etre of the shop, to keep a vigil over the burning place, and wish for this sacrifice to be completed, in time. It is an act of conjuration). (Just as the book got by her in the shop became a record of her interests, and mind, and so the illustration of sacrifice in the book, communicated what had happened to her, by intuitive of putting two and two together,

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Earlier, looking out the window of her hotel, she saw the acolytes in the cemetery, under hood. The town is always enshrouded in fog. The place, then, is a burning place, and it is permeated, from top to bottom, inside and out, with the memory of fire. Why is this important? Because there is to be another sacrifice, in the foggy cemetery. And this is resolved, in favor of saving the second victim, by the fact that a dying boy picks up a cemetery cross, and uses the shadow of the cross to cause the witches in their monks cloths to incinerate

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What this means is that the burning place remains a fiery atmosphere, by the
friction caused by the refusal of the church to leave, so that it really is a
battle against the cross and the opposite of the cross, of the hands of clock
at the thirteenth hour,

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Then friction, the fact that the town is locked in the burning time, is what gives
the cross the power to incinerate: to reenact the burning by the casting of a
shadow. It’s odd, not entirely believable, but possibly instrumental, in that
the witches remained, what, emanations of burned forms, a burned race, a nearly
cinder presence, living in fire, close to fire, easily returned to fire, fire
demons, per se. This then leads to the finale, when the heros wander back into
the hotel, and find Selwyn sitting under the plaque which declares this is
where the burning took place, they spin the chair around, and in chair spin
shock (I mentioned in review how much like Psycho this movie was in structure),
she is burned, returned, then, the magic spell off, to her burnt state.

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Now, the very curious thing about this scenario, grounded in fire, and burning, is that it communicates the fact that violations of proxemics toward closeness is communicated to the self as hotness, as being too hot.

A month or so ago, we went down to H, and saw a parade. As part of that routine, we visited the H Hotel. Coming in the door, the lobby was taken up by a ticket table. In back, the dining room was crowded with bins with cooked meats. But I had a moment of “eureka” bolt through me, when I glanced upstairs, and then read a sign, posted on the newel post, Upstairs for Miss C—- Days Contestants only. As I expressed it in the car, as a joke, wouldn’t it be funny if a contestant came down from Wisconsin, and was just sleeping with every guy in town, a real whore. But what I got, that whooshed down that architectural cunt of a staircase and railing, was, it was hot: for all that girl, all of their changing, and preparing, and partying, and nakedness, and all that to be up there, in such close confines, it was too much. I felt a blast of heat come down the stairs, in my instant grasp of it. And, then, passing by, all that passed away, and was extinguished. As I worked out it occurred to me that the only figurative way to express my mixed feelings for such a perception, for taking in that whiff of all of that, in one sniff, was to imagine a series of mystery murders upstairs, in which all the dead girls in their rooms were dead by cases of spontaneous combustion, caused by too many hot girls fractioning up against each other, further activating by the imagination of men in the town that night, and so they all spontaneously combusted, without the need of a torch or a burning.

And the missing detail would be that this was able to occur, because this was the site of a burning and curse, from the burning, so things heat up too quickly.

And then in turned out that there were pictures of John Hess, and he is the very saint of burning. So, it is that.

The H Hotel also inspired me to open up my Hartog House blog: and I want to have a Hartog House page too, same sort of everyday Pardon my etc, but fictim.

And there is the same image

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A woman, who, as an avatar of a burned witch, is, in effect, a fire demon, and made of fire, and, when negated, in cross shadow, she spontaneously recombusts, and is left like this. I argue that all such figures are symbolic ways to work out the fact that by a violation of proxemics in which too much hotness was placed too close to each other without protection, such a friction of horror was created.

In this case, then, the pictures, on the easel and in the book, only serve to illustrate a modern reality that has evolved in the arrangement of space itself, over the site of an ancient crime. For this, the staginess of this movie does not detract, but contributes to the spooky aura of the scenario.


Having discerned that as a result of the town having been the scene of witch burnings, the survivors remains, but as fire demons who could easily, with the shadow of a cross, incinerate, it was then amusing to here soon after the tale in the last part of Fellini’s Satyricon of a beautiful witch cursed by a wizard to provide the town all of its fire, from the heat coming out of from between her legs. And so the charming scene of the local townsfolk sticking a handful of thatch in between her open, birth positioning thighs, and it catching fire

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And then the beautiful witch suffering pain, not orgasm, at each act of firing up, so much so, that, held there, in duty, of necessity, as a day in day out job, she is cursed. It’s a nice counterpart (added Oct 1 13)

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