"Hotel rooms are lonely. All the craziness that you avoid in the day-to-day business of life come to you in hotel rooms and eat your mind. The people they find dead in hotel rooms wouldn't have killed themselves at home. Hotel rooms don't care if you live or die."
— Foxglove, Death: The Time of Your Life
A hotel that is scary. Often, it's abandoned, and if it isn't, you have a good chance of being killed by your host. Similar to Abandoned Hospital and Inn of No Return. The No Tell Motel may be one.
This trope stems mostly from the fact that many hotels, even the really nice ones, have an underlying disturbing feel. Like hospitals, they're insanely clean and kept in perfect order, giving the entire facility a sterile, inhuman atmosphere. Every room and floor is identical or near-identical, like a lavishly furnished chicken coop. It's so quiet, the employees are always smiling or out of sight, and the rooms are always tidied up when you're not looking. Then there's knowing you're far from home where no one will notice if you disappear. And those... tiny chocolate mints...
While hotels are certainly disturbing by themselves, it gets even worse when they're NOT what a hotel should look like (dirty, disorganized, etc.).
Sometimes characters in a series aren't completely stupid. They know something is wrong with this hotel - maybe the guy at the front desk is more than a touch creepy, or they've overheard the townspeople talk about how they hate outsiders, or that the hotel is supposed to be almost fully booked but no one is around.
But they all know that they don't have a choice. Staying in a hotel with a lockable door is much more preferable than taking their chances sleeping in the car, or maybe they don't have a car at all. Maybe they even outright know that something might try to get them during the night, but staying outside is pure suicide. Either way, they're taking those room keys with a quiet sense of dread.
Characters with these suspicions are usually smart enough to remain wary as they settle down for the night, but sometimes they'll completely forget and decide to take a long shower.
Title is the name of an obscure They Might Be Giants song. Like, obscure even for them.
Not to be confused with a Hotel Hellion, or Hotel Hell, a Gordon Ramsay series in the style of Kitchen Nightmares in which he solves the problems of ailing hotels, though some of the hotels featured may be approaching this level. (Which, curiously, uses another obscure song as its Title Theme Tune, but one called "Hotel Hell" instead of "Hell Hotel.")
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Spoofed in some of Verizon's many "dead zone" commercials.
Anime & Manga
Gregory Horror Show takes place inside "Gregory House". The caretaker is trying to keep the guest there for all eternity, the other guests and staff alternate between trying to maim/kill the guest and drive them to insanity, and Gregory's mother wants to steal and eat the guest's soul. Oh and apparently once you sign in, true escape is impossible. Well, not quite true... the Guests could have escaped, but they deliberately chose not to as they couldn't bring themselves to face reality.
The Voynich Hotel has a lot of fun playing with this, as the title hotel is on a wartorn island populated by witches, undead witches, yakuza, ex-yakuza, yakuza ghosts, luchador hotel managers, suicidal chefs, Mafioso, assassins, drug dealers, government agents-turned-drug dealers, overly-curious children, demons, tigers, and a perverted robot detective.
One Story Arc in Spawn involved a Hell Hotel, caused by the residents of an Apartment Complex being freed of personal restraint by The Violator.
Shade, the Changing Man: Hotel Shade has this quality, as lampshaded by Kathy and Lenny before they knew they were doomed to fight madness there. It didn't help that the first living tenant was a serial torture-killer, or the second one appeared to be a raving lunatic (he explained that he was a writer; they weren't reassured.) Corpses animated from the nearby graveyard, because that was the only way the Angels could communicate with Shade, but no one had any idea what was animating the hotel staff.
The Hotel Earle from Barton Fink. Starting with the name.
The Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Perhaps uniquely, the entire layout of the Overlook Hotel — once you notice it, anyway — is a startling case of Bizarrchitecture in film, by design. Stanley Kubrick laid the set out intentionally to mess with viewers' (and actors') perceptions.
Room 1408. Good lord, 1408, but only room 1408. The rest of the Dolphin Hotel is quite nice.
Both from Stephen King, The Overlook Hotel in The Shining (King describes the place as follows: "This inhuman place makes human monsters.") and Room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel. 1408 is a semi-subversion. Only one room is actually a portal to something hellish, the rest of the hotel is quite pleasant and the manager tries his damnedest to make sure no one but he and a select few of the staff go into that room.
The Talisman, co-written by Stephen King and Peter Straub, had two of these, one at the start where Lilly slowly died of cancer and then one at the end where the Talisman was held.
Older than Television: The sub-trope of "only one room" being haunted goes back to F. Marion Crawford's short story "The Upper Berth" (1894) where the haunting is not just in just one cabin on a ship, but mostly confined to the upper berth, leaving the person in the lower berth alone.
The Three Cousins Motel in Feliks, Net & Nika and the Third Cousin. It's creepy place in the middle of nowhere with paintings that paint themselves and rooms that change their dimensions a la House of Leaves. And the owners are two cousins that are creepy, old women (Actually witches. And the third one is the witch too.) that kidnap young woman to have new bodies. Third Cousin is easily the scariest book in the series.
There's the motel at "the centre" (the central point of the continental United States) in American Gods. That's a pretty creepy place. It is abandoned, but not technically haunted.
Parodied in the animal fantasy novel Welkin Weasels: Vampire Voles!, in which Scruff, for a prank, tricks Maudlin into thinking that their host is a serial killer.
Even more so in the game, Dark Corners of the Earth, where the innkeeper's diary reveals that he routinely tortures and murders his customers for lulz.
The Hotel Denouement in A Series of Unfortunate Events is a variant. Although it's not especially creepy or unpleasant for the guests, the protagonists are employed there (under the bizarre or nonexistent child labor laws of their universe) as concierges. The hotel is organised by the Dewey Decimal System* There really isa hotel like this. It is not an example of this trope. for reasons which aren't explained until much later, and no index exist (the staff seem to be expected to memorize it). Also, the children are not given breaks, even for sleeping, they just have to kind of doze at the concierge desk.
The Right Inn, where a very set-in-his-routine salesman passes out from the sheer horror. It turns out that the inn's sign was on the fritz and it's actually The Fright Inn, a theme motel for horror buffs.
Frank Herbert's short story "Gambling Device."
There is a short story about a family that comes across this...the hotel is mostly empty, save for the husband/wife duo that runs the place, and the husband tries his hardest to warn people away from it, but is constantly cowed into submission by his wife. Turns out there's nothing supernatural about it...but anyone who signs into the hotel is taken one specific room where a giant snake lives, and the entire family is eaten within a minute.And this was in a book aimed atchildren.
Sarah Monette's short story The Devil in Gaylord's Creek features one of these.
Inverted in Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit. Rather than have a hellish hotel, Hell itself is a hotel, a fairly normal one at that, in which the furnishings of the room and the people you are assigned to live with are designed precisely to drive you crazy. Also an Ironic Hell and Self-Inflicted Hell.
The Hyperion Hotel on Angel was abandoned and haunted for several decades by a demon that fed off people's fear. Later a vampire and other assorted beings killed the demon and took control of the hotel themselves - but since they're the heroes, it probably doesn't count anymore.
The episode "Playthings" featured a haunted hotel.
The episode "Hammer of the Gods" featured a hotel that had been taken over by pagan gods as a trap for the Winchesters, and had locked the surviving guests in the larder.
Cirque du Soleil's Widget SeriesSolstrom had an often-humorous version of this as the setting for an episode, "Howling Winds". An aging hotel is suddenly transformed into a Haunted Castle-esque one with a vampire waiter, an ogre bellboy, etc. — but a pair of newlyweds on their honeymoon, being Sickeningly Sweethearts, don't notice what's happened until it's far too late. Meanwhile, the confused owner tries to conduct business as usual despite the fact that he's slowly turning into a wolfman. Even Death takes a holiday here!
The Criminal Minds episode "Paradise" had a small roadside motel which was run by a serial rapist and killer, who would trap patrons in their room and psychologically and physically torture them before beating them to death.
Parodied in the "Jolly Boys' Outing" episode of Only Fools and Horses. The Trotters become stranded in Margate, but cannot find anywhere to stay the night, so they end up in a terrifying-looking guest house which in Rodney's words "looks like The Munsters' weekend place"
The Doctor Who episode "The God Complex" takes place in one, and a great deal of "The Angels Take Manhattan" takes place in another. Both were some variety of method of feeding guests to the Monster of the Week.
Played with on Teen Wolf. The episode Motel California is set in a motel whose creepy owner boasts about having the highest suicide rate of any hotel in America, and most of the main characters experience terrifying apparitions and try to kill themselves. However, the suicide rate is noted (when someone stops to do the maths) as not being that statistically unusual and the visions and self-harm attempts are caused by a mixture of hallucinogenic poison and psychic suggestion from a villain totally unrelated to the motel, and in one case by a character (unknown to themselves) being a banshee who is extra-sensitive to places where people have died.
"Hotel California", by The Eagles. The "Hotel" is apparently an allegory for the Southern California music industry of the mid-Seventies, or drug addiction, or who knows, just Southern California. On the surface the song describes the tale of a weary traveler who becomes trapped in a nightmarish luxury hotel that, at first, appeared inviting and tempting.
On a related note, Cledus T. Judd's parody of this song, "Motel Californie." The titular motel really is an awful place, in serious disrepair and filthy, but it gets worse near the end when he's trying to get clean linens and finds the proprietor stabbed to death.
The video for "The Kill" by 30 Seconds to Mars is a direct homage to The Shining—specifically, Kubrick's film version. In the video, the band members wander the corridors of an otherwise deserted hotel, encountering various ghostly inhabitants before respectively coming face-to-face with their own evil, tuxedoed dopplegangers.
In the same vein, the video for "Spit It Out" by Slipknot is also an homage to The Shining. The band wanders around the hotel, encounters the twins, and gets lost in a human maze.
The song "Vertigo Motel" by Dog Fashion Disco.
Homer and Jethro's song "Hart-Brake Motel," parody of Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel."
The music video for Opeth's song "Porcelain Heart" takes place in a hotel that looks eerily like the hotel from Silent Hill 2.
"Kross Roads Inn" by Twiztid is about a legendary hotel that, due to an ancient pagan curse, kills anyone who spends one night there and traps their spirits in the hotel forever. Twiztid themselves play a couple of thrill-seeking ghost hunters who seek to disprove the myths and urban legends surrounding the place. As soon as they sign in, they're harassed by spirits. They try to leave, but the building warps and alters to keep them there forever.
I'm in this dumb motel Near the Taco Bell Without a hope in Hell I can't believe that I'm still around
"Home By The Sea" by Genesis, complete with inhuman spectres wandering around. Although unclear whether the building in question is really a hotel — it may be a retirement home.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney's various theme parks is built on this theme. "The Hollywood Tower Hotel" allegedly lost a lot of business after a bolt of lighting removed three "wings" from the front of the building and sent an elevator (plus its five occupants) to another dimension in the later 1920s/early 1930s. That tends to look bad on any hotel's record.
A real example, the "Legendary Years" wing of the Pop Century motel at Walt Disney World was abandoned in 2002 due to 9/11 related tourism dips. Since then, the economy roared and now once again whimpers, and in all that time the structures remain left behind, the only thing complete being the parking lot.
In 2012, the empty resort has opened as Disney's Art of Animation Resort, making this a subversion of the trope.
In Fallout 3 the Statesman Hotel. It is filled to the brim with Super Mutants, Centaurs, and mines. You can come here for an optional sidequest to save the Riley's Rangers.
The Homestead Motel from Point Lookout is closer to the trope. There are three explorable rooms. 1D holds a dead Chinese spy killed before he could start his mission. 1G holds the skeletons of two bank robbers who died in a gunfight with each over about how to split the cash. Finally 1K holds a Clown Masked serial killer'sbloody satanic altar...made of body parts.
Fallout: New Vegas brings us the El Rey Motel. Every bit as ramshackle as the Statesman, but populated with angry drug addicts instead of Super Mutants.
Also in New Vegas, the Lucky 38 casino is a milder example. While not actually dangerous (unless you betray the Mr. House and he sicks his robots on you), it has a very strong Hell Hotel atmosphere, being a once popular and successful casino that no living being has entered in over two hundred years. It's mostly unlit and eerily silent, but otherwise completely untouched by anything except time. The place would probably become less creepy if there were any actual dangerous critters living there. Also, the player lives there for the later half of the game. And no, you can't redecorate to make it a bit more inviting.
The hotel in the game Gregory Horror Show for the PS2 wasn't exactly haunted... But the guests in the game definitely made it hell.
The venerable, historic HOTEL in Max Payne. Okay, so it's a standard film noir dive owned by third-rate mobsters. Max, an undercover cop, has free reign to climb all the way to the penthouse suite; however, once his cover is blown, the fire escapes are locked and the hopeless elevators aren't buzzing to life anytime soon. Max has to blast his way back the lobby. The hotel itself is falling apart, as the only customers are drug dealers and johns.
Also, the Los Angeles Sabbat have taken up resident in the abandoned Hallowbrook Hotel, which the player character must also visit close to the end of the game; while most of it is a decrepit ruin used only for sheltering the Sabbat mooks from the sun, the basement has been converted into a slaughterhouse for their leader, Andrei the Tzimisce, filled with mutilated bodies and thick puddles of blood. This is also where Heather Poe, your ghoul, meets her unfortunate death.
What really makes the first hotel scary is the cleverest element about it. It builds up the tension throughout your progression through the building, relying on atmosphere and environment along with the build-up of this brutal murder story to make the player psych him/herself out. It keeps building and building, and you're waiting for something to happen—some monster to pop out and fight you. There is no monster or any combat whatsoever in this level.
It worked. As a game reviewer, this troper has played a lot of scary games, but that hotel is the only time I've almost jumped out of my seat because of it.
The setting of Trilby's Notes, the third chapter in the Chzo Mythos series. Not particularly scary on its own, but just wait until the protagonist goes on the worst acid trip ever in the hotel...
Half-life 2: Episode 2 provides a variation with its frighteningly intense Inn battle.
The Sedgewick Hotel in Ghostbusters: The Video Game, not in the first time when you're sent there, but when you visit it the 2nd time around...
The Haven Hotel from the indie adventure game, Downfall, where the main character, Joe Davis, wakes up in the middle of the night to find out that his supposedly schizophrenic wife, Lucy's, visions of terror about the hotel have suddenly become far too real for his liking.
Stage 3-3 from Purple is a hotel that is riddled with spikes, inhabited by bats, has very low quality rooms and it has only one toilet which is the only way to access the second building. Who would be this sadist is a question for anyone.
Survival of the Fittest version 2 had one of these. It became one of the bloodiest places in the game - no fewer than fifteen students met their ends somewhere within it. Escapades taking places there included (and were not limited to): murder (duh), castration, evisceration and necrophilia. The V2 hotel was not a fun place.
Season 2 of Marble Hornets opens in one, although it's creepiness doesn't become apparent till a few episodes later, when Jay realizes that he and Jessica are the only customers in the hotel. Just when he decides to leave, Masky shows up.
From the same mythos: the Halloween 2011 episode of Tribe Twelve lands Noah in one. Unlike Jay, Noah barely has time to unpack before the creepiness starts.
Samurai Jack once had one with a possessed family that Jack wandered into.
The Hotel Cabal from Gargoyles. Not actually haunted, but filled with death traps designed to drive prisoners insane and impossible to leave without one of the special keys.
An episode of Legion of Super Heroes, "Fear Factory," featured a space-station version that was a lot like a mysterious mansion, with the butler and being invited to dinner.
One of Chuck Jones' Looney Tunes cartoons, "Claws For Alarm", has Porky Pig and his pet cat Sylvester staying at a ghost town hotel populated by murderous mice. Sylvester is aware of the horrors, but being a pet, is mute and can't communicate it to his oblivious master.
An episode of Martin Mystery had a luxury hotel being haunted by the ghost of its founder.
The Cobweb Hotel in a Fleischer Studios short. Well, it's a Hell Hotel to flies, anyway.
An episode of Garfield and Friends, "The Sludge Monster", is set largely in a hotel haunted by the titular being.
The motel that Taz and Bushwacker Bob stay at in the Taz-Mania episode "A Midsummer Night's Scream". The desk clerk is an Expy of Peter Lorre.
Toy Story of Terror takes place in a motel. It's actually quite nice, and the manager is very friendly... if you're a human. If you're a toy, he will send his pet iguana to capture you and sell you to unsuspecting internet bidders.
The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles was like this for many years, as it went out of business after Robert Kennedy's assassination there. It was often used as a police training ground, as depicted in S.W.A.T.
The abandoned Coco Palms resort on Kauai in Hawaii.