Movie Review: Find Northern California Views in a Haunted Setting in ‘Hotel Dunsmuir’

“Hotel Dunsmuir” is out and just in time for a spooky NorCal Halloween. How do you make Dunsmuir, a gorgeous little NorCal community back home on a 1950s postcard, into a horror/slasher/ghost movie setting?

It was great to see the techniques filmmakers Robb W. Gardner and Michael Zaiko Hall used to transform one of my favorite towns into Spook Central. And as you settle into that unhinged, slightly disturbed frame of mind cultivated by horror movie lovers, you’ll recognize some of NorCal’s most beloved scenery as a setting.

There will be no “spoilers” in this review in case you want to watch the movie. Think of it as a great way to properly kick off NorCal Halloween 2022. It was really fun to see so many places I know so well seemingly dressed up in spooky Halloween costumes to look like scary places.

While the story supposedly begins in “Utah’s Fishlake National Forest” before the action moves to downtown Dunsmuir, you can’t help but notice that the river and waterfall they show at the beginning are Middle Falls, the McCloud River. In addition to being set in downtown Dunsmuir, you’ll also notice Castle Crags, Mount Shasta, the upper Sacramento River, Dunsmuir’s California Theater (starring Dracula with Bela Lugosi) and Glenburn Community Church (outside Fall River Mills).

One of the techniques used to make everything in this movie look as scary as possible is the liberal use of darkness. Having watched horror movies most of my life, I often wondered why the characters in these movies never just turn on the lights. This is certainly true of “Hotel Dunsmuir,” which is best seen in a room with all the lights off.

Horror filmmakers often introduce seemingly unrelated elements into their films just to throw the audience off balance. Aside from the requisite haunting music (which does not disappoint), the two are apparent almost immediately. The first is the sound of dripping water, like some kind of Chinese water torture, that takes place in the background for most of the film. The second is the buzzing sound of electricity, as if something has or is about to short out. The darkness of the film combined with the dripping water and buzzing electricity is brilliantly disorienting, just the state of mind you want to be in if you feel like getting scared.

The two women in the film are “good guys”, Billie (Jet Jandreau) and Ruby (Amber Gaston). Billie claims to have ESP (extra sensory perception) and can see small balls of light moving around. What these orbs are or represent is never revealed, adding to the tension. Much of Ruby’s character is left a mystery, but she finds a connection with Billie as they were both abused by men.

The “bad guys” in the film are Luke (Jose Rosete), Billie’s abusive husband who shows his friends videos of him and Billie having sex, and the ghost of Burt Pike, the killer known as The Maid. Of the two villains, Luke gets my vote as the scariest, especially when he makes Billie dress provocatively and refer to him as “dad”. Coarse.

During filming at the real Dunsmuir Hotel, the cast and crew actually stayed there and in fact, they have had some paranormal experiences themselves. The spooky stories behind the hotel are the stuff of legend and if you’ve ever been to Dunsmuir you’ll recognize the building.

The film was written and directed by Michael Zaiko Hall, who was recently awarded “Best Director” at the Atlanta Horror Film Festival. Hall is currently working on his latest film, “Peter Five Eight,” which also shot in Dunsmuir, bringing back Jet Jandreau (Billie) and adding established actors Kevin Spacey and Rebecca De Morney. It will be released in 2023.

So if you’d like to get your Halloween CREEP going in a very original way this year, rent or buy “Hotel Dunsmuir” from Amazon Video, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Vudu, Apple mi iTunes, DIRECTV and Spectrum On Demand.

Watch the trailer:

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