There’s something inherently scary about hotels. They’re transitional spaces by nature, places where people normally just pass through on their way to somewhere else. When you’re there, you momentarily occupy the same space as hundreds of other people have, a place with a history you might not even know (all right, most of those histories are “someone slept in the room and then left,” but stay with me here). They’re also really creepy at night due to being quiet and kind of empty spaces, especially when they’ve been around a while and have a kind of “lived-in” feel. Naturally, with such fertile ground for horror, several authors have stepped up to the plate and delivered some horrifying hotels of their own. Here are five of our favorites.
Security, Gina Wohlsdorf
A new twenty-story hotel and resort in Florida, the Manderley, is state of the art, every upper-class vacationer’s dream. On the eve of its opening, the (underpaid) contractors and (overpaid) staff are scrambling to get everything ready for the grand opening gala while suffering the numerous assaults of Charles Xavier Destin III, the self-obsessed hotel magnate who owns the Manderley. But on the seventh floor, a much more violent but equally malevolent presence stirs, a murderer in a Michael Myers mask with a knife as long as a man’s forearm, ready to stalk the resort staff and pick them off one by one. Wohlsdorf’s thriller might tread familiar ground somewhere between a slasher film and a murder mystery, but its slick and stylish atmosphere and the way the entire book is narrated as seen through the cameras by the chief of security gives it its own flavor. Combined with the way Wohlsdorf can make even a rosebush or a driveway seem ominous, Security is an absolutely delightful slasher read.
The Sun Down Motel, Simone St. James
In November of 1982, Viv Delaney is working the graveyard shift at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York when she vanishes without a trace. Twenty-five years later, her niece Carly finds a map to Fell, the small urban area where her aunt disappeared, as well as an address leading her to her aunt’s apartment. In an effort to figure out what happened, Carly moves into the same apartment and begins investigating her aunt’s mysterious disappearance and the town’s unusual, buried history. The book alternates in segments between Viv and Carly’s stories, one leading up to that fateful November night several months after Viv moves to Fell, the other following what Carly uncovers. While it’s fantastic that both narratives are different enough in voice, tone, and atmosphere to feel like you’re following two separate people, even better is that St. James absolutely nails the liminal feeling of being in a kind of sketchy place late at night and builds the horror off of that, with weird smoke smells, a door that keeps banging open, and a noisy ice machine being just as unsettling as anything supernatural.
The Grand Hotel, Scott Kenemore
At the end of a desolate, misty street lies the Grand Hotel, a crumbling building that has definitely seen much, much better days. As another group of lost tourists find their way into the curious structure, the unusually jovial front desk clerk brings them on a tour of this literal tourist trap, letting them meet the guests (none of whom have wanted to leave the hotel in decades, apparently) and serving as a curator for each one’s unusual story. Kenemore definitely shows some versatility in the linked stories, ranging from a rather simple vignette about a corpse to unusual shorts about cosmic horror and dark fairy tales about revenge. He also manages to evoke a lot of the best bits of pulpy horror anthology shows, properly lurid with just the right amount of humor and pathos to serve up something incredibly weird. While this seems weird to say about any particular horror book, it’s fun, and kind enough to let the reader in on the premise without being completely comedic, which is the perfect balance for this kind of book.
The Shining, Stephen King
No list of hotel-based horror would be complete without Stephen King’s third novel, which pits Jack Torrance, an alcoholic writer, his wife Wendy, and psychic son Danny against a horrifying ghostly hivemind compared to a hornet’s nest in a snowbound Colorado hotel. While most horror fans are a lot more familiar with Stanley Kubrick’s iconic and often-imitated film adaptation, King’s book provides a much more empathetic and cerebral look at the Overlook and its trapped prey. King’s always been great at making you care about the people who end up dying horribly at his monsters’ hands, and The Shining is one of the shining examples of that power, as the hotel preys on Jack’s violent tendencies and withdrawal symptoms, Danny’s fear of his violent father and the terrifying “guests” inhabiting the hotel, and Wendy’s fear that everything will fall apart, exploiting them as it ratchets up the terror. While some sequences might read a little sillier and pulpier than intended at times, King still delivers on numerous scares, even managing to make a topiary attack seem terrifying in context.
Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem
Richard, a widower looking for a job, answers a small and unassuming ad for the position of head manager at the Deadfall Hotel. The lakeside hotel is in a remote location and located next to the eponymous deadfall, a massive tangle of dead trees located next to the grounds, and caters to a rather unusual clientele who are seldom seen and enjoy their privacy. But there’s something… off about the Deadfall. Whether it’s the fact that there are only three other staff members besides Richard, the guests who require entire parts of the hotel to remain unlit, or the strange things like razor-toothed rodents or yards of slick gray fungus the hotel’s handyman assures Richard are normal things to deal with, it’s clear that there’s more going on than the previous manager let on. While it does bounce between surrealistic arch-gothic tones and more melancholic moments and sometimes even blends the two, Tem’s gift for making the insane imagery of things like one of the more grotesque guests running around the grounds of the hotel seem both slightly grounded and somewhat ominous, never making the book feel uneven or those shifts appear jarring. It’s both funny and horrifying in a kind of Edward Gorey way, but with a very human and empathetic core.